DH150/250 (Fall 2014, UCLA): Internet Histories

Digital Humanities 150/250: Internet Histories

Fall 2014 (Oct 2 – Dec 12), Tuesday and Thursdays 1:00-2:15, Young Research Library 11630F (registrar link)

Course Overview

This course is an introduction to the development of the Internet, particularly in North America, from the 1960s to the early 1990s.  We begin with mainframe computer systems of the 1950s, and end with the rise of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, traveling through the hacking, darknets, nuclear survival, congestion collapse, protocol wars, man-computer symbiosis, and dream machines that brought the Internet to its massive global and mobile expansion.

The history of the internet is not the same thing as the history of all computer networks.  Indeed, the technologies that led directly to the modern internet are only a small subset of the computer networks that were developed and operated since the 1970s.  Today, nearly all have vanished, but not before they may have influenced the development of internet technologies along the way.  For this reason, this course treats the history of the Internet as a case study in the broader history of computer networks, and as we follow this history, we will examine other networks along the way.  What is more, we focus not only on the technologies from which the modern Internet was built, but also on the politics and cultures in which their use and creation was embedded.  Through this course you will ask and answer questions such as: Where did the Internet come from?  Why did we get our Internet, instead of any number of alternatives?  How was it used and what did it enable?  Is it doing what was expected, or is it worse, or better?  What’s been tried before, and what’s left to be done?

We will make use of both secondary source materials, such as formal histories written by historians and other scholars, alongside primary sources such as emails, reports, meeting minutes, and other first-hand accounts generated while history was being made.   In considering a wide range of primary and secondary sources, we can challenge assumptions and search for our own findings, in this field of history that is undergoing rapid change.

Grade Breakdown

Blog Posts 20%: You are responsible for writing a weekly, 400 word blog post in CCLE, and commenting on two other students’ blog posts . The first is due on Oct 7 and the last is due on Nov 25 (no post is due on the last week); each is due before class on Tuesday, responding to a secondary source for that week.  In doing so, you will give yourself plenty to speak about in class discussion, and materials that you can use in your main project.  In your blog post, you are free to provide any insights and opinions you like, but you should always answer the following questions: What is the author’s 1) topic and/or primary question, 2) argument or hypothesis, 3) method for supporting the argument or hypothesis, 4) effectiveness in making this argument (in particular, how well his/her data supports the argument), and 5) any additional comments you may have.  This exercise will prepare you for class discussion, and for your main project and final exam question.  Your blog post will address a secondary source, although you can also comment on primary sources.  During the course, I will touch base with you on your blog posts, in class discussion and directly.

Class Participation 15 (+5)%: We will base discussions off my lectures, as well as the points you raise in your blog posts.  Your three contributions to our Zotero library will also count toward class participation (1.67% each; pass/fail).

Main Project 40% (due Dec 12): We will use Scalar to turn a ‘final paper’ into a digital project, by closely linking your own research paper with primary source materials (such as documents, photos, audio, and video).  In doing so, you will get great experience with Content Management Systems (CMS), online archives, and using digital techniques in the social sciences.  We will gradually introduce you to Scalar throughout the course, with lots of on-hand help, so that technical challenges do not get in the way of your research.  The amount of research and writing will be the equivalent of a 10 page double-spaced paper.  We will hold labs throughout the course and both classes in week 10 where I can check in and help you develop your project.

Final Exam 20% (due Dec 17): I will ask you a short question designed to let you show off your knowledge and thinking on the topics you explore in your main project (this will all take place over email, in a 24 hour period).


Email: Email me at the address on the right sidebar. If your question is already on the syllabus, or too involved for email (i.e. better asked in class or office hours), I will tell you.

Office Hours:  Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:15-3:00, YRL collaboration pods

Intellectual Honesty:  It is your responsibility to understand plagiarism and to not do it.  Check a UCLA resource guide; ask me if there is something on which you are unclear.  Always ask!

Attendance: you are permitted two unexplained absences; after that, without documentation or prior approval, you lose 5% a day.

Research and Instructional Technology Consultant: Craig Messner

Week Zero: Course Introduction

Oct 2

Today will be devoted to explaining what you can expect from this course, as well as what we mean by “internet histories” and “digital humanities.”  If you are reading this syllabus before our first meeting (good for you!), watch the 1967 parody silent film Ellis D. Kropotchev about batch processing, and then selections (the first five minutes, and a few minutes after 18:30) from the 1963 MIT film Timesharing: A Solution to Computer Bottlenecks — this will give you a sense of the way people used computers during the earliest beginnings of networked computing.


Week One: the Early Promise of Computing in the Cold War

Oct 7 CCLE instruction; final project discussion

Edwards, Paul N. The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America. The MIT Press, 1997.  Chapter 3.

Oct 9 Zotero introduction

The Closed World, pp. 256-71

Licklider, J. C R. “Man-Computer Symbiosis.” IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics HFE-1, no. 1 (March 1960): 4–11. doi:10.1109/THFE2.1960.4503259.

Engelbart, Doug.  The mother of all demos.  Parts one and two (seven minutes total)


Week Two: Building Early Computer Networks

Oct 14 Introduction to UCLA Digital Humanities by Dr. Miriam Posner

Abbate, Janet. Inventing the Internet. MIT Press, 2000, Chapter 1.

Baran, Paul.  On Distributed Communications I.  5-7, 15-16, 30-31

Oct 16 Scalar lab

Inventing the Internet, Chapter 2.

Request For Comments #3 (two pages)

Optional: ARPA Computer Network – Request For Proposals (pp. 1-4, 23-38)


Week Three: Early Networks

Oct 21 Oral history discussion

Inventing the Internet, Chapters 3

Choose an oral history from which to explore approx. 10 pages (read and/or listen): Lawrence Roberts, Stephen Lukasik, David Walden

Oct 23 Scalar lab

Medina, Eden. “Designing Freedom, Regulating a Nation: Socialist Cybernetics in Allende’s Chile.” Journal of Latin American Studies 38, no. 03 (2006): 581–606.

Bonus: ICCC Demo Pamphlet


Week Four: Creating the big-I Internet

Oct 28 Boelter Hall field trip

Inventing the Internet, Chapter 4

ARPANET Newsletters 1 & 2

Oct 30

Grier, D.A, and M. Campbell. “A Social History of Bitnet and Listserv, 1985-1991.” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 22, no. 2 (April 2000): 32–41. doi:10.1109/85.841135.

Hauben, Michael, and Ronda Hauben. Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet. Los Alamitos, Calif: Wiley-IEEE Computer Society Pr, 1997. Chapter 10.


Week Five: Protocol Wars and Privatization

Nov 4: Telehack lab

Inventing the Internet, Chapter 5

TCP/IP listserv digest (Try to locate discussions about the benefits of TCP/IP versus its competitors)

Nov 6 Scalar lab

Inventing the Internet, Chapter 6

Shah, Rajiv C., and Jay P. Kesan. “The Privatization of the Internet’s Backbone Network.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 51, no. 1 (April 10, 2007): 93–109.

Request For Comments 1192


Week Six: Rethinking the Writing of Internet History

Nov 11

Rosenzweig, Roy. “Wizards, Bureaucrats, Warriors, and Hackers: Writing the History of the Internet.” The American Historical Review 103, no. 5 (December 1998): 1530. doi:10.2307/2649970.

Nov 13

Katz-Kimchi, Merav. “Singing the Strong Light Works of [American] Engineers: Popular Histories of the Internet as Mythopoetic Literature.” Information and Culture, 2014.


Week Seven: Global Emergence of Network Technologies

Nov 18

Chan, Anita Say.  “Balancing Design: OLPC Engineers and ICT Translations at the Periphery.”  In Beyond Imported Magic: Essays on Science, Technology, and Society in Latin America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2014.  Chapter 9.

Siles, Ignacio. “Establishing the Internet in Costa Rica: Co-Optation and the Closure of Technological Controversies.” The Information Society 28, no. 1 (December 29, 2011): 13–23. doi:10.1080/01972243.2012.632257.

Prepare to discuss the ways that the emergence of Internet connectivity in the developing world is portrayed in the Internet Society’s Internet history resources and elsewhere on the Internet

Nov 20 Guest Lecture: Federico Novick

Novick, F. “A Network, One Day: Before Internet in Argentina.” In Informatica (CLEI), 2012 XXXVIII Conferencia Latinoamericana En, 1–11, 2012.   (Translation.)

UUCP Zone Application Form,” 1987.


Week Eight: Development and Nationalization: Alternatives to the Internet

Nov 25  Scalar lab

De Roy, Olivier Coeur. “The African Challenge: Internet, Networking and Connectivity Activities in a Developing Environment.” Third World Quarterly 18, no. 5 (1997): 883–98.

Bush, Randy. “FidoNet: Technology, Tools, and History.” Commun. ACM 36, no. 8 (August 1993): 31–35. doi:10.1145/163381.163383.

Nov 27

Fletcher, Amy L. “France Enters the Information Age: A Political History of Minitel.” History and Technology 18, no. 2 (January 1, 2002): 103–19. doi:10.1080/07341510220150315.


Week Nine: World Wide Web(s)

Dec 2

Weber, Marc.  “The Web at 25,” CORE 25, pp 37-55

Computer History Museum: The Web

Dec 4

Gilles and Cailliau, 2000.  How the Web Was Born.  Selections.


Week Ten:Final Projects

Dec 9 Final project workshop

Dec 11 Final project workshop



My thanks to Zoe Borovsky, Miriam Posner, Todd Presner, Federico Novick, Marc Weber, and Craig Messner.