Popular and scholarly histories of computer networking often focus on technical innovation and the social impact of those innovations. These histories are marked by a contradiction, namely, failing to explain the existence of the infrastructure that they must ultimately use as evidence for the success of innovation, and the conduit of its social impact. The story of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Agency's (DARPA's) Arpanet, and the role of both in the invention of the modern Internet, is a central archetype of this genre. Taking our lead from recent work in infrastructure and maintenance studies, we propose a methodological and ontological inversion of Internet historiography—centering our explanation around the infrastructure that is assumed but not explained in innovation-centric accounts. We do so by focusing on the U.S. Defense Communications Agency (DCA; now the Defense Information Systems Agency), which is traditionally cast, contra DARPA, as a conservative enemy of innovation. We explore its maintenance of the financial and administrative infrastructure necessary for the Arpanet to function as a contribution to broader histories of network infrastructure.


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pp. 899-924
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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