updated: 1/2/2007 11:02:19 AM

Rose-Hulman Professor Launches Web History Center

InsideIndianaBusiness.com Report

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology historian William Pickett and technology journalist Marc Weber have launched the new Web History Center. The co-founders recently opened an office at Rose-Hulman and another at the Computer History Museum in California. The center is collecting materials from Web pioneers, companies and others to preserve information about the Web's origins for students, historians and future innovators.

Source: Inside INdiana Business

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Press Release

Terre Haute, Ind.--Imagine the records of Gutenberg's historic printing press and the early books he printed were disappearing from sheer neglect. This is what is happening to many of the discoveries and historical records of the World Wide Web, according to Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology historian William Pickett and technology journalist Marc Weber, co-founders of the new Web History Center. They emphasized that the Web's disappearing legacy holds valuable untapped innovations, as well as the records of one of the great social and cultural transformations of our time.

The Web History Center has recently opened offices at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. as a result of a $100,000 gift from California e-commerce pioneer CommerceNet and earlier support from Rose-Hulman alumni Dennis Paustenbach and Christian Taylor. Founding members of the Center include the Stanford University Libraries, the Internet Archive, the Charles Babbage Institute, and eight others.

The idea for a web history archival had been in existence for some time but the current initiative arose from a conversation Pickett had with Web pioneer Robert Cailliau at a Rose-Hulman conference commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Web in 2004. The conversation led Pickett to contact Weber, co-founder of the Web History Project which had assembled the largest archive of source materials now in existence. Weber began working on Web history as a topic in 1995, gathering oral histories from over 80 key early sources and co-chairing the first Web history conference track in 1997. Weber joined forces with Pickett, and they launched the Web History Center earlier this year.

Pickett said the Center is collecting materials from Web pioneers, Web companies, and others in order to save information about the Web's origins and developments for review by students, historians and future innovators.

The software to create the World Wide Web is available on a computer at Rose-Hulman, and was a feature of the college's web conference two years ago.

CommerceNet founder Marty Tenenbaum says, "If we at the heart of Silicon Valley and the commercial Web don't step in to preserve what's been invented up to now, who will?"

The Center's strategy is to collect at-risk oral histories, software, images and documents on varying topics such as the history of e-commerce or the Web's impact on various communities, from nations and ethnic groups to hobbyists, to be preserved as part of a wiki-like multimedia library. It will draw on the collections of all Web History Center members, and make the contents accessible to all, from children doing book reports to documentary filmmakers, according to Pickett, who is also serving as the Center's historian.

Computer History Museum Executive Director and CEO John Toole noted that, "The cycle of creation and loss is faster for Web history than for most everything we've ever seen, and historians are exploring what to save, and how to interpret it. The Museum is dedicated to collaborating with others in a focused way, and the Web History Center is a forum to do so with those who have been engaged in these issues for many years."

Many people are surprised to find that the Web is old enough to have a history, much less one with roots that go back 70 years. This past holds a rich backlog of forgotten innovations such as micropayments, intelligent links, and combined browser/editors-- many with lessons for today.

"Science and engineering move forward by drawing on the work done before, preserved in published papers and physical objects," says Science magazine editor-in-chief and former Stanford President Donald Kennedy. "But the Web changes so fast and so casually that many basic materials are never even saved," Kennedy stated.

Until now, no one has made a broad effort to preserve the core records of this modern revolution, which many agree could rival the rise of the printing press in its eventual impact. Much has already been lost, including copies of trailblazing programs and historic sites. While the Internet Archive, in San Francisco, has saved important Web pages since 1995, the most basic historical records - from correspondence between pioneers, to photos, to historic machines-- are still being thrown out every day. This is what the Web History Center hopes to change, Pickett stated.

The Web History Center brings together key people who have helped define and encourage the emerging field of Web history during the past 12 years. Many are Web pioneers such as Robert Cailliau and Jean-François Groff, who helped Sir Tim Berners-Lee create the Web itself. Others are leaders in the history of technology field like Henry Lowood of Stanford Libraries.

Further information about the Web History Center project can be found at www.webhistory.org or by contacting Rose-Hulman history professor William Pickett at 812-244-4021.

About the Web History Center

The Web History Center is a non-profit corporation with offices at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California and at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. In addition it has three European representatives. Formed in March of 2006, its charters are to collect at-risk historical material including oral histories, to serve as a facilitating organization for Web history as a field, and to encourage public and educational access to the Web's history. Founding institutional members include Stanford University Libraries, the Internet Archive, the Computer History Museum, the Center for History and New Media, the Charles Babbage institute, the International World Wide Web Conference Committee, the University of Maryland Business Plan and Dot-Com archives, and the Digibarn. Founding sponsors are CommerceNet, Dennis Paustenbach of ChemRisk, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and Christian Taylor. The Web History Center's motto is: "Know the Past. Invent the Future".

Source: Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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