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From: Wendy Plotkin <firstname.lastname@example.org> H-Net went on-line for the first time fifteen years ago today, on February 25, 1993. That was the day that H-Urban, the first H-Net list, sent out its first message -- the program of the Society for American City and Regional Planning History -- which I typed out by hand. H-Net (then, History on Line) was conceived by Richard Jensen, Kelly Richter (a graduate student), and I at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in the fall of 1992. Jensen was renowned for his work with computers in quantitative history, having trained whole groups at the Newberry Library in Chicago with Jan Reiff. Richter was interested in a new telecommunications technology known as "bulletin boards," and he and Jensen had begun talking about using that technology to create a professional on-line forum on history. Also a graduate student, I had been working with Jensen on an independent study on the use of electronic texts in the history profession [later published in Vernon Burton, ed., COMPUTING IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES AND HUMANITIES (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002)]. Jensen asked if I was interested in participating in this new project, and I said yes. I had been working for a year or so with the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) at UIC. The TEI was an international, NEH-funded collaboration to create a "mark-up" system (like HTML, which would later dominate the WWW) that would characterize not only the physical content of texts (e.g. title, body, headings), but also the intellectual content (e.g. date, place, war). One of my tasks at the TEI was to moderate a new type of telecommunications forum -- a "Listserv" list -- based on a technology distributed freely in those early days of the Internet. Listserv was superior to the bulletin board technology in a number of ways, and had the added advantage of automatically creating "logs" of all messages, as well as having the capability of storing files. Thus, the three of us decided to launch H-Net using Listserv. We realized early on that such a venture required funding, and the three of us took a memorable road trip to the NEH in October, 1992 (and also celebrated Jensen's birthday). We rented a car and drove to Washington, D.C. over several days. We stopped in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on a crisp, cold, fall day, and Kelly saw the name of an ancestor on one of the gravestones. In Washington, we visited both the AHA and the NEH, and shared our ideas with them. Both were encouraging, and we went back to UIC and prepared an application for funding. The first grant was turned down, but the second one, submitted after H-Net had begun operations, succeeded. Thus, H-Net began with funding only from UIC and the volunteer services of people such as Kelly and I, although Jim Mott soon added his expertise. I had proposed to Jensen that I create the first H-Net list, on urban history. He agreed, and we discussed a name. I suggested Urban-H, and he said that H-Urban would be better -- all of the subsequent lists would begin with "H-". I agreed, and began planning H-Urban. At the time, the Internet was already in operation, although in its more primitive stages, and there were a few history forums on it. However, these were a mix of serious and amateur historians, and the quality was mediocre, for the most part. Thus, when we created H-Net and H-Urban, we consciously set out to develop something that would be different -- that would be dominated by scholars and practitioners in auxiliary disciplines, and that would have a serious and scholarly tone. To do this, we created "moderated" lists, in which all messages would have to go through an advanced graduate student, faculty member, or practitioner. Early on, possibly after the lists had started, we also decided that each list should have a "board" of the leading scholars in the field. Thus, drawing on the democratic nature of the early Internet, I began to write to urban historians of some repute, and asked them to serve on H-Urban's board. Most agreed. We created the idea of separate lists for the board, and Edboard-Urban was born. On February 25, 1993, I sent out the first H-Urban (and H-Net) message, and many more followed. The messages were a mix of announcements, queries, and attempts to promote discussion -- the latter the least successful, unless we were discussing urban poetry or urban films. In those early days, as a graduate student, I took the time to abstract book reviews in the major journals, and also to develop mini-essays on a variety of urban historical topics. When key urban historians passed away, I'd summarize the major obituaries or write one myself. I began to combine conversations on the same topic, and to store them on the Listserv "fileserv", alerting our subscribers that they could obtain this summary with an e-mail with a command such as "Get Electric Streetcars." Membership grew from 25 to 50 to over 100 (we are now over 2,000). H-Urban was not alone for long. H-Women followed soon, as did H-Ethnic, H-Film, H-Family, H-Teach, H-Labor, H-Law, H-Medieval, H-Politics, H-CivWar, H-South, H-SHGAPE, HOLOCAUS and H-Antisemitism, HAPSBURG, H-Albion, H-Asia, H-Africa, H-Business, H-Diplo, H-Film, H-German, H-Grad, H-Ideas, H-Judaic, H-Latam, H-Local, H-Oz, H-PCAACA, H-State, H-West (I am probably forgetting a few). A few of these lists pre-dated H-Net, and eventually became H-Net lists in the first years of the organization. With apologies to those I am leaving out, I remember working with Joe Barton, Steve Mintz, Seth Wigderson, Peter Knupfer, Mark Kornbluh, Jeff Conley, Terry Finnegan, Robert Harris, Avi Hyman, Constantin Fasolt, Bob Cherny, Kris Lindemeyer, Christopher Miller, Wayne Carp, Jackie Kent, Phil Mueller, Frank Conlon, Jim Mott, Richard Levy, Austin Kerr, Paul Turnbull, Thomas Costa, Peter Rollins, Charlie Ingrao, and many others. I began to teach the other moderators how to use Listserv, and we held our first meetings, where we debated policies such as how to handle copyright. H-Staff and H-Editor were created, where we continued to discuss how to run these new types of forums. Lists such as H-Antisemitism and HOLOCAUS began to experience serious problems, with Holocaust deniers insisting on their right to post, and each list had to create standards for subscription and postings. We had VIGOROUS debates, and held our first elections. Much as had occurred in the 1790s in the United States, factions emerged, and the elections became contentious (I learned as much about politics from H-Net as I had from my political history classes). H-Urban was the first list to invite a moderator from outside of the United States (Alan Mayne, of University of Melbourne). This, and the international membership, added a "multicultural" element to H-Net as less traveled scholars such as I learned about the reverse of seasons in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, the different "summer" vacations, and the range of academic titles and ranks in different countries. As the H-Urban editorial team expanded, with the addition of Martha Bianco, Mark Peel (from Australia), and Keith Tankard (from South Africa) in those early days, we created the first "editors list" (Edit-Urban) for discussion of policy. Soon, we established the "editors' manual," which was a list of our policies. This grew over time as more decisions were made, and became a resource for training new editors. We debated such things as enforcing proper grammar (after someone sent in a posting in the e.e. cummings mode of all lower case), and agreed that we would require proper grammar and would retain the right to edit postings for such. We began to check and expand citations of scholarship that were sent in, and, after the WWW was created, add links to information about scholarship. We also reserved the right to reject "non-scholarly" postings. H-Urban posted the first book review on H-Net (long before we had a formal review system), and also introduced the idea of a subscriber's survey (at that time, as an incentive, we offered a raffle for a free subscription to the JOURNAL OF URBAN HISTORY, for which I paid, in which those who submitted surveys were entered). When "Gopher" was introduced as a method of storing content, H-Urban and other lists created Gophers. These were soon superseded by WWW sites. H-Net stayed at UIC for only two years, and moved to Michigan State University when there was a change in leadership, to Mark Kornbluh and Peter Knupfer as Director and Assistant Director. Michigan State was more willing than UIC to invest in H-Net, and its investment allowed H-Net to take advantage of the powerful technology of the WWW, and to provide a permanent technical and training staff. This is the history of the beginnings and early years of H-Net and H-Urban, and one that is told from my perspective. For me, H-Urban was a way to connect with urban historians across the nation, and, within the limitations of Americans' language knowledge, across the world. It became one of the most important intellectual communities to which I belonged, along with the Urban History Association and the Society for American City and Regional Planning History, both of which became affiliates. Although its achievements are relatively modest -- given the volunteer status of those who have served it across the years -- and much more remains to be done for it to live up to its possibilities, it has served as a "commons" for urbanists of all types and ranks, and created a place to communicate between the conferences and meetings that bring us face to face throughout the year. I wish to thank all of those who have worked with H-Urban and served on its editorial board since its beginning, as well as all of those who have contributed to it through postings, calls for papers, conference announcements, and the many and sundry types of communications that have expanded our intellectual and disciplinary environs! Wendy Wendy Plotkin, H-Urban Editor H-Urban: http://www.h-net.org/~urban/ (including logs & posting guidelines) Posting Address: email@example.com / mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org (Click)