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The origins and spread of the World Wide Web. Rediscovering the early years of the Web inside and outside the CERN archive (1989-1995)



Balbi G.


Barcella D.


Fomasi M.



Drawing on an extensive corpus of sources, including new materials from the CERN archive that for secrecy reasons have never been accessed, this project will investigate how the Web was conceptualized, described and promoted within and outside CERN during its early stage, more precisely from the first proposal for information management written by Tim Berners-Lee in March 1989 to the consolidation of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at MIT in 1995. To retrace the internal and external communication flows related to the early Web, this project adopts a twofold perspective; on the one hand, it looks at how the Web was spread and developed at CERN by its founding fathers Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau and by other relevant actors who remained “off the radar” from the main narratives of Web history. On the other hand, this research will investigate how selected newspapers and magazines presented and framed the WWW within the same time frame. From a theoretical perspective, three well-established fields of research weave the background of the research plan: Web history, Internet studies and the history of digital media. Starting from the literature and critical works in these fields and relying on the complementary research background of the research team, this project will focus on the following research questions: 1)How did the Web’s idea evolve inside CERN, and how did news and specialized media represent the new system in its early stage? 2)What actors, besides the well-known founding fathers, contributed to the development and to the promotion of the Web, and how and why were they included or excluded by news and specialized media accounts? 3)How did other co-existing ideas and projects contribute to the development and spread of the Web, and how did news and specialized media describe the Web in relation to them?

Additional information

Start date
End date
48 Months
Funding sources
Swiss National Science Foundation / Project Funding / Division I - Humanities and Social Sciences