Lecture: Andrew L. Russell, The Open Internet: An Exploration in Network Archaeology

January 29, 2015
3:00 PM
Mann Assembly Room, Paterno Library

The DCMI speaker series in Critical Media and Digital Studies features speakers invited to visit Penn State. Its goal is to present critical, rather than merely celebratory perspectives on the study of digital culture and media; to explore emerging perspectives on the politics of the technology industry, software engineering ethics, and the legislative regulation of data collection and analysis; and to integrate with the study of digital culture and media the study of social class, race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, disability, and postcoloniality, as well as non-Western cultural perspectives.

On January 29, 2015, Andrew L. Russell joined us to deliver a lecture titled “The Open Internet: An Exploration in Network Archaeology.”

Event flyer

Follow-up interview (February–March 2015)

Description of presentation

Popular histories of the Internet feature a linear and teleological approach to their subject, one that marginalizes or ignores developments that do not fit neatly into a narrative of the Internet’s success. Historians of technology know better than to accept such tidy narratives, but so far they have failed to convince scholars, policymakers, and the public to see nuance and contingency (rather than the bold march of progress) in the Internet’s history. In this lecture I pursue an alternative strategy, adopting concepts from “media archaeology” and “network archaeology” to highlight two anecdotes in networking history — Bancroft Gherardi’s “engineering of the present” in the American Bell Telephone System in the 1920s, and Louis Pouzin’s “heterogenius computer network” in France in the 1970s. I argue that while Gherardi and Pouzin do not fit easily into heroic tales of how we got to now, their stories have more to offer those who have noticed some uncomfortable contradictions in 21st century discourses of innovation, network neutrality, and the Open Internet.

Speaker bio

Andrew L. Russell is an Associate Professor in History and Director of the Program in Science & Technology Studies in the College of Arts & Letters at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. He is the author of Open Standards and the Digital Age: History, Ideology, and Networks (Cambridge University Press, 2014) and he has published over a dozen articles and book chapters on standardization in the Bell System, the history of modular systems, Internet history, and digital cellular networks in the United States and Europe. His teaching includes courses on American history, the history of science and technology, the history of business and innovation, and social aspects of information and communication technologies. He is a graduate of Vassar College (B.A. History, 1996), the University of Colorado at Boulder (M.A. History, 2003), and the Johns Hopkins University (Ph.D. History of Science and Technology, 2007), and worked in the Harvard Information Infrastructure Project in Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government from 1997 to 1999. He is the Reviews Editor for IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, a member of the IEEE Computer Society History Committee, and Chair of SIGCIS, an international collective of historians of computing and information technologies.

Description, from publisher’s Web site

How did openness become a foundational value for the networks of the twenty-first century? Open Standards and the Digital Age answers this question through an interdisciplinary history of information networks that pays close attention to the politics of standardization. For much of the twentieth century, information networks such as the monopoly Bell System and the American military’s Arpanet were closed systems subject to centralized control. In the 1970s and 1980s, however, engineers in the United States and Europe experimented with design strategies to create new digital networks. In the process, they embraced discourses of “openness” to describe their ideological commitments to entrepreneurship, technological innovation, and participatory democracy. The rhetoric of openness has flourished – for example, in movements for open government, open source software, and open access publishing – but such rhetoric also obscures the ways the Internet and other “open” systems still depend heavily on hierarchical forms of control.

Other resources


Publisher’s Web site for Open Standards and the Digital Age: History, Ideology, and Networks

Author’s resource page for Open Standards and the Digital Age: History, Ideology, and Networks (includes reviews, events, and press/interviews)

Andrew Russell Web site

Andrew Russell on Twitter