December 11, 2012

Documents that Changed the World: ‘Robert’s Rules of Order’

News and Information

Roberts Rules of Order image for Documents that Changed the World Joe Janes podcast series

The 11th edition of “Roberts Rules of Order.”

Joe Janes visits the arcane world of parliamentary procedure and its veritable bible, “Robert’s Rules of Order,” in the latest entry to his Documents that Changed the World podcast series.

In the series Janes, professor in the University of Washington Information School, explores the origin and often evolving meaning of historical documents both famous and less known. UW Today presents these periodically, and all of the podcasts are available on iTunes.

“Robert’s Rules” is a subject Janes knows better than most; he served in student government in graduate school and is now parliamentarian for the UW Faculty Senate. “I have an appreciation for the subtlety and importance of parliamentary procedure,” he said, “and an understanding of its complexity and occasionally maddening level of detail.”

Janes said parliamentary procedure is often only vaguely understood, even by many who use it, and is known “only euphemistically or comically” by others. He gives in to the humor himself in the podcast, after noting that dedicated parliamentarians can get certified by a national association: “Pause with me for a second to imagine what their meetings must be like.”

And then there is the man behind the famous rules, Henry Martyn Robert, who took it upon himself to write and then self-publish the first volume of his rule book in 1876. The first run of 4,000 copies quickly sold out; 136 years later the book is in its 11th printing and still selling.

“I was also struck by Robert the man, his engineering career that was largely unappreciated, and his very American, can-do, somebody’s-got-to-fix this mentality, which produced a work still in use over a century later,” Janes said. “Not a bad legacy at all.”

This is the ninth podcast in the series, and Janes continues to research and record new installments. The podcasts also are available at the iSchool website and on iTunes, where the series is approaching its 20,000th download.