In a vintage photo, Christine Braun ’70 works with a light pen
Christine Braun ’70 works with a light pen, precursor to the mousePhoto: Greg Lloyd
Science & Tech

World Wide Beginnings
The web’s roots at Brown

By Robert Arellano ’91, ’94 MFA / July/August 2019
July 8th, 2019

You’ve probably clicked web links hundreds of times this week, perhaps a million times in the past 25 years. What you probably didn’t know: Every tap or click connects you with systems owing part of their genesis to a Romanesque mansion at 182 George Street in Providence, where a visionary team of researchers in Brown’s Division of Applied Mathematics created the personal computer’s first hypertext system. 

On May 23, “A Half-Century of Hypertext at Brown” commemorated Brown’s role in developing a technology that fifty years ago was known to only a handful of people, but today is used regularly by 4.4 billion. 

Ted Nelson, who as early as 1963 first coined the terms hypertext and hypermedia, was a researcher at Brown when, in 1967, he and conference co-chair Andries “Andy” van Dam developed systems that made hyperlinks possible. Next came hypertext systems of digitized literature and criticism that ran on commercial equipment—the world’s first networked community of scholars. By 1983, the conference’s other co-chair, Norman Meyrowitz ’81, had co-founded Brown’s Institute for Research in Information Systems (IRIS), working with Nancy Garrett and Karen Catlin to create Intermedia, a localized hypertext system used in teaching math, history, English, and creative writing courses at Brown.

Intermedia source material was used in developing Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web, cited Brown’s systems as inspiration in some of the earliest HTML documents written.

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Related Issue
July/August 2019