Podcast: Enquire Within: How the Victorians Invented the World Wide Web

[Back in the summer I wrote and recorded a podcast for the Ilkley Literature Festival’s Settee Seminars. It was published last November but in all the rush of the semester forgot to link to it from here. The podcast is in season three of the Settee Seminars. All three seasons can be found here. I’ve pasted the summary and further reading below.]

When Tim Berners Lee was thinking of a name for his new hypertext system he thought of a dusty volume that used to be on his parents’ bookshelves. That volume was Enquire Within (1856), a miscellany of domestic advice now forgotten, but went through 97 editions before the end of the nineteenth century. Berners Lee named his system ENQUIRE, the next version of which would become the World Wide Web. But what was it about this book that made Berners Lee think of it? Why was it so popular in the period? And why has it become forgotten today?

Further reading:

Tim Berners-Lee and Mark Fischetti, Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor (New York: HarperBusiness, 2000).

Malcolm Chase, ‘“An Overpowering ‘Itch for Writing’”: R.K. Philp, John Denman and the Culture of Self-Improvement’, English Historical Review, 133.561 (2018), 351–82: https://doi.org/10.1093/ehr/cey086

Malcolm Chase, Chartism: A New History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007).

Enquire Within Upon Everything (London: Houlston and Stoneman, 1856). Available at Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/enquirewithinup00evergoog

James Gillies, How the Web was Born: The Story of the World Wide Web (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).