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4AAVC103 History of Networked Technologies

Module convenor: TBC
Teaching Pattern: Ten one-hour lectures and ten one-hour seminars
Module description:

In the second half of the module we move on to the changes in network technology wrought by the coming of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s. The Web to which computer users could contribute as well as consume led to the rise of social media, and all the changes in our societies and habits that it bought. The module will look at how mobile computing, GPS and wireless technologies have taken the Web from our desktops to our pockets, and reflect on how this has made the internet a network of people rather than a network of machines.

Throughout, the module will highlight the contributions of key individuals to the evolution of network technologies, including those of Ada Lovelace, John Von Neumann, Alan Turing and Tim Berners-Lee.

In conclusion the module will reflect on how the internet is governed and managed, focusing on battles over censorship and net neutrality, particularly conflicts between Anglo-American institutions (such as ICANN) and institutions with nation-state representation (such as the ITU). How has the history of the internet led to these battles? The course will conclude with a return to that key question of what the history of network technologies - and the most successful network technology of all, the internet - tells us about the relationship between analogue and digital thought and culture.

Module aims

We will offer an introductory conceptualisation of networks that will compare the strengths and weaknesses of th e two organisational forms of a hierarchical pyramid versus flattened networks. The most important technological network, and the one that demonstrates all the aspects of networks, is the internet. Having a broad understanding of the internet's fundamental architecture will be essential to any understanding of digital culture and accordingly forms a building block of the degree and this will also form a concrete example of a network that will allow exploration of theories of networks. A history of the internet will be given that introduces in a broad and general way the core technologies, such as packet - switching and the domain name system. This will cover three periods of internet history in Arpanet to adoption of the TCP/IP protocol (the innovation that founded the internet as a network of networks); TCP/IP to the first bust; and the first bust to the internet of things (present day). This historical approach will ensure introductions are also given to issues of governance of the internet. Following this history, certain technologies will be introduced in more detail. Particular attention will be paid to TCP/IP and DNS to introduce the principles of routing and addressing, packet switching, and communications protocols. Some limitations of and alternatives to TCP/IP will also be introduced. In conclusion the module will reflect on the current state of governance of the internet, focusing on battles over who controls the future of internet technologies and will conclude with a return to reflecting on theories of networks based on exploration of networked technologies.

Learning outcomes

At the end of this module, students will be able to:

  1. Understand theories of the nature of networks.
  2. Connect ideas about the nature of networks to concrete examples of network technologies, particularly through examples of internet technologies.
  3. Reflect on different accounts of internet governance and types of network control

Core reading



2 x 2000 word essays (50% each)

The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

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