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Professor Christopher Bissell

Chris Bissell was a key member of the DTMD (Difference That Makes a Difference) research group from its inception in 2007 until his untimely death in 2017.

The nature of information was only one of his many interests, yet he made significant contributions to the field, as he did to all the areas of his research. His particular focus was on the historical development of informational ideas, with an emphasis on an international perspective. So, for example, in a talk at the first DTMD event in 2007 he took a critical historical perspective on the idea of the information revolution, which he later published as “'The information revolution': taking a long view”.

His international perspective led him to challenge the Anglo-American bias in accounts of the development of technological principles. So, for example, in “Not Just Norbert” he pointed to the work of Hermann Schmidt, Winfried Oppelt and Karl Küpfmüller of Germany as contributors to the development of cybernetic ideas, to be recognised along with Norbert Wiener of the US and Arnold Tustin of the UK, and in “Interpreting the information age: can we avoid anglocentrism?” he added the work of the computer pioneer Konrad Zuse of Germany and Vladimir Kotelnikov of Russia. Chris had found that Kotelnikov published the first engineering account of the sampling theorem as early as 1933 (before Shannon), and it is a consequence of the work of Chris (see, for example, Vladimir Aleksandrovich Kotelnikov: Pioneer of the sampling theorem, cryptography, optimal detection, planetary mapping) that Vladimir Kotelnikov now appears alongside Claude Shannon and Harry Nyquist in the annals of information theory. It is important, furthermore, to the understanding of the contribution of Chris to know that he was an accomplished linguist, and that his research into the German and Russian work involved reading original sources and interviewing participants and witnesses in their mother tongue.

Another perspective of Chris on the theory of information is the role of the graphical presentations of information by engineers and in “Electronics and Information Engineering: a new approach to modelling 1890 – 1950”, he described the development of the Nichols Chart and the Smith Chart.

As equally important as his research, Chris had been unreservedly committed to the vision and the teaching mission of The Open University since he joined the OU in 1980. This led him to take on significant management roles and make substantial and innovative contributions to the university’s distance teaching modules.

Chris’s output was prolific. As well as numerous OU module units he has three books to his name and 65 publications on The Open University repository, most of them as the sole-author.  He was, moreover, a true polymath, with the ability to apply his extraordinary intellectual capabilities to whatever topic took his interest. This is nicely illustrated by his final two publications, one entitled “A new approach to the introductory teaching of Computing and IT at the Open University UK” and the other “Piobaireachd [Pibroch]: the classical music of the Great Highland Bagpipe”.

The DTMD research group, The Open University and indeed the wider national and international academic community has been enriched by the contribution of Chris Bissell and is the poorer for his passing.