Computer Network Histories. Hidden Streams from the Internet Past

Before the rise of the Web and our contemporary digital cultures, computer networks had already been imagined, tested, and used worldwide. This special issue retraces some of the technological, cultural and social paths that shaped the development of networks in six different areas of the world. The papers and the final conversation between two leading scholars of this issue touch some crucial topics of network histories from a variety of cultural, geographical and disciplinary perspectives.

The issue combines studies and researches based on theoretical and empirical analyses in the U.S., Europe, Brazil and South Africa.  Among the most relevant case studies, the story of the Italian-­American pioneer Robert Fano, the early data activism networks in France, the role of telephonic infrastructures in the German network, the digital activism in South Africa during the Apartheid, the communitarian and technical dimension of the first BBS in the U.S., as well as the origins of the Internet in Brazil. A final conversation among the two conference’ keynote speakers also contributes to compare the ways in which network histories are studied but also narrated in different areas of the world.

All papers result from the two-day conference held at the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI) in Lugano on December 2017, which saw the participation of 22 researchers from 13 parts of the globe. Based on new and unpublished researches, the special issue explores six uncharted territories part of the complex Internet realm, linking and adding unveiled nodes to the network of stories and experiences that shaped the internet not only at global level, but also in national and local contexts.

The entire volume can be ordered or downloaded on the web site of the editor, Chronos Verlag: Paolo Bory, Gianluigi Negro, Gabriele Balbi (Hg.): Computer Network Histories: Hidden Streams from the Internet Past (Geschichte und Informatik / Histoire et Informatique, vol. 21, 2019).

Volume edited by Paolo Bory, Gianluigi Negro, Gabriele Balbi.


  • Title page, editorial information, table of contents
  • Paolo Bory, Gianluigi Negro, Gabriele Balbi:
    Introduction: The Tributaries and Distributaries of Computer Network Histories
    (pp. 7-13) (download)
  • Kevin Driscoll:
    Thou Shalt Love Thy BBS: Distributed Experimentation in Community Moderation
    (pp. 15-34) (download)
  • Félix Tréguer, Dominique Trudel:
    From Internet Access Provision to Digital Rights Activism: The History of the French Data Network
    (pp. 35-48) (download)
  • Sophie Toupin:
    Hacking Apartheid: Revolutionary Communication and the South African National Liberation Movement
    (pp. 49-64) (download)
  • Christian Henrich-Franke:
    Computer Networks on Copper Cables: From ‘Promises to the Public’ to ‘Profits for Providers’

    (pp. 65-78) (download)
  • Marcelo Savio Carvalho, Henrique Luiz Cukierman:
    The Dawn of the Internet in Brazil
    (pp. 79-94) (download)
  • Benedetta Campanile:
    Robert Fano, an Italian Computer Scientist from Project Mac to the Internet
    (pp. 95-114) (download)
  • Yong Hu, Benjamin Peters:
    A Conversation on Network Histories
    (pp. 115-124) (download)