Volume 50, Number 2 (May/Jun 2015)

Histories of the Internet: Introducing a special issue of Information and Culture

Thomas Haigh, Andrew L. Russell, William H. Dutton

p. 143-159


We explore the gap between broad conceptions of the Internet common in daily life and the rather narrow framing of most existing work on Internet history. Looking both at scholarly histories and popular myths we suggest that the expanding scope of the Internet had created a demand for different kinds of history that capture the development of the many technological and social practices that converged to create today’s Internet-based online world. Finally, we summarize the papers in this special issue which collectively demonstrate that there is more than one history of the Internet.

“Singing the strong light works of [American] engineers”: Popular Histories of the Internet as Mythopoetic Literature

Merav Katz-Kimchi

p. 160-180


During the 1990s, when the Internet became a common communication medium in the United States, its history was recounted in numerous works that were intended for popular American audiences. In the context of the new legitimizing discourse of the techno-political order of post-Fordist society that views network technology at the center of an emancipatory social transformation, this article critically analyzes the role of the authors, as well as the main characters, actions, plot, and narrative of these works. The authors wrote for specific intended audiences, casting the history of the Internet into the mythopoetic form of the technological romance that dramatizes the eroticized prodigious work of the so-called Internet pioneers.

From Virtual to Social – Transforming Concepts and Images of the Internet

Christian Oggolder

p. 181-196


One history of the Internet is the history of changing perceptions of this particular innovation over the course of time. This paper argues that the societal perception, concepts and images of the Internet, and the changes to it are to a large extent affected by the traditional media. Against this background, the study gives a historical analysis of Internet-related news coverage in the leading liberal newspapers in Germany, Great Britain and Italy between 2000 and 2012.

From the Mainframe to the Masses: A Participatory Computing Movement in Minnesota Education

Joy Rankin

p. 197-216


Historians have demonstrated how systems like Usenet and Minitel fostered the social practices that we now associate with the TCP/IP Internet, but no one has considered networked computing in education. From 1965-75, Minnesota implemented interactive computing at its public schools and universities with time-sharing systems – networks of teletypewriter terminals connected to computers via telephone lines. These educational networks, created with different priorities than military-sponsored networks, were user-oriented from the start and encouraged software-sharing and collaboration. Focusing on the educational setting gives us a history of the Internet firmly grounded in the social and political movements of the long 1960s.

Part of a Whole: RENATER, a 20-year-old Network within the Internet

Valérie Schafer

p. 217-235


Internet history cannot entirely reflect the complexity of the network of networks’ genesis and development if not by taking into account parallel or rival projects and national paths. This article shows how the study of a specific network, e.g. RENATER (the French National Telecommunications Network for Technology, Education and Research, both a public interest group and a network born in 1993), can also shed light, in a detailed way, on Internet history. It seeks to demonstrate how this case study allows for a more nuanced picture of some “internet-centric” and teleological vision of Internet history.

“If You Build It, They Will Come”: Lusk, Wyoming, and the Information Highway Imaginaire, 1989-1999

Nadine I. Kozak

p. 236-256


Historians of the Internet have richly analyzed the government and academic origins of networked computing in the 1960s and 1970s as well as the early commercialization of the Internet. This work adds to the available histories by analyzing local Internet policy. This article examines Lusk, Wyoming’s development of a fiber optic network to attract information-rich industries and enter the information age. I employ the concept of Patrice Flichy’s information highway imaginaire to highlight how the national discourse around information and communication technologies led Lusk to create its network and how the town’s network, in turn, contributed to the collective vision.

Professional Work for Nothing: Software Commercialization and “An Open Letter to Hobbyists”

Kevin Driscoll

p. 257-283


In 1975, Bill Gates published “An Open Letter to Hobbyists” in response to unauthorized duplication of Microsoft software. The letter appeared in numerous hobby magazines and club newsletters, sparking a dialogue among contemporary hobbyist readers, many of whom had not yet seriously considered the ethical and economic dimensions of commercial software. In the 1980s, histories of personal computing published in the popular press preserved a memory of the Open Letter that was later taken up by advocates of the free and open source software movement. As the Open Letter traveled through each of these discursive contexts, it enabled enthusiasts and entrepreneurs alike to think about the problems of ownership, authorship, labor, and value brought about by software commercialization.

This issue is available on Project MUSE