Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (BOLLI)

From Sputnik to the World Wide Web: The Creation of the Internet

Course Number


Study Group Leader (SGL)

 Carl Lazarus


This course will take place virtually on Zoom. Participation in this course requires a device (ideally a computer or tablet, rather than a cell phone) with a camera and microphone in good working order and basic familiarity with using Zoom and accessing email.

5-Week Course

 Feb. 27 - March 26.


The Internet captured public attention starting in 1995, but its origins go back to the launch of Sputnik in 1957. Although it touches all our lives everyday, most of us know very little about it. We will cover the history of how the Internet and its two largest applications – email and the World Wide Web– came to exist and how they work. Some questions we will consider are: What was the role of government, the military, academia, industry, and individual enthusiasts in creating the Internet? What were the French and British contributions? Who operates it? How is it governed? Where is it located?  How does it work? Who has the seven master keys? What was Al Gore’s role? How does an email reach its recipients? How can you tell whether an email or a web link is (probably) legitimate? No technical background is required, only a lively curiosity. 

Group Leadership Style

More lecture than facilitated discussion.

Course Materials

Inventing the Internet, Janet Abbate. Available in hardcover, paperback and Kindle. Additional materials will be provided on a class website or by email links.     

Preparation Time

60-70 pages per week. 


Carl Lazarus has been a BOLLI member since 2013 and has led a variety of BOLLI courses since 2015. He studied chemistry at Yale and biochemistry at Brandeis, but subsequently studied computer science at MIT and made his career in information technology. He wrote software and managed software development for the healthcare industry, and later managed various online services.