The SAGE Handbook of Web History


Edited by: Niels Brügger & Ian Milligan

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  • Front Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part I: The Web and Historiography

    Part II: Theoretical and Methodological Reflections

    Part III: Technical and Structural Dimensions of Web History

    Part IV: Platforms on the Web

    Part V: Web History and Users, some Case Studies

    Part VI: Roads Ahead

  • Copyright

    List of Figures and Box


    Notes on the Editors and Contributors

    The Editors

    Niels Brügger is Professor at Aarhus University, the School of Communication and Culture. In 2000 he co-founded the Centre for Internet Studies, Aarhus University, and has headed the centre since 2010. Since 2014 he has been Head of NetLab, a research infrastructure for the study of the archived web. His research interests are web historiography, web archiving, and media theory. Within these fields he has authored a number of publications, including Web 25: Histories from the first 25 years of the World Wide Web (Ed., Peter Lang, 2017), The Web as History: Using Web Archives to Understand the Past and the Present (Ed. with Ralph Schroeder, UCL Press, 2017), and The Archived Web: Doing History in the Digital Age (MIT Press, 2018). He is co-founder (2017) and managing editor of the international journal Internet Histories: Digital Technology, Culture and Society (Taylor & Francis/Routledge).

    Ian Milligan is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Waterloo, where he teaches Canadian and digital history. Ian's work explores how historians can use web archives, the large repositories of cultural information that the Internet Archive and many other libraries have been collecting since 1996. He has published two books: the co-authored Exploring Big Historical Data: The Historian's Macroscope (2015) and Rebel Youth: 1960s Labour Unrest, Young Workers, and New Leftists in English Canada (2014). In 2016, Ian was named the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities/Société canadienne des humanités numériques (CSDH/SCHN)'s recipient of the Outstanding Early Career Award.

    The Contributors

    Adam Amram is a scientific programmer. He holds an MSc from the Department of Information and Knowledge Management at Haifa University. His research focuses on developing computational tools for web research.

    Belinda Barnet is Senior Lecturer in Media at Swinburne with research interests in digital cultures, social media, the app economy, data analytics, AI, and the history of digital media. Her current projects include examining the role of automation in speech rehabilitation in order to improve the use of cochlear implants in deaf children. Alongside her research work, she has worked as Service Delivery Manager (Wireless Content Services) for Ericsson Australia. She is the author of Memory Machines: The Evolution of Hypertext (Anthem Press UK, 2013). You can find her on Twitter at @manjusrii.

    Valérie Beaudouin is a Professor of Social Sciences at Telecom ParisTech. She studies the changes in social practices related to the digital era. She has been directing and conducting research on online communities, self-publication, author's networks, online amateur critiques, and currently the construction of heritage and digital memories about WWI with the French National Library. Information technology as a tool for humanities is one of her special interests: she specialized in text mining and social network tools and more generally on digital methods for social sciences. She graduated from ENSAE ParisTech as a Statistician Economist in 1991 and obtained a PhD in Linguistics in 2000 at EHESS (Higher School of Social Sciences). Her most recent publication, with Dominique Pasquier, is ‘Forms of contribution and contributors’ profiles: An automated textual analysis of amateur on line film critics’ in New Media & Society.

    Anat Ben-David is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Political Science and Communication, and Head of the Open Media and Information Lab at the Open University of Israel. Her research focuses on national web studies and digital sovereignty, web history and web archive research, and the politics of online platforms. Methodologically, her work specializes in developing and applying digital and computational methods for web research.

    Finn Brunton ( is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. He is the author of Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet (MIT Press, 2013), Obfuscation: A User's Guide for Privacy and Protest with Helen Nissenbaum (MIT Press, 2015), Communicate with Mercedes Bunz (University of Minnesota Press, 2018), and Digital Cash: The Unknown History of the Anarchists, Immortalists, and Utopians Who Created Cryptocurrency (Princeton University Press, 2019), as well as numerous articles and papers.

    Anthony Cocciolo is the Dean at Pratt Institute School of Information in New York City. His research and teaching are in the area of archives and digital preservation. He recently published Moving Image and Sound Collections for Archivists (Chicago: Society of American Archivists). Cocciolo completed his doctorate from the Communication, Media and Learning Technologies Design program at Teachers College, Columbia University, and his B.S. in Computer Science from the University of California, Riverside.

    Matthew Crain is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Media, Journalism, and Film at Miami University. His research interests include the commercial development of the Internet, the political economy of the media, communications policy, and critical studies of advertising. His work has been published in academic journals including New Media & Society and the International Journal of Communication. He previously taught at Queens College, City University of New York.

    Andy Famiglietti is a Professor of Digital Rhetoric at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has previously published on the rhetoric of Wikipedia editors in First Monday. His ongoing research projects adapt digital humanities distant reading methods to better understand rhetorical strategies utilized in Wikipedia and other online spaces. He is also a software developer, working to build open source educational tools for writing classrooms.

    Gerard Goggin is Professor of Media and Communications and ARC Future Fellow, University of Sydney. He is a leading figure in mobile media and communication research, with key books including Cell Phone Culture (2006), Global Mobile Media (2011), the Routledge Companion to Mobile Media (2014), the four-volume Major Works: Mobile Technologies (2016), and Location Technologies in International Context (2018). Goggin is also a founding editor of the journal Internet Histories, and editor of the Routledge Companion to Global Internet Histories (2017).

    Dene Grigar is Professor and Director of The Creative Media and Digital Culture Program at Washington State University Vancouver, whose research focuses on the creation, curation, preservation, and criticism of electronic literature. She is President of the Electronic Literature Organization. Grigar has authored 14 media works, including Curlew (2014), A Villager's Tale (2011), and When Ghosts Will Die (2008). She curates exhibits of electronic literature and media art, and has mounted shows at the British Computer Society, the Library of Congress, the Symposium on Electronic Art, and the Modern Language Association (MLA), among other venues. With Stuart Moulthrop she developed the methodology for documenting born-digital media, a project that culminated in an open source, multimedia book, entitled Pathfinders (2015), and a book of media art criticism, entitled Traversals (2017), for The MIT Press. In 2017, she was awarded the Lewis E. and Stella G. Buchanan Distinguished Professorship by her university.

    Alexander Halavais is an Associate Professor of Social Technologies in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Arizona State University, where he researches ways in which social media change the nature of scholarship and learning and allow for new forms of collaboration and self-government. He directs the Masters in Social Technologies program. The second edition of his Search Engine Society was published by Polity in 2017, and he is working on a book tentatively entitled All Seeing.

    Anne Helmond is Assistant Professor of New Media and Digital Culture at the Department of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. She is a member of the Digital Methods Initiative and App Studies Initiative research collectives where she focuses her research on the infrastructure of social media platforms and mobile apps. Her research interests include digital methods, software studies, platform studies, app studies, infrastructure studies, and web history. She currently holds a Veni grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) for the project ‘App ecosystems: A critical history of apps’ (2017–20). More info:

    Tanja Jadin is a Professor for E-Learning at the Study Programme Communication and Knowledge Media at the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria. She holds a doctoral degree in Psychology from the University of Salzburg. Her main research interests are computer-supported collaborative learning, self-regulated learning, informal learning, teaching and learning with new media, and media literacy.

    Steve Jones is a UIC-Distinguished Professor of Communication, Research Associate in the UIC Electronic Visualization Laboratory, Adjunct Professor of Computer Science, and Adjunct Research Professor in the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research interests include the social history of communication technology, health and new media, human augmentics, virtual environments and virtual reality, popular music studies, Internet studies, and media history. He was the founder and first President of the Association of Internet Researchers and served as Senior Research Fellow at the Pew Internet and American Life Project. He is editor of New Media & Society, co-editor of Mobile Media & Communication, and edits the Digital Formations book series for Peter Lang Publishing. His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, Centers for Disease Control, and the Tides Foundation. Jones was named a Fellow of the International Communication Association in 2012.

    Justin Joque is a scholar of philosophy, technology and media and the visualization librarian at the University of Michigan. He completed his PhD in Communications and Media Studies at the European Graduate School and holds a Masters in Science of Information from the University of Michigan. He is most recently the author of Deconstruction Machines: Writing in the Age of Cyberwar (University of Minnesota Press, 2018).

    Allie Kosterich is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Media, Communications, and Visual Arts at Pace University. Allie's research examines transformation in the media industry, particularly at the intersection of organizations, institutions, and digital technologies. Her recent work focuses on institutional change in news media in reaction to new forms of media production. This includes a large-scale study examining career histories and skill sets of professional journalists in the United States. Allie uses mixed methods in her work, including archival research, interviews, and social network analysis. Allie received her PhD in 2017 from Rutgers University School of Communication and Information.

    Ditte Laursen is Head of Department for Digital Cultural Heritage at The Royal Danish Library. She is experienced in collection management, IT governance, and research and development. Her special interests include digital cultural heritage, digital humanities, and digital research infrastructures. She is the author or co-author of numerous publications on digital archives, social interaction in, around, and across digital media, and users’ engagement with museums and libraries, all published in international peer-reviewed journals and anthologies.

    Stine Lomborg is Associate Professor in Communication and IT at the University of Copenhagen. She holds a PhD in Media Studies from Aarhus University. Her research centers on new models of communication in the context of digital media and empirical studies of the uses of social and mobile media in the context of self-tracking and online communication. She is the author of Social Media – Social Genres: Making Sense of the Ordinary (Routledge), which uses web archival research on social media use in Denmark to understand the development of new forms of everyday communication and sociality, and has also authored several articles reflecting on the methodological, ethical and regulatory implications of digital media.

    Madhavi Mallapragada is Associate Professor in the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research interests are in the areas of new media, cultural studies, media and diaspora, race and ethnicity, media industries, Asian American media, and immigrant culture. She is the author of Virtual Homelands: Indian Immigrants and Online Cultures in the United States (University of Illinois Press, 2014). She is currently working on a book-length project on the politics of race and ethnicity in US media industries. Her research has been published in the journals Television and New Media, Communication, Culture & Critique, New Media and Society, South Asian Popular Culture, and in the edited anthologies Global Asian American Popular Cultures (2016), Re-Orienting Global Communication: Indian and Chinese Media Beyond Borders (2010), Critical Cyberculture Studies: Current Terrains, Future Directions (2006), and Web.studies: Rewiring New Media for the Digital Age (2000).

    Jim McGrath is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Public Humanities at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage (Brown University). His research interests include digital humanities, public humanities, community archives, electronic literature, and Internet subcultures. He received his PhD in English from Northeastern University, where he was also Project Co-Director of Our Marathon: The Boston Bombing Digital Archive. He is on Twitter @JimMc_Grath.

    Mark McLelland is a Professor in the Sociology program at the University of Wollongong. He is author or editor of over ten books focusing on Japanese popular culture and cultural and media history.

    Gareth Millward is a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at the Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick. He held a bursary from the British Library and Institute of Historical Research to help develop new search tools for historians accessing the Library's web archive data in 2014–15. Since then, he has been keen to integrate web archives into his research, particularly for contemporary events. He specializes in British health policy since World War II. His PhD focused on disability policy since the 1960s, and he has recently completed a monograph on the history of British childhood vaccination policy. Since 2017 he has been researching the policy and rhetoric around British sickness certification from 1945 to the present.

    Jeremy Wade Morris is an Associate Professor of Media and Cultural Studies in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research interests include the digitization of cultural goods and commodities, software and app culture, the history of sound technologies, and the current state of the popular music industries. He is the author of Selling Digital Music, Formatting Culture (University of California Press) and co-editor of a collection on apps and software called Appified: Culture in the Age of Apps (with Sarah Murray, University of Michigan Press 2018). His work has also appeared in journals such as New Media & Society, Critical Studies in Media Communication, and Popular Communication. He is the founder of, a database to preserve podcasts and make them more researchable for scholars of media and audio history.

    Francesca Musiani is Associate Research Professor at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), Institute for Communication Sciences (ISCC – CNRS/Sorbonne University). Her current research focuses on science and technology studies approaches to the study of Internet governance and privacy. She is one of the Principal Investigators of the NEXTLEAP project (2016–18, Next-Generation Techno-Social and Legal Encryption Access and Privacy), funded by the European Commission. Francesca is the author of Internet et vie privée[Internet and Privacy] (Uppr Editions, 2016) and Nains sans géants. Architecture décentralisée et services Internet [Dwarfs Without Giants. Decentralized Architecture and Internet Services] (Presses des Mines, 2013 [2015], was awarded the Prix Informatique et Libertés by the French Privacy and Data Protection Commission).

    Federico Nanni is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Data and Web Science Group and the Political Science Department of the University of Mannheim. His research focuses on the issues that arise when using born-digital documents as primary sources to study the present times and on adopting (and adapting) Natural Language Processing methods for supporting works in the digital humanities and computational social sciences. His previous studies have been published in relevant digital humanities journals, such as Digital Scholarships in the Humanities and Digital Humanities Quarterly, as well as at important computer science venues, such as EMNLP, JCDL, and EACL.

    Michael L. Nelson is a Professor of Computer Science at Old Dominion University. Prior to joining ODU, he worked at NASA Langley Research Center from 1991–2002, where he developed the NASA Technical Report Server (NTRS). He is a co-editor of the OAI-PMH, OAI-ORE, Memento, ResourceSync, and Robust Links specifications. His research interests include repository-object interaction and web preservation. More information about Michael can be found at∼mln.

    Michael Nycyk is an independent technology and social researcher affiliated with the Department of Internet Studies at Curtin University, Perth, Australia and a graduate of the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, in Information Management and Communication and Language Studies. His primary interest is in understanding the behaviors of Internet users, policies to manage these, and the shaping of online identity. His areas of research include understanding adult cyberbullying, Internet trolling, members’ flaming strategies on YouTube, computer hackers’ behaviors, and analyzing people's online behaviors, and their management, on social media. He has published in these areas, including self-published books, and other publications. Additional areas he has researched and published in include: the use of technologies by older adults and effective learning strategies, minimizing the digital divide, online learning methods, knowledge management and electronic records management, and child fostering practices.

    Christina Ortner is Professor for Online Communication at the Study Programme Communication and Knowledge Media at the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria. She also teaches communications and qualitative social science at the University of Salzburg and the University of Applied Science Salzburg. Her research interests include online communication, social media, audience and reception studies, children, youth and the media, and citizen communication.

    James O'Sullivan is Lecturer in Digital Arts and Humanities at University College Cork (National University of Ireland). He has previously held faculty positions at the University of Sheffield and Pennsylvania State University. His work has been published in a variety of interdisciplinary journals, including Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, Digital Humanities Quarterly, and Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures. He and Shawna Ross are the editors of Reading Modernism with Machines (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Courting Katie (Salmon Poetry, 2017), and is the founding editor of New Binary Press. Further information on James and his work can be found at

    Susanna Paasonen is Professor of Media Studies at University of Turku, Finland. With an interest in studies of popular culture, sexuality, affect, and media theory, she is the author of Carnal Resonance: Affect and Online Pornography (MITP, 2011) and Many Splendored Things: Thinking Sex and Play (Goldsmiths Press, 2018), co-author of Not Safe for Work: Sex, Humor and Risk in Social Media with Kylie Jarrett and Ben Light (MITP, forthcoming), and co-editor of Working with Affect in Feminist Readings: Disturbing Differences (Routledge 2010, with Marianne Liljeström) and Networked Affect (MITP, 2015, with Ken Hillis and Michael Petit). She serves on the editorial boards of the journals Sexualities, Porn Studies, New Media & Society, Social Media + Society, and International Journal of Cultural Studies.

    Zeynep Pehlivan is a Research Engineer in the legal deposit team of Ina (French National Audiovisual Institute). She holds a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Pierre and Marie Curie (thesis title: ‘Access to web archives: querying, navigating and optimizing'). Her research focuses on web archiving and access methods to web archives and their optimization. Before joining Ina, she participated in national and international R&D projects such as SCAPE (Scalable Preservation Environments, EU FP7) and the LabEx-founded ‘Pasts in the Present: History, heritage, memory’. She is currently working on social media archiving and mining (e.g. with Twitter).

    Lindsay Poirier is a cultural anthropologist and recently completed her Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. As of January 2019, she will be Assistant Professor of Data Studies in the Science and Technology Studies Department at University of California Davis. Her research focuses on digital expertise, data cultures, and the theorization of digital infrastructure. She has conducted historical research on approaches to digital knowledge representation in the artificial intelligence community and has conducted fieldwork within both the Semantic Web community and a community of practitioners building data standards for the human services. She is also the lead platform architect for the Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography (PECE) – an open source digital humanities platform, which now supports several international research projects.

    Richard Rogers is Professor of New Media and Digital Culture, Media Studies, University of Amsterdam. He is also Director of the Digital Methods Initiative as well as the Netherlands Research School for Media Studies (RMeS).

    Valérie Schafer has been Professor of Contemporary European History at C2DH (Centre for Contemporary and Digital History) at the University of Luxembourg since February 2018. She was previously a researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). Her current research deals with the Internet and Web history. She led the Web90 project funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR) and dedicated to the French Heritage, Memories and History of the Web in the 1990s. She is the author of La France en réseaux (années 1960–1980) [France in Networks (1960–1980)] (2012) and she co-authored with Benjamin Thierry Le Minitel, l'enfance numérique de la France [The Minitel, the French Digital Childhood] (2012) and with Bernard Tuy Dans les coulisses de l'Internet. RENATER, 20 ans de technologie, d'enseignement et de recherche [On the Internet's Sidelines: RENATER, 20 Years of Technology, Teaching and Research] (2013).

    Ralph Schroeder is Professor at the Oxford Internet Institute. Before coming to Oxford University, he was Professor in the School of Technology Management and Economics at Chalmers University in Gothenburg (Sweden). His recent books include Rethinking Science, Technology and Social Change (Stanford University Press, 2007), An Age of Limits: Social Theory for the 21st Century (Palgrave Macmillan), Knowledge Machines: Digital Transformations of the Sciences and Humanities (MIT Press, 2015, co-authored with Eric T. Meyer), and Social Theory after the Internet: Media, Technology and Globalization (UCL Press). He is currently doing research on the social implications of big data and on the uses of digital media by right-wing populists.

    Gabriele de Seta holds a PhD in Sociology from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan. His research work, grounded in ethnographic engagement across multiple sites, focuses on digital media practices and vernacular creativity in Chinese-speaking areas. He is also interested in experimental music, Internet art, and the collaborative intersections of anthropology and art practice. Gabriele has published in a wide range of journals, including Fibreculture, The Information Society, Anthropology Now, and Medien&Zeit, and authored numerous chapters for handbooks and edited volumes. More information is available on his website

    Ignacio Siles is a Professor in the School of Communication at Universidad de Costa Rica. He is the author of Networked Selves: Trajectories of Blogging in the United States and France (Peter Lang, 2017), Por un Sueño (EUCR, 2008), and several articles about technology and society. He obtained his PhD in the Media, Technology, and Society program at Northwestern University. His current book project examines the transnational history of computer networks in Central America in the 1990s as a political project of integration and development.

    Philip Sinner is a Research Associate and Lecturer at the Department of Communications, University of Salzburg. His research interests concern aspects of audio visual and online communication with a special focus on social media, younger people, sports, and soccer as well as on processes of media socialization. Since 2011 he has been a member of the European Research Network EU Kids Online and the advisory board, and a committee member since 2016 of the Austrian No Hate Speech Movement ( Since 2018 he has been the Early Career Scholars Representative of the newly created ‘Division Media Sport and Sport Communication’ in the German Communication Association.

    Michael Stevenson is a web historian, and Associate Professor of New Media and Digital Culture in the Media Studies department at the University of Amsterdam. His work is broadly about the roots and foundations of media practices, genres, and forms that are considered ‘web-native’ or otherwise specific to the new media landscape. He is currently working on ‘The Web that Was', a project funded by the Dutch National Science Foundation (NWO), about the Perl programing language and the early web. He is still figuring things out.

    Peter Stirling is a digital curator in the digital legal deposit team at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF). He works on the definition of services and tools for users of the web archives and on digital preservation of the collections. He also participates in day-to-day web archiving activity and the international activity of the team in the context of the International Internet Preservation Consortium. He holds an MA in English Literature and an MSc in Information and Library Studies, and previously worked for an online information portal for health professionals in the UK and in online information monitoring for the French National Cancer Institute, before joining the BnF in 2009.

    Benjamin G. Thierry is Associate Professor at Sorbonne Université and a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research (Institute for Communication Sciences, CNRS – Sorbonne Université). He specializes in history of computing and telecommunications. His long-term research interests involve the socialization of IT (man–machine communication, digital culture, and links to the general public). He is the co-author with Valérie Schafer of Le Minitel, l'enfance numérique de la France [The Minitel, the French Digital Childhood] (2012). He is currently the Vice-President for Digital Projects at Sorbonne Université.

    Herbert Van de Sompel is an information scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and leads the Prototyping Team in the Research Library. The team does research regarding various aspects of scholarly communication in the digital age. Herbert has played a role in various interoperability efforts (OAI-PMH, OpenURL, OAI-ORE, info URI, Open Annotation, ResourceSync, SharedCanvas, Memento, Robust Links) and in the design of scholarly discovery tools (SFX linking server, bX recommender engine). More information about Herbert can be found at

    Marc Weber is Curatorial Director of the Internet History Program ( at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. He established Web history as a topic starting in 1995 with help from Sir Tim Berners-Lee and other online pioneers, and co-founded two of the first organizations in the field. The Internet History Program has further expanded the Museum's leading collection of networking history materials and developed its galleries and exhibits on connected topics, including the permanent Web, Mobile, and Networking galleries. Weber has conducted oral histories with several hundred online pioneers. He speaks and publishes widely and consults to companies, filmmakers and museums on the history of the online world and has been interviewed on related topics by major media from the BBC to Wired. He serves on the editorial board of Internet Histories and co-chairs the W3C Web History Community Group. He is author of an upcoming book from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press on the evolution of the online world.

    Matthew Weber is an Associate Professor in the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. Matthew is an expert on organizational change and the use of large-scale Web data. His recent work includes a large-scale longitudinal study examining strategies employed by media organizations for disseminating news and information through online hyperlink networks. Subsequent research includes an examination of the effectiveness of adopting social media within organizations in order to share knowledge and collaborate with teammates. Matthew is also leading an initiative to provide researchers with access to the Internet Archive ( in order to study digital traces of news networks. Matthew received his PhD in 2010 from the Annenberg School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Southern California.

    Peter Webster is an independent scholar and consultant based in the UK. He has published widely on various aspects of contemporary British religious history from the 1920s to the 1990s, including church and state, the religious arts, evangelicalism, and the relationship of faith and technology. He has also written extensively on the implications of the digital turn for historical research, and on web archives in particular. His most recent book, on Walter Hussey, Anglican patron of the arts, was published in 2017 by Palgrave Macmillan. After working with digital archives for the University of London, the British Library, and the International Internet Preservation Consortium, he founded Webster Research and Consulting in 2014. WR&C works with libraries and archives to understand what users need from digital resources for research, and works with technologists to meet those needs.

    Jane Winters is Chair of Digital Humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. She has led or co-directed a range of digital projects, including Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities; Digging into Linked Parliamentary Metadata; Traces through Time: Prosopography in Practice across Big Data; and Born Digital Big Data and Approaches for History and the Humanities. Recent publications include ‘Tackling complexity in humanities big data: From parliamentary proceedings to the archived web', in Big and Rich Data in English Corpus Linguistics: Methods and Variations, ed. T. Hiltunen, J. McVeigh and T. Säily (Helsinki: Varieng, 2017); ‘Breaking in to the mainstream: Demonstrating the value of internet (and web) histories', Internet Histories (March 2017); and ‘Web archives for humanities research: Some reflections', in The Web as History: Using Web Archives to Understand the Past and Present, ed. N. Brügger and R. Schroeder (London: UCL Press, 2017).

    The Web as Counterpart

    In late 2017 the US-based Starz cable television network launched a science fiction espionage drama titled Counterpart based on the premise that in 1987, during a science experiment, East German scientists accidentally created a parallel Earth. While a crossing point existed in Berlin that allowed people to physically move between the worlds, from that point in 1987 onward the two worlds diverged. Part of the drama involved moments when a person would meet their counterpart, or a friend, acquaintance or co-worker, from the other world. What would be the consequences of such encounters? Could one recognize or reconcile with the other?

    One way, of the admittedly many, to read Counterpart is as an allegory for the Web. Invented in 1989, one could imagine its existence as a kind of parallel universe, with crossing points at screens, perhaps. The interesting element of such a reading, as with most all allegories, is not in the match or mismatch of the allegorical details so much as it is in the lesson of the parable. The lesson in this case is not an end result, a single consequence resulting from some prior actions or motives. It is in the consequences that arise from the moment of divergence. What becomes of one's identity, indeed, what becomes of the notion of identity, in a strangely split, parallel, universe? Therein lies the importance of understanding the history of the Web. It is not merely a technology, a product of scientific invention. Nor is it merely a new way to do things we had already been doing (writing, communicating, reading, etc.) or even to do new things altogether. And it is also not merely a platform on which we share thoughts, ideas, images and sounds. It is all those things, but greater than their sum.

    The Web is, like the parallel Earth of Counterpart, us, and not us, a recognizable, yet strange, place. How did it come about, what was its development? We can find points of origination but from those moments onward multiple trajectories emerge. How do we hold the Web still enough to achieve a degree of satisfactory scrutiny? Numerous scholars are now, thankfully, asking, and answering, questions such as these. The research and discussion presented in The SAGE Handbook of Web History provide the context for pressing on with discovery of the Web as an indivisible part of contemporary human experience, and provide the foundation for future successful archiving and preservation of the Web's history.

    The significance of The SAGE Handbook of Web History is, among other things, in its recognition of the need for a multifaceted approach to the preservation and study of the history of the Web. Although the Web seems to be a relatively new phenomenon, it is as if time passes on it in ‘dog years', at a rate that feels like seven years for each time the Earth travels around the sun. To many people it likely feels as if it has been around forever, or as long as they can remember, at least. As I write this foreword Facebook is in the early stages of the Cambridge Analytica controversy; by the time it is published other controversies will likely have come and gone, too. The question, then, is how do we capture the essence of the Web, the experience, and the consequences, of it? Even if we can entirely preserve it, from the bits to the screens, the links to the machines, what might we do to capture the myriad uses to which it is put as well as the affective dimension of its use?

    I am reminded of the early days of the Pew Internet & American Life Project in late 1999 and early 2000 when survey instruments were being developed for use in telephone interviews. Would it be better to ask respondents if they went online, or if they used the Internet, or if they accessed the Web? What would be the consequences for the answers we would get with each question? Even a simple question, such as ‘Did you check your e-mail today?’ elides numerous questions, not the least of which is whether the Web was used for e-mail and how such use matters, whether it renders e-mail different from other forms of access. Similarly, Web access via mobile devices and the increasing use of apps, some of which do little more than offer Web pages while others seem completely apart from it, alters the perception of the Web. The phenomenological turn expressed in some of the pages in this Handbook is therefore particularly welcome, necessary and important. While I do not wish to argue that there is a distinctive ‘essence’ to the experience of the Web nor to set historical fact apart from experience, it does seem to me useful to acknowledge that if there is ever to be an interpretive dimension to the Web's history then we need to think through the elements of what that dimension might be and find ways to preserve it, too. Doing so would provide the means for reconstituting the Web as greater than the sum of its parts and aid in understanding the Web as a multifaceted technology, at once a medium, built on another medium, that facilitates other media.

    It is important to remember therefore that the Web is not merely a technological web but also an affective one. Consider, for instance, if during the present Cambridge Analytica controversy Facebook were to find millions of its users deleting their accounts. What would happen to conversation threads on Facebook if the company permitted users to delete all of their posts along with their accounts? Furthermore, those accounts are implicated in how people log in to other sites and to apps, illustrating that the reach of the Web is at once both outside the scope of what we consider the Web proper and connected to apps, and also impenetrable as Web content is increasingly proprietarily held. Users have experience, loyalties, relationships with other users as well as with sites and with the private and public entities that operate sites.

    Furthermore, the Web, by means of its interconnection with other aspects of online (and sometimes offline, as might be the case with, say, credit card use, travel arrangements, etc.) activity that is facilitated by the tracking of Web use through cookies and other means, is implicated in a panoply of engagements that people have, often determined by algorithm, whether with other people, private companies, public institutions or machines and digital assistants. The rapid shift from plain HTML to Java, Javascript, APIs, JSON and other software tools that have made Web browsers a form of operating system have altered not only the experience of the Web but also its nature. In all likelihood, the majority of the interactions that we have on the Web are not only irreproducible but also unable to be preserved insofar as capturing them involves more than the storage of information but also a replication of the processes involved between the moment of a click and rendering of pixels on the screen. The Web is now greater than the sum of its parts in no small part because of the processing involved in rendering information on it, in putting data through the mill that delivers it to our screens.

    I realize it may seem as if I am lamenting the development of the Web since the late 1990s, and while I will admit to not being completely without nostalgia I am not by any means calling for a return to a simpler Web. I am merely wanting to emphasize that it is important to understand just how complicated the Web has become and with that added complexity how difficult yet how very necessary it is to preserve it and to mine its history for insight. Indeed, when I reflect on the complexity and importance of the Web (and the Internet generally) I am reminded of John Steinbeck's plaintive edict about journalism, written in a letter to John P. McKnight, then at the United States Information Service in Rome, in 1956. ‘What can I say about journalism?', Steinbeck wrote,

    It has the greatest virtue and the greatest evil. It is the first thing a dictator controls. It is the mother of literature and the perpetrator of crap. In many cases it is the only history we have and yet it is the tool of the worst men. But over a long period of time and because it is the product of so many men, it is perhaps the purest thing we have. Honesty has a way of creeping into it even when it was not intended (Steinbeck and Wallsten, 1976: 526).

    It takes little imagination to substitute the words ‘Web’ or ‘Internet’ for ‘journalism’ in Steinbeck's first sentence, and no more imagination to wonder whether it may be true about new media. Whether it could truly be said about the Web, perhaps history will tell. That it might be true is nevertheless a compelling reason to expeditiously and rigorously preserve all that we can of the Web.

    Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten, Steinbeck: A Life in Letters. Penguin Books, 1976, p. 526.


    The Web has now been with us for over 25 years: new media is simply not all that new anymore. It has developed to become an inherent part of our social, cultural, economic, political, and social lives, and accordingly is now an object of historical study. With web archiving having begun in 1996, we are also now living in a time when over two decades of the Web have been collected, preserved, and made accessible – a detailed documentary record of society and events. Two key points thus lie at the heart of this Handbook: that the history of the Web itself needs to be studied, but also that its value as an incomparable historical record needs to be inquired as well.

    If researchers today want to fully understand the present, as well as our past from the mid 1990s onwards, the Web will play a critical role. While there is no common rule for when a topic becomes ‘history', the timeframe seems to be shortening as the speed of information dissemination accelerates. For example, as Ian Milligan argues in this book's first chapter, it took less than 30 years after the events of 1968 for a varied, developed, and contentious historiography to emerge; in 2021, we will be marking the 30th anniversary of the creation of the first website.

    Within the last decade, considerable scholarly interest in the Web's history has emerged. However, there has yet been no comprehensive review of the field. Digital historians and their colleagues in the digital humanities have approached changing historical methods more generally, but without specific focus on the Web (see for example Cohen and Rosenzweig, 2005; Gold and Klein, 2016; Graham et al., 2015; Terras et al., 2013). Internet histories provide specific (and invaluable) accounts of particular technologies – the Web, or the Internet, or pre-Web technologies like the Minitel for example (Abbate, 2000; Brunton, 2013; Mailland and Driscoll, 2017) – but this Handbook aims to pull its gaze back from the particular stories, and present a multifaceted understanding of a developing field. The history of the Web itself remains relatively understudied, with only a few exceptions (Banks, 2008; Brügger, 2017, 2010; Brügger and Schroeder, 2017; Foot and Schneider, 2006; Gillies and Cailliau, 2000). In any case, these books only offer specific perspectives on web history, as opposed to the multifaceted Handbook you are now reading. The SAGE Handbook of Web History also shares ground with the growing literature within the fields of ‘digital methods', such as Richard Rogers’ award-winning Digital Methods, but delves deeper into the specific questions around the Web (Rogers, 2013). Finally, there is a body of work exploring the archived Web from the perspective of those who collect, curate, and preserve it; these are useful complementary works, but do not approach web archives from the perspective of a scholarly user (Brown, 2006; Masanès, 2006).

    Time is ripe for this Handbook. In this introduction, we introduce the twin dimensions of ‘web history’ and discuss the structure and content of this Handbook a bit more. We then provide an overview of the six sections, with some thoughts on how the pieces fit together to suggest the emergence of a new field of study.

    The Two Dimensions of ‘Web History'

    The title of this Handbook speaks to the book's emphasis on two different, yet related, forms of web history. On the one hand, ‘web history’ may refer to the use of the Web of the past as a historical source in any kind of historical study. Imagine a scholar of higher education who uses the webpages of universities and government agencies to tell her story; not a history of webpages, per se, but a history that happens to use archived websites to craft her narrative. On the other hand, ‘web history’ can also refer to any study of the history of the Web itself (and where the Web, of course, can also be a source). The SAGE Handbook of Web History focuses on both of these two meanings: histories written with the Web as well as histories written of the Web. The Web is both a historical source and an object of study in its own right.

    As a historical source, web archives are unique. Unlike traditional institutional archives, the snapshots that comprised the archived Web are artifacts created by the archival process itself (Brügger, 2018). They are in many cases assembled by digital robots, ‘spiders’ which crawl publicly accessible webpages by starting on a given page, downloading it, following all the links, downloading that content, following links, and beyond – a potentially infinite process, as even if the crawler found enough content and ended up back where it started, the Web is always changing and the process must begin anew (Milligan, 2016). These reconstructions of the live Web are never exact replicas, even though they may at first glance look complete. This makes an understanding of web archives especially important. For these reasons, scholars, researchers, and students who wish to use archived web content as historical documents need to be familiar with both the technical and material aspects of web archives, as well as the related theoretical and epistemological concerns that arise when dealing with these digital artifacts. Thus, this book offers historians and other researchers a comprehensive resource for navigating web archives when undertaking historical research.

    At the same time, this collection is also a text that aims to organize and present distinct approaches to studying histories of the Web. Although ‘the World Wide Web’ is commonly addressed in the singular, the following chapters include diverse examples of web histories that consider various national contexts, popular and subcultural practices, material and technological considerations, and beyond. By bringing this collection of historical case studies together, the Handbook is a valuable resource for new media scholars looking to ground contemporary digital cultures and practices historically.

    Structure and Content

    The Handbook you are now reading speaks to many different scholarly communities across a diverse set of fields. Represented within the Handbook are communications scholars, historians, digital humanists, media and cultural studies practitioners, and researchers from the world of library and information sciences. An international book, bringing together scholars from multiple continents, the SAGE Handbook of Web History highlights the varied interdisciplinary perspectives that scholars take towards an understanding of web history.

    This book is intended for academics, graduate students, and upper-level undergraduates within the humanities and the social sciences, in particular those with an interest in how the past of the Web and of our more recent history can be and has been studied. This is a wide audience, ranging from scholars of media studies and communication history, to digital humanists, and historians in general. With growing interest in this field – as several contributors argue, it would be difficult to imagine doing a history of the 1990s or beyond without using these kinds of sources – some insight and overall approaches to the field of web history are necessary.

    The book is divided into six sections, discussed in more depth below. Each chapter can be read as a standalone contribution, of course, but also has fruitful interactions with its fellow chapters in the section: a perspective from a historian, for example, subsequently complemented by that of a computer scientist.

    Part One: The Web and Historiography

    In the ‘Web and Historiography', we provide the basic fundamentals that underpin the field. In short: what does it mean to do web history? What is a web archive? Do archived websites represent a new kind of primary source, or do they fundamentally represent continuity? These chapters in some ways serve as an extended introduction to the field: from learning about the existing web archives, to how they have been framed and understood by historians and other new media scholars, to how they can be used ethically.

    The first chapter, ‘Historiography and the Web', by Ian Milligan, fleshes out some of the discussions around what it means to think of the Web as a primary source, crucially highlighting dimensions of both scale and scope. With web archives, historians have more information, created by people who never before would have been part of the historical record. But how can this information be accessed? Drawing on concepts from the digital humanities, notably that of distant reading, this chapter argues that the growing centrality of web archives to the historical profession will require a rethinking of historical methodology – and an understanding of the place of technology within the historical profession since the Second World War.

    We continue these themes in the Handbook's second chapter, ‘Understanding the Archived Web as a Historical Source', by Niels Brügger. In this chapter, the fundamental elements of web archives are articulated: how they rapidly change (even during the process of collection!) and how they are fundamentally different from many other kinds of digitized primary sources. The chapter then articulates a theoretical and methodological framework to carry out web history. To use web archives requires fundamental knowledge of how they work, which this chapter provides.

    With the basic contours of web archives presented, we then pivot towards talking about ‘Existing Web Archives', a chapter by Peter Webster. Not all web archives are created the same, and when using them researchers need to be aware of how their scope and structure can dramatically differ. This chapter presents a historical overview of web archives, looks at how they are created today, and examines how that affects our current historical arguments and interpretations.

    The ‘Web and Historiography’ section then comes to an end, appropriately, with a chapter by Richard Rogers which explores ‘Periodizing Web Archiving: Biographical, Event-Based, National and Autobiographical Traditions’. Rogers looks at the different approaches taken to web archiving since the advent of the Internet Archive: from trying to save single sites, to understanding events, to national web domains or self-expression on social media. After this periodization, Rogers then proposes new methodological approaches to access web archives, from screencast documentaries to digging into the underlying code that makes a website display.

    Taken together, these four chapters serve in many ways as a crash course into the world of web archives and web archiving: who does it, what it means, how to use it, and the unique aspects that underlie this type of primary source. From these four unique perspectives, we hope that readers can come away with an interest in conceiving their own research questions – but can do so fully informed of the opportunities and pitfalls that may arise.

    Part Two: Theoretical and Methodological Reflections

    The section of the book involves theoretical and methodological reflections on how to do web history: from understanding it from various intellectual perspectives (such as science and technology studies or taking a quantitative approach) to more technical approaches such as using network analysis or large-scale text mining to understand the past. With a solid understanding of how web archives are created as established in the last section, we now seek to put them to work.

    The section begins with Valérie Schafer and Benjamin G. Thierry's ‘Web History in Context', an exploration of how ‘the’ Web needs to be put into context. How has the Web spread and diffused around society? How can we write a history of the mid 1990s, for example, and take the Web into proper account? In short, if we are to use the Web as a historical source, we need to use it properly – and realize that there is no singular ‘the’ Web.

    With the Web put into context, what sorts of approaches can one take to its study? One such perspective is offered in the following chapter, ‘Science and Technology Studies Approaches to Web History', by Francesca Musiani and Valérie Schafer. The two authors introduce critical STS concepts and notions, illuminating them with case studies from web history. The chapter then fleshes out an in-depth example of web governance as a case study, showing how the Web can thus be understood as a complex and changing socio-technical system.

    If STS offers one theoretical framework, what other approaches could be taken as well? In ‘Theorizing the Uses of the Web', Ralph Schroeder discusses various approaches to how the Web is used and aims to point the way forward by developing a new theoretical framework – and thinking about the implications for policy, ethics, and future scholarship.

    Now that we know how to theorize and contextualize collections, the next question is how we should do so. Ethics are a critical issue when using such diverse digital archives, as Stine Lomborg's chapter on ‘Ethical Considerations for Web Archives and Web History Research’ explains. Her article introduces the several dimensions that researchers should consider, from contexts, subjects of study, methods of data collection, analytical types, and beyond; it is not about firm answers, but a way of thinking.

    With the theoretical underpinnings of the last four chapters under the reader's belt, we then transition to discussions of method. How best to explore these archives? Federico Nanni's ‘Collecting Primary Sources from Web Archives: A Tale of Scarcity and Abundance’ explores two case studies where web archives have been put to use to advance historical scholarship: from reconstructing a university webpage to the study of contemporary events. As a scholar bridging computer science and history, Nanni notes how combining traditional historical methods with the methods of Internet studies and natural language processing could form an intriguing route forward.

    The final four chapters in this section form a series of methodological pieces, outlining various approaches a scholar can adopt when exploring web history. Michael Stevenson and Anat Ben-David introduce critical concepts in their ‘Network Analysis for Web History', providing a conceptual background for how these key strategies can be applied: both an introduction to network analysis as well as hands-on cases on how network analysis has assisted research, search, social media, and the state of the art with web archives.

    Networks are one way to uncover the structure of a site – but so are other methods for taking lots of web archival data, translating them to numbers, and drawing conclusions from analysis. Anthony Cocciolo's ‘Quantitative Web History Methods’ chapter explains how to do this, introducing the field of quantitative research methods and explaining the field through an in-depth analysis of how we can study the archived Web to see the decrease in text and the rise in image-based layouts and communication.

    What much of the last three chapters have in common is their use of computers – computers to collect, count, and analyze information. Accordingly, Anat Ben-David and Adam Amram's chapter on ‘Computational Methods for Web History’ explores how computational methods can help us explore web archives, but provides cautionary notes around how methods, tools, and techniques need to be adapted to the specific nature of the source. They do so through four computational techniques, drawn from their research projects, showing both the benefits of this form of research and the limitations.

    Finally, working with web archives, given their scale, brings challenges in representing research. Continuing on from earlier discussions of network analysis, quantitative methods, and computational approaches more generally, Justin Joque's ‘Visualizing Historical Web Data’ works us through how we can represent and explore web archives through data visualization. Some of this builds on networks specifically, and other parts of the chapter address how we can visualize both text and change over time as well.

    Part Three: Technical and Structural Dimensions of Web History

    Web history, indelibly associated with a particular platform – the World Wide Web – requires that students, scholars, and practitioners have a basic technical understanding of underlying protocols, infrastructure, and access materials. We need to understand the structure of the Web as well, such as the hyperlinks that users explore to move from page to page, or the Web browsers such as NCSA Mosaic or Internet Explorer that they used to access it from the early 1990s onwards.

    What better place to start with an exploration of the technical underpinnings of web history than with the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (or HTTP) itself and how it has been extended through the Memento Protocol to allow the integration of past and present Web. Michael Nelson and Herbert Van de Sompel accordingly discuss the history of Unix, HTTP, and introduce the Memento Protocol in their ‘Adding the Dimension of Time to HTTP’ chapter. Through these explorations, we can see how the original vision of the Web was stymied in part due to issues with the filesystem. The work discussed in this chapter has made large amounts of web history scholarship possible, by allowing versioning and the integration of web archives all around the world.

    We often take the HT in HTTP for granted – the hypertext that underpins the Web today. Yet, as Belinda Barnet notes in her ‘Hypertext Before the Web – or, What the Web Could Have Been’ chapter, hypertext stretches back much earlier. Looking at three early systems – Douglas Engelbart's NLS, Ted Nelson's Xanadu,1 and Nelson and Andies van Dam's HES – this chapter both introduces the early conceptual underpinnings of the ever-present hyperlink today, and also allows us to imagine alternative visions of what it could have been.

    Focusing more specifically on the hyperlink itself, but continuing to question existing narratives and putting aside a more simplistic Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 paradigm, Anne Helmond's ‘A Historiography of the Hyperlink’ explores how the link itself has evolved. Using six key moments, from proto hypertext to the role of the link before search to how the link is disappearing today, the chapter illuminates the history of the Web itself as well as the link.

    Taking a similar historical approach, Alexander Halavais looks at ‘How Search Shaped and Was Shaped by the Web’. Taking aim at traditional narratives that saw search engines as having been ‘bolted on’ to the Web, this chapter notes how the Web and search have co-evolved together – a process that continues to shape and evolve with our modern Web today. Users used to ‘surf’ the Web, using links, a process which has been profoundly reoriented by search.

    Roads taken – or not – lie at the heart of Lindsay Poirier's chapter on ‘Making the Web Meaningful: A History of Web Semantics’. In the original vision of Tim Berners-Lee's Web, nodes that linked to each other would represent not documents but individuals or objects; while the Web that emerged was not like this, since 1994 Berners-Lee and others have been calling for the realization of a ‘semantic Web’. This chapter explores the semantic Web community, looking back to the 1970s and forward to help us understand how the semantic Web shapes our understanding of knowledge today.

    The final two chapters in this section then address two stories in how we use the Web. The first, ‘Browsers and Browser Wars', by Marc Weber, explores the history of how the Web is accessed: through a web browser. It argues that in the Web's early days browsers became the main battleground for overall control of the Web. The first struggle, between the original browser-editor vision and the simpler “read-only” model that prevailed, was followed by two commercial “browser wars.” While these mostly ended by 1999, a mobile war continues today.

    This last current is picked up in the section's final chapter, with Gerard Goggin's ‘Emergence of the Mobile Web’. Users increasingly browse the Web on mobile devices, and it is increasingly mediated through different social media platforms, apps, and other software. This chapter explores how the mobile Web can be defined and studied.

    Part Four: Platforms on the Web

    On top of the Web's structure exist platforms: from collaboratively written encyclopedias like Wikipedia, to blogging software, to nearly ubiquitous advertisements and social media networks like Twitter, Facebook, and, in the past, web publishing platforms like GeoCities. This section gathers five chapters which take explicitly historical approaches to explore their very different ‘platforms’. Useful for an understanding both of those particular sites, and how the Web evolved from the mid 1990s to the present, they help to contextualize the more targeted case studies that follow.

    The first platform we explore is Wikipedia, in Andy Famiglietti's ‘Wikipedia’. The story travels from 2001, when Larry Sanger sent his first note about ‘Nupedia’ to a small number of people on their mailing list, to today, when Wikipedia's millions of articles constitute the fifth most visited website in the world. Yet, while it is occasionally understood as an exemplar new media project, Famiglietti instead shows how it is a historically contingent project, growing out of the free and open source software movement. Many of these themes come together in an extensive case study on the 2008 Gaza War article.

    With the Web today seemingly dominated by advertising, a historical perspective can help us understand its growth: how did an information retrieval tool become so saturated by commercial messaging? In ‘A Critical Political Economy of Web Advertising History', Matthew Crain looks at the development of technologies, standards, and practices that brought advertising onto the mainstream of the Web. By using a critical political economy approach, Crain is able to weave in the interplay between the Web and larger political and economic questions.

    While the Web was developed as a read–write medium, it was difficult for many early web users without technical knowledge to find a place to contribute – GeoCities provided one such important platform. In his chapter ‘Exploring Web Archives in the Age of Abundance', Ian Milligan argues that these sorts of platforms allow more democratic, accessible historians – Big Data as an avenue into social history on a large scale – but that the steps to explore such sources will require a profound rethinking of how historians understand the past.

    If GeoCities was an early platform, by the turn of the twenty-first century many web users were turning to blogs as an outlet for self-expression. In his aptly named chapter ‘Blogs', Ignacio Siles explores the story of blogs in the United States: why they arose and how they continue to develop today. It is also a fascinating example of mixed-method research: drawing on over 100 interviews, archival research in traditional archives as well as on the Web, and ethnographic studies.

    Finally, in our last chapter in this section, Christina Ortner, Philip Sinner, and Tanja Jadin explore ‘The History of Online Social Media’. Their chapter provides an overview of the social media phenomenon as it emerged in the late 1990s before expanding dramatically throughout the 2000s. They do so through a four-phase periodization that explores online interaction before social media, web-based services, the emergence of diverse social media services, and the ecosystem of mobile apps today. This big picture exploration of modern social media platforms is a perfect way to round out this section.

    Part Five: Web History and Users, some Case Studies

    With the foundational pieces complete – including historiography, theory, technical, structural, and platform dimensions – the SAGE Handbook of Web History then turns itself to the largest section of the book: understanding web history and users through a series of 14 case studies. Each of these chapters are exemplars, ranging from an understanding of online news through web history, to streaming media file formats, to the Chinese Web, to trolling and memes. A diverse assemblage of authors and topics, these chapters shed light not only on their particular topic but also on various methods for undertaking web history.

    Like many of our voyages on a web browser, we begin appropriately at ‘home’ – in this case, with Madhavi Mallapragada's ‘Cultural Historiography of the “Homepage”. Her piece interrogates the concept of the homepage, exploring it as both a technical and cultural concept. Taking a historical approach, Mallapragada explores the emergence and shifting significance of the homepage in the 1990s and 2000s, as well as its continued relevance today.

    Change is also key to any understanding of news media in the context of web history. Allie Kosterich and Matthew S. Weber explore the dramatic shifts that have transformed how consumers engage with news in light of the Web in their chapter ‘Consumers, News and a History of Change’. Their historical lens allows them to convincingly demonstrate that many contemporary shifts in how we consume media today can be traced back, through web history, to shifts on the Web.

    Many of our case studies throughout the book, like the last two and several others, are grounded in particular national contexts. This should not be surprising, Niels Brügger and Ditte Laursen argue in the next chapter, ‘Historical Studies of National Web Domains’. Despite the global nature of the Web – we can access content made half the world away as easily as something written next door – users tend to situate themselves in nations. Accordingly, the two authors introduce the national Web as an object of analytical inquiry.

    The next 11 chapters then move into specific case studies, each of which illuminates the field of web history as well. James O'Sullivan and Dene Grigar explore ‘The Origins of Electronic Literature as Net/Web Art', a chapter which explores the story of e-lit, from its diskette-based origins to its Web-based homes today. This shift onto the Web had profound consequences for this medium – similarly, the authors note, to many other cultural objects migrated to the Web.

    Historians who study memory have similarly seen their scholarship transformed by the Web – our collective memory of events over a century ago is shaped by the Web as well. Valérie Beaudouin, Zeynep Pehlivan, and Peter Stirling approach this question in their chapter ‘Exploring the Memory of the First World War Using Web Archives: Web Graphs Seen from Different Angles’. By creating a map of links between First World War websites, they are able to see how online communities socially organize the memory of the war.

    Just as the Web can be studied to see the spread of memory, so too can web archives help explore the historical roots of contemporary issues such as vaccine refusal. Gareth Millward addresses this in his ‘A History with Web Archives, Not a History of Web Archives: A History of the British Measles–Mumps–Rubella Vaccine Crisis, 1998–2004’. His chapter both explores the MMR vaccine controversy through several archived webpages and demonstrates his substantive findings as well as the methodological issues he encounters when trying to work with this material – necessitating engagement with both web archives as well as traditional resources.

    This theme of considering web archives as just one among many primary documents is also foundational to Peter Webster's chapter on ‘Religion and Web History’. To study religion over the last 20 years is to also, in many cases, consider the Web: both how religions are shaped by the Web, and how web history has interacted with major themes in the field, from secularization to the place of religion in society. Webster also explores future directions in this field.

    We then shift gears away from specific case studies to explorations of particular aspects of the Web. Jeremy Wade Morris explores the sonic element in his ‘Hearing the Past: The Sonic Web from MIDI to Music Streaming’. While we tend to focus on visual and text, Morris explores what we can learn from web history by listening – accordingly, he covers the history of sound on the Web (from technological developments to commercialization) – and also explores the barriers that we face due to obsolete and proprietary file formats.

    Considering a broad range of media types, the next chapter, ‘Memes', by Jim McGrath, explores how text, images, animated GIFs, sound, and short movies can spread around the Internet. After an introduction to the concept in general, McGrath explores where memes emerged on the Web, beginning in early-1990s Usenet groups, through the recent rise of the ‘meme’ term itself on the Internet, using it as an avenue to look at just how quickly the Web has transformed.

    Transformation underpins the next chapter as well, by Gabriele de Seta. ‘Years of the Internet: Vernacular Creativity before, on, and after the Chinese Web’ explores the evolution of the Internet in China, focusing on six years – from the first email, to BBSs, and messaging and chat services. Showing continuities in the vernacular creativity of Chinese Internet users, the unique evolution of the Web in China can be seen in this important story.

    Pulling the gaze back from China alone to considering East Asia as a region, Mark McLelland's ‘Cultural, Political and Technical Factors Influencing Early Web Uptake in North America and East Asia’ explores Taiwan, mainland China, Japan, and Korea. Given the Euro-American assumptions that underpinned much of the early Web – from QWERTY keyboards to non-Roman script encoding – the adoption of the Web took a different route there. His chapter begins with East Asian pre-Web systems before exploring how these early encounters led to unique web cultures by the mid-to-late 1990s.

    Our final three chapters in this section cover three aspects that the Web's designers may not have had in mind. The first, ‘Online Pornography', by Susanna Paasonen, explores the world of online pornography. The pornography industry, Paasonen argues, has underpinned much of the Web's technical development over the last two decades – from credit card processing to streaming video and advertisements – and the Web has had considerable impact on pornography as well.

    Spam, the mild irritant that we all face in our inboxes, is another critical element that we need to understand to grasp how the Web has evolved – just as pornography shaped the Web, so too did spam, influencing search engines, how we use the Web, legal frameworks, and beyond. Finn Brunton explores this in his ‘Spam’ chapter, using spam as an avenue into a counter history of the Web.

    The section then concludes with Michael Nycyk's ‘Trolls and Trolling History: From Subculture to Mainstream Practices’. This story of a small Internet-based subculture that ended up shaping the mainstream social media and web platforms helps us take an alternate vision of the Web's history. From Usenet to Web 2.0, trolls have evolved alongside the Web.

    Part Six: The Roads Ahead

    After this array of case studies and web history approaches, it becomes clear that there are many roads forward in the field of web archives. We give the closing words of the book to Jane Winters, a professor of digital history, whose chapter ‘Web Archives and (Digital) History: A Troubled Past and a Promising Future?’ investigates the failure of historians to meaningfully engage with web archives as of 2018 – despite pressing reasons to do so. She then proposes a new future, one which sees historians mixing both qualitative and quantitative approaches, to reclaim the stories of everyday people.

    The New Field of Web History

    If we are going to be able to write histories of the 1990s and beyond, not only of the Web but of any social, cultural, political, economic, or beyond phenomenon that was itself reflected in the Web, we need to understand the context in which these sources were created. In this lies the importance of web history as a field. A spam message in 1994, or a troll in 2008, or a homepage in 1999 were all created in particular contexts – which all need to be understood for their responsible use. Similarly, while those who study web history need not be coders, they do need some understanding of the underlying technological platforms and interfaces, from the origins of the hyperlink to an understanding of how the web browsers that users used to access the Web changed over time.

    The Web has now been with us for over a quarter of a century. Historians are not soothsayers, able to magically use the past to understand the future, but they can begin to get a sense of the broad contours of an evolving historical force with an eye to what it might mean for particular outcomes. With such a rich historical record and legacy to draw on, any contemporary understanding of the Web can only be enriched by an understanding of its historical context; and any breathless exploration of what the future might hold can benefit from an understanding of the legacies at play.


    Our sincerest thanks, in the first place, to our contributors. We couldn't have asked for a better group of scholars to work with as we put this collection together. Many of the contributors picked up the gauntlet and drafted expansive chapters, informed both by their existing research agendas but in many cases by moving into new areas and avenues. It goes without saying that this book would not be possible without their phenomenal work.

    Our gracious thanks as well to Chris Rojek, the Sociology publisher at SAGE who provided so much initial support on the project before passing on the baton to editors Mila Steele and Michael Ainsley. Thanks also to Colette Wilson, Anwesha Roy, Serena Ugolini, and Matthew Oldfield at SAGE for all of their support with making this Handbook a reality!

    We would also both like to thank Megan Sapnar Ankerson from the University of Michigan for her assistance and guidance in the first stages of bringing our ideas together. Ian Milligan would also like to thank his colleagues in the Web Archives for Historical Research Group: Nick Ruest, Jimmy Lin, Ryan Deschamps, and Samantha Fritz, for providing continual encouragement and insights into the world of web archiving research.


    1 Xanadu is a registered trade and service mark of Project Xanadu, Sausalito CA 94965, US.

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