Saturday, October 21

Decades after UCLA transmitted first message, new class will examine Internet's history

Forty years ago, no one knew that the Internet research done at UCLA would come to play such a deeply integrated role in society and culture.

A new summer class will offer UCLA students the university’s first-ever look at the history of the Internet, from its origins to its role in spurring revolutions.

History 180A, “Introduction to Internet History: 1960 to Present,” will be offered for the first time at UCLA this summer during Session A.

The class will examine major case studies, issues and themes associated with the Internet, said Brad Fidler, director and founder of the Kleinrock Internet History Center at UCLA and the one who will be teaching the class.

The class is not centered on the history of the bigger and older computers that used to exist, said Fidler, who recently earned a doctorate in science and technology from UCLA.

Instead, the course will focus on understanding the interactions of culture, politics and social factors and how those led to technological change, he said.

The curriculum will also include origin stories of the Internet. One of these stories revolves around UCLA.

On Oct. 29, 1969, at 9:30 p.m., Leonard Kleinrock, professor of computer science, transmitted the first message from UCLA to the Stanford Research Institute.

The message was supposed to be “login” but after sending the first two letters, “lo,” the system crashed, Kleinrock said ““ a “prophetic” moment.

Few have a real understanding as to where the Internet comes from, why it evolved, its original intention and how the culture of its creation affect the Internet we see today, said Kleinrock, often noted as one of the founding fathers of the Internet.

“Just like electricity changed our life, the Internet has also changed the way we live,” said Sam Chuang, a second-year computer science student. “It would be interesting to learn about the thing that has impacted our century the most.”

At UCLA, it’s living history. Students will learn about that first Internet transmission in class, Fidler said.

The message was sent the same year that two members of the Black Panthers were shot in front of Campbell Hall.

The class will also look at how this event, and the Civil Rights Movement as a whole, influenced the people working on the ARPANET, as the Internet was called at the time, Fidler said.

The role of the Internet in revolutions will also be examined in the more recent cases of Egypt and the Middle East, Fidler said.

The class aims to bring together students from the sciences and humanities, said David Myers, chair of the history department.

Students from both parts of the UCLA campus will be able to find common ground on a topic of mutual interest, he said.

“The Internet is an indispensable tool in the daily lives of many people,” Myers said. “It is our job as historians to try to understand how we got to where we are today.”

Students will also learn that it takes a while for technologies to catch on, said Vijay Dhir, dean of the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“The Internet has massive influence over our world,” Fidler said. “But it only developed over time because of the things we decided to do.”

The hope is that the course will become a general education class for engineering students in the future, Fidler said.

The syllabus for the course is still being finalized, Fidler said. He added he is willing to allow for as many students to enroll as possible.

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