An interview with Professor Andrew Russell

Open Standards and the Digital Age: History, Ideology, and Networks is a book written by Professor Andrew Russell about the history of communication and information networks, including the Internet, as well as standards and openness. Professor Russell has his Ph.D. in the History of Science and Technology from Johns Hopkins University and is the director of the Program in Science and Technology Studies at Stevens Institute of Technology.

It was no easy task formulating ideas and gathering research for the book, and Russell reflects on this: “I interviewed people closely related to the Internet in the U.S. and Europe and then transcribed those interviews and sent them to a database. I also drew on existing interviews called oral history interviews and used primary source documents, including records from meetings and published papers. My intention was to draw from as many sources as I could so I could get the complete picture.”

When asked why he chose now to publish his book, Russell responded, “I saw that critics were talking about openness and standards with regards to the Internet, but had no real historical dimension to their argument. That was my driving force in publishing when I did.”

Professor Russell also acknowledged the important role education played in his writing of the book. “I grew up around teachers, my mom was a teacher, two of my aunts were teachers, and so the importance of education was clear to me from a very young age,” Russell explained, “Part of the reason I wrote this book was to help educate others on the topics of standards and networks, particularly the Internet.”

Not long ago, Professor Russell held a talk here at Stevens about his book, which drew accredited professors from the tri-state area. A discussion was held afterwards in which a number of questions were posed, one of them being about the current state of the Internet’s openness.

While Russell recognizes that the Internet and the institutions charged with governing the Internet have become more open, he says, “It is important to understand the history of the Internet, that it wasn’t created to be open and vas very top-down. Also, studying history in general shows how the present came to be, what roads were not taken, and provides a richer sense of what is possible.”

Professor Russell’s book is currently on sale through Amazon and the campus bookstore. He is more than open to discuss the book and can be reached at arussell@stevens.edu.