HNSource, the First History Site on the WWW

HNSource (archived copy) was established by Dr. Lynn H. Nelson, Professor of History Emeritus, University of Kansas, on 6 March 1993. HNSource was the first history site on the World Wide Web, and the second public web site.
It became [logo: WWW History]WWW-VL History on 21 September 1993 and the first directory of content on Tim Berners-Lee's [logo: WWW-Virtual Library]WWW-Virtual Library.

HNSOURCE now open for business

[archived copy of Lynn Nelson's announcement to MEDIEV-L list, 20 March 1993]

Pioneer Don Mabry on HNSource and Lynn Nelson:

"Lynn had to be the pioneer in finding a way to hook them all together through HNSource [all the early internet history sites]."

[Don Mabry, email to G. Laughead, 05 March 2008]
"I published an article in Perspectives, the newsletter of the American Historical Association, in February, 1991 and that article brought a number of professional historians, including Lynn Nelson, onto what we call the Internet and onto a Listserv called History. I had discovered HISTORY(at)FINHUTC.BITNET in 1988 and had been a prime participant. Nelson joining the Listserv was critical because he and I found each other congenial and we started working together. I had already created an electronic repository for historians in 1990 because it was obvious that one was needed. I knew of Lynn because I had done an administrative fellowship in the Chancellor's office at Kansas the university where Lynn Nelson taught history He created a storage site at KU and, together, we worked to find others who would do the same. The key to success was linking all these sites together. I became an associate dean in the late summer of 1991 and couldn't devote enough time but Nelson figured out how to do that. And he was smart enough to enhance the system we created. Lynn is a great guy."

Lynn H. Nelson on Don Mabry: "He was, of course, the builder and maintainer of RA, and was highly regarded if only for that accomplishment. RA was the first, and at the time the only, File Transfer Protocol (FTP) site for historians. His file of instructions on using FTP was widely distributed both here and abroad, and historians began to learn from it how to utilize the information that he was collecting there for their use.

In a talk he was giving at London University on 3 March 1993, Don Mabry clicked on the monitor of the computer at the front of the room to reveal HNSource, with automatic links to every source of historical materials I could find on the net. After demonstrating that HNSource could fetch any of the files in the sites to which it could connect, and could display them on the screen instantly and without downloading, his audience carried him away to a gala lunch at Simpson's on the Strand.

Excerpted from: Before the Web: the early development of history on-line

by Dr. Lynn H. Nelson
Professor Emeritus, History, University of Kansas

(Written in November 2000)

When Tim Berners-Lee was developing the early web sites at CERN and Champaign-Urbana (where Andreesen and others were working on a stable http browser), he set up a page of clickable links so that the various teams would have easy communication with each other.

When Andreesen's group released Mosaic (html and http had already been released) and it was clear that the number of web sites would proliferate without any central means of registering them, Berners-Lee turned the problem over to Arthur Secret, to whom he had given the responsibility of keeping up the CERN directory. Berners-Lee was in contact with the lynx team here at KU and, when he asked them if they could work up a means of translating a lynx site into an html web site, he also mentioned the impending difficulty of maintaining any sort of directory for users.

By that time, there were two lynx sites operating - KUFacts, the campus-wide information server (CWIS) that the lynx team had been authorized to devise, and HNSource, a directory for historians that I had constructed. I had been working with the lynx team in part because, although their charge was to construct an information server of limited scope, the technology they were using was based on telnet and had no restrictions. I wanted to build an information server with a world-wide reach, and so my interests provided them the opportunity to have an application of their work that would operate beyond the limits that had set for them. This was early September of 1993, and HNSource had been operating since March of that year and was at the time linked with two other sites, Matthew Ciolek's COOMESQUEST at Canberra and Christopher Currie's IHR-INFO at London.

Lou Montulli told Berners-Lee to look at HNSource as a possible start toward a solution of the problem of a web directory, Berners-Lee told Arthur Secret, and Arthur Secret asked me if I would be willing to convert HNSource to a web index to cover sites dealing with History. I agreed, and, on 21 September 1993, WWW History went into operation.

I had also suggested that Arthur get in contact with Matthew, Christopher, and some others who were upgrading their old FTP sites. Arthur did so, and began recruiting other volunteers to handle other topics. Soon people wishing to set up an index contacted Arthur, and he entered their site on the central catalogue that he was maintaining and to which all of the index sites were pointing. The number of index sites grew without much planning since Arthur was inclined to accept and include anyone who applied.

It was not long before Yahoo! began operations, and began by capturing as many links from what Arthur had now named WWW-VL. There was some confusion as to whether or not Yahoo! was not replacing WWW-VL's volunteer effort with a commercially funded enterprise. It was settled amicably. Yahoo! would not raid WWW-VL's links and WWW-VL would continue on the basis that it was fundamentally different from Yahoo! in that its sites were each managed by someone who was more or less of an expert in the field he or she covered and so could more effectively screen out sub-standard web sites as well as those operating primarily with material copied from other sites. Each maintainer understood that he or she was creating an index for professionals or people with an interest in high-quality materials.

When WWW re-organized as and moved its operations to MIT in the United States, it was funded for the purpose of developing web standards. Berners-Lee decided that could not continue to have WWW-VL as an integral part of its new organization since its purpose was too different from the new function of I suppose that the basic problem was that was not being funded to maintain a distributed index to web sites. At the same time, Arthur Secret was looking for a site on which to keep the main catalogue as well as searching for new employment.

WWW-VL drifted for a considerable time, with new sites being added when Arthur had the time to do so, but little being done to eliminate moribund, abandoned, and sub-standard sites or reviewing who was using the name and logo of WWW-VL. It was at this time that I grew frustrated with the stagnation of WWW-VL, and particularly with its failure to include non-English-speaking sites. Matthias Melcher and I got together on this matter. Matthias designed a new History index page for an International Index for History and worked with the History section of WWW-DE to integrate its listings with those of the History Index.

While this was going on, the membership of WWW-VL, joined as they were by a discussion list, more or less rebelled against Arthur Secret's leadership, or lack of it, and appointed a committee to draft bylaws for a central organization of WWW-VL. They have been at it for well over a year now and finally appear as if they will be able to present some articles or organization upon which a sufficient number of members may agree. In the process, however, many of the points of contact between WWW-VL as it operated under the management of Arthur Secret have been lost, and Arthur himself no longer participates in WWW-VL.

Lynn H.Nelson

Internet History Links

Lynn H. Nelson started the first Kansas history on the web, the [logo:Kansas Heritage Group] Kansas Heritage Group, established 1993, and the Kansas History Gateway.
HNSource History posted May 2006; Updated, 02 April 2019. Maintained by George Laughead, manager, WWW-VL: United States History network. Hosted at WWW Virtual Library @