Re: [Nethistory] Collecting the history of networking, a possible methodology

Marc Weber <> Sun, 26 May 2013 20:32 UTC

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From: Marc Weber <>
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Date: Sun, 26 May 2013 13:32:08 -0700
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To: George Michaelson <>, Brian E Carpenter <>
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Subject: Re: [Nethistory] Collecting the history of networking, a possible methodology
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The IETF BoF and Nethistory mailing list were initiated by professionals and practitioners in exactly the disciplines George Michaelson describes. I'm chair, I founded the Internet History Program at the largest collecting computer history museum in the world (CHM), have done hundreds of oral histories, and collaborate regularly with a dozen peer institutions. Jake Feinler has been an advisor and core volunteer to the Computer History Museum for a decade.

So why networking history at the IETF? Because a huge amount of historically important networking material is NOT finding its way to the formal institutions that are equipped to preserve it – including material generated by the IETF itself and its participants. 

If you read our draft charter and slide show (, you'll see that our primary goal is to be a matchmaker between at-risk materials and permanent archiving institutions in different countries. The goal is not to "design" net history – as George correctly points out it has long been designed – but to help get more of the source materials on which it depends into the hands of the professionals who can preserve it. 

Some of that professional community does, indeed, include students in the history of technology and related fields as George suggests. As Brad Fidler of UCLA mentioned in his videoconference presentation at the History BoF in Orlando, his program already has two interns working on the goals of the Nethistory mailing list. This shows that one way to get students involved is through history activities within the IETF. 

Perhaps most important, the idea of hosting this sort of effort within a technical standards body or organization is not nearly as singular as it may sound. There are history functions of differing kinds within the IEEE, ACM, and W3C (some of whom are following our IETF efforts with interest), and I'm sure several others. In all cases the goal is put those functions close to where history is being made, and to leverage the geographic reach of such bodies to better preserve it and make it known. 

- Marc

p.s. oral histories were not presented as a top goal at the BoF, but George brings them up and Brian Carpenter correctly notes the Charles Babbage Institute at the University of Minnesota as one major repository. CHM has conducted or collected over 600 video oral histories, including nearly 200 in networking, and taken together dedicated networking history efforts like Andreu Vea's (he came in at the BoF by videolink) and the earlier Web History Project that I co-founded have done hundreds more. However, the majority of pioneers interviewed have been in North America and Europe, and this is where the an international effort as through the IETF can help address the rest of the world.  

On May 25, 2013, at 7:55 PM, Brian E Carpenter wrote:

> On 26/05/2013 14:00, George Michaelson wrote:
>> I said this at the Orlando meeting but I'd like to repeat it here:
>> There is an entire discipline dedicated to collecting, curating, archiving.
>> There is an entire discipline dedicated to collecting oral history.
>> Why does the IETF always have to act as if it, and only it, is capable of
>> defining how to do _anything_ ?
>> Instead of beating our heads against the wall 'designing' how to do net
>> history, why don't we do outreach to the people who have formalized
>> processes and methods, to collect, collate and archive this kind of thing?
> I thought that was the idea; at least that was how I interpreted
> Elizabeth Feinler's message. But sourcing the raw data is something
> that only the networking community itself can do, and a structure for
> that is needed.
> I think you'll find there's already oral history around from some
> pioneers, in the generic oral history collections. For example,
> Fairly obviously, whatever
> we collect would be best added to one of the existing archives.
>     Brian
>> Sometimes, we aren't actually the right people to do things.
>> Lets get in touch with the Sussex University social history people, the
>> history of science schools in the US, Asia, and lets get them assigning
>> their brilliant minds to this problem. They have students, dying for theses
>> topics, students who need honors projects, busting to be assigned something
>> juicy to work on.
>> Lets get them working on us.
>> -George
>> On Sun, May 26, 2013 at 11:40 AM, Dave Crocker <> wrote:
>>> On 5/25/2013 4:59 AM, Jack Haverty wrote:
>>>> For example, I recently did some garage archaeology and unearthed my
>>>> notebooks from the late 70s and early 80s with all my notes from various
>>>> meetings of TCP, IP, ICCB/IAB, and other meetings of the early working
>>>> groups.  If I scan them before the ink blurs beyond readability, where
>>>> should I FTP the files...?
>>> When considering an effort to specify a mechanism, I'm a fan of use cases,
>>> to guide everyone's thinking.  Use cases are typically simple, concrete,
>>> direct and realistic.
>>> The above seems to me to be one of the more iconic examples for the
>>> current effort.  I'd think that if the effort develops a useful, scalable
>>> answer, it will have significantly improved the world's long-term archiving
>>> of Internet historical data.
>>> What other questions should be on the list?
>>> d/
>>> --
>>> Dave Crocker
>>> Brandenburg InternetWorking
>>> ______________________________**_________________
>>> Nethistory mailing list
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>> Nethistory mailing list
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Marc Weber  |  |   +1 415 282 6868 
Internet History Program Founder and Curator, Computer History Museum            
1401 N Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View CA 94043
Co-founder, Web History Center and Project,