The web that was


Why does the World Wide Web work the way it does? That the web has a great impact on our lives, whether through search engines or social media, is common knowledge. How the web gained the shape it has today, however, is under-researched. This project seeks to provide historical knowledge that will allow scholars, web professionals and the wider public to better understand and evaluate these technologies.

Scholars have shown that the utopian rhetoric that often surrounds digital technology does not match actual uses and effects. However bottlenecks to a deeper understanding remain: (1) Knowledge of the role of underlying software is generally contained in industry and computer science (2) The persistence of a teleological view of web history, evidenced for example by the popular industry terms Web 1.0 and 2.0.

This project will address these problems by exploring the history of Perl, the programming language once considered the "duct tape" holding the web together. Providing a historical understanding of Perl will shed light on the major economic, technological and cultural developments that shaped how the web was built and experienced from 1997 to 2001. This period included many innovations we consider normal and mundane today, and will provide insight into the ideas and debates that animated their emergence. Understanding Perl's fate will help us see how and why the web transitioned from an experimental publishing environment into the interactive, commercial media space we know it as today.

Building on my experience as a web historian, the Veni project will form the first large-scale history of a key web development technology. Featuring archival research and much-needed interviews with an aging population of web pioneers, this exploration of the web that was will provide a valuable historical resource for public discussions on the web's current state and future.


Publication meant for a broad audience


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. M.P. Stevenson

Affiliated with

Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Faculteit der Letteren, Journalistieke cultuur en media

Team members

Dr. M.P. Stevenson, Dr. M.P. Stevenson


01/02/2016 to 31/08/2019