New Online Exhibit: Attacking Complex Problems

For the past six months, Special Collections & Archives has been hard at work investigating new technologies for delivering online exhibits of our extensive holdings. Of particular interest to us has been the Omeka web design tool, developed by George Mason’s Center for History and New Media. Omeka allows historians and archivists to develop compelling online exhibits through the use of a powerful database, with the freedom to customize its visual appearance on the web. We began experimenting with Omeka in 2009, launching “An Aviator’s Story: Items from the Leonard H. Clark Military History Collection.” Our latest exhibit, completed in June 2010, is a more extensive project, entitled “Attacking Complex Problems: The Life and Work of Dr. John N. Warfield.” We invite you to explore this new exhibit, and learn about a fascinating George Mason professor emeritus.

Dr. John N. Warfield (1925-2009) spent nearly two decades on the faculty of George Mason, and is best remembered as the head of the University’s Center for Interactive Management (CIM). The CIM used cutting edge methodologies and computer technologies to assist organizations in solving complex problems – highly complicated, multi-layered issues that Warfield liked to call “messes.” Clients ranged from government organizations such as the Department of Defense and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to major corporations such as Ford Motor Company. Warfield’s groundbreaking work in Systems Science laid the foundation for this “Interactive Management” approach, which remains in use around the world today. Prior to his work at George Mason, his early career at a number of prestigious universities included a broad and fascinating range of projects, from construction of an early computer, to research on top secret military technology.

The challenge in developing this exhibit was to mold an extensive collection of highly sophisticated, technically complex documents into an exhibit that would place his achievements into context. We wanted to tell not just the story of his work, but to give a sense of the man behind the ideas. Dr. Warfield’s wife Rose was of critical importance to us in this effort, and generously allowed us access to a treasure trove of photos of his early life, copies of which now reside in our collection. In developing this new exhibit, we have carefully selected photos and documents from each period of Dr. Warfield’s life, and molded them into what we believe is a comprehensive and compelling celebration of the 60+ year career of an intriguing individual. We hope you will take the time to check out our exhibit, and learn about an important contributor to the George Mason legacy.