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The History of ITP

The story of ITP -- the Interactive Telecommunications Program -- is the story of people exploring new forms of communication and expression.  It began in 1971 with the creation of the Alternate Media Center (AMC) by George Stoney and Red Burns.

ITP grew out of the work of the AMC – the AMC set the stage for the experimentation and exploration which would follow as well as the informing spirit of collaboration, and the ongoing emphasis on crafting social applications and putting the needs of the user first.  A pioneering center for application development and field trials, the AMC initially focused on exploring the then-new tool of portable video made possible by Sony's introduction of the “Portapak” and Apple II computers, and brought together academics, community activists and artists.

Red Burns and her colleagues at the AMC came from backgrounds in documentary film and traditional media -- they shared a vision for a freely accessible, grass-roots technology which would enable users to create their own documentaries and distribute them widely.  Their efforts led to many significant developments in the field, including lobbying Congress for the creation of what is now public access cable television and significant field trials for two-way television in community settings, the use of Teletext in major urban centers and communications technologies for the developmentally disabled.

Professor Burns believed that a graduate course of study was needed to train creative, forward thinking, ethical new media developers for what she saw would be a new and growing field.  The first 20 graduate students entered the program in 1979 -- and it grew quickly from there.  In 1983 Professor Burns turned her full attention from AMC to ITP and was appointed Chair of the department, a position she held until 2010. Under her leadership the department became an internationally renowned center for scholars and practitioners eager to engage the newest technologies and put them in the hands of media-makers.

Currently, Professor Dan O’Sullivan is Chair of ITP.  Since joining the ITP faculty in 1991, Dan’s interests have involved creating more evocative online public spades and richer computer interfaces.  He is internationally recognized as having established the field that has come to be known as “physical computing” and he is the co-author with ITP Professor Tom Igoe of the seminal text on the subject “Physical Computing:  Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers.” (Muska & Lipman, 2004).


Michael Mills, former full-time faculty member of ITP, went on to Apple Computer to develop what later became Quicktime.  Dan O'Sullivan, during his student years, served as an intern at Apple and created the prototype for the first navigable interactive movies.  Dan went on to introduce the first widely used interactive television application in NYC, produced and broadcast directly from ITP by way of Manhattan Cable Public Access.

Industry leaders, artists and visionaries who have lectured at ITP over the years include Academy-Award winner, Chairman and CEO of R/GA Digital Studios Robert M. Greenberg, musician and founder of immersive virtual reality Jaron Lanier, multimedia artist Vito Acconci, creator of the ethernet Bob Metcalf, CEO of New York Times Digital Martin Nisenholtz, artist Toshio Iwai, artist, musician and performer Laurie Anderson, ITP alum and founder of FourSquare, Dennis Crowley, and Masamichi Udagawa and Sigi Moeslinger of Antenna Design, to name but a few.

Current ITP full-time faculty members are known for their contributions to the new media field: Red Burns has served on numerous boards and is the recipient many industry awards including the Chrysler Design Award, for "Design Champion," and a leadership award from the NY Hall of Science; Daniel Rozin, a recipient of the Chrysler Design Award, has had his interactive artwork shown in major museums and galleries around the world; Clay Shirky is a widely published author and commentator on social software and peer to peer networks; Marianne Petit is an artist well known for her interactive stories as well as her work in assistive technologies and social applications; Tom Igoe is one of the developers of the ground-breaking open-source “Arduino” platform for physical computing development and regularly teaches and lectures internationally;  Marina Zurkow is artist whose work is shown around the work, and who is a 2011 recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship; Nancy Hechinger has had a distinguished career running major projects in the museum and educational spheres, including serving as the Founding Director of the National Center for Science Literacy, Education and Technology at the American Museum of Natural History; Daniel Shiffman is acclaimed for his work in developing the open-source Processing coding language and is the author of the text “Learning Processing:  A Beginners Guide to Programming Images, Animations and Interaction.”