Re: [Nethistory] Need a change

Jack Haverty <> Fri, 04 January 2019 20:14 UTC

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From: Jack Haverty <>
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Date: Fri, 4 Jan 2019 12:14:12 -0800
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Subject: Re: [Nethistory] Need a change
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On 1/4/19 7:52 AM, Heather Flanagan wrote:
> I know the Computer History Museum would be happy to get their hands on
> the first 1000 or so RFCs held as ISI, but the library at USC is also
> quite interested in keeping them and everything else that was in Jon
> Postel's office.

One observation I'd like to toss into the bucket of nethistory...

The period from the early 70s through the 80s was, IMHO, an anomalous
time with respect to the history of historical records.  Electronic mail
had just been created, and communications of all kinds, from short notes
to formal documents, had started to be created and existed in digital
form.  An analogous time might be when the transition to printing
presses occurred, replacing papyrus, scrolls, and other forms of
document storage.

Having lived through that 70s/80s transition, one thing I noticed was
that the ways in which people interacted changed drastically.  In
earlier days, debate, discussion, and argument was carried out through
conferences, papers, journals, and other such means.  After the advent
of computers and especially networks, electronic mechanisms became a
preferred mechanism for interaction, at least by anyone who had access
to them.

Electronic mail, mailing lists, FTP servers, gophers, et al carried much
more of the ongoing debates than appeared, or were captured, by papers,
conferences and such in that era.  Much of the intellectual work was
never captured in any traditional form.  It was simply easier and faster
to interact electronically.  So we did.

After the advent of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, even the new
electronic mechanisms became much more permanent, with human
interactions saved for posterity in electronic servers and archives, and
even old paper, audio, and video records appearing in electronic form.
But through the 70s/80s, such archival mechanisms did not widely exist.

For historians, my point is simply that the 70s/80s were a unique era in
computing history, when much of interesting debate, discussion, and
exploratory thinking was not captured at all in the more formal
mechanisms of publication, but only survives, if at all, in personal
records and sporadically saved artifacts such as archives of popular
mailing lists, newsgroups, et al.

So, while the RFCs are quite important as a rare early "formal"
publication of the research, they are themselves an anomaly in the sense
that they did not capture much of the other debate, discussion,
alternatives, issues, ideas, concepts, and other interesting historical
activity especially of the 70s/80s.  They only tell one part of the
story, and little of the story behind the story.

Archives of mailing lists, such as HEADER-PEOPLE, MSGGROUP,
TCP-IP-WORKING-GROUP and others (I may not have the names exactly
right), are important historically.  Materials from other worlds of that
same era, if they still exist, also tell important parts of the story,
e.g., documents, electronic mail archives, and such materials from ARPA,
NSF, ISO, CCITT, SRI, BBN, MIT, Xerox, DEC, IBM, and many others would
put the early history of The Internet into the context of the 70s/80s.

Museums (and libraries) traditionally seem to like to save things that
they can display. Digital artifacts don't fit very well in that picture.
 Is any organization collecting digital artifacts for historical

/Jack Haverty
Nevada City, CA
January 4, 2019