Niels Brügger. The Archived Web: Doing History in the Digital Age. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2018. 200p. Hardcover, $30.00 (ISBN: 978-0-26203-902-4).

James Kessenides


Visit the Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine,” and you will find an invitation at the top of the page to view hundreds of billions of archived web pages—384 billion at present. Impressive as that number is, more impressive still is the fact that the Internet Archive has been preserving web pages since 1996, or, in other words, since more or less the beginning of the web. This was a prescient act indeed. If the rush of historical change, whatever the matter may be, is liable to confuse us in the short term—to be characterized by, as Fernand Braudel once said in On History (Sarah Matthews, trans., University of Chicago Press, 1980, 28), “our illusions” and “our hasty awareness”—then the Internet Archive certainly managed to bring a measure of clarity and reflection to the early days of the web. And now, more than 20 years later, it is no coincidence that the Internet Archive itself is touched on in the excellent book under review here, Niels Brügger’s The Archived Web: Doing History in the Digital Age. Brügger, Professor and Head of NetLab and of the Center for Internet Studies, Aarhus University, takes the measure of the web as a valid and independent repository of raw material for history—as “a historical source in its own right,” despite not yet being widely seen as such (12). He leverages the passage of time deftly and with numerous insights on the first quarter century of the web’s existence. He writes for an audience of historians and other scholars who would seek to use web archives in their research, but the result is a work that proves richly instructive and valuable for librarians and archivists too.

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