[iDC] history of protocols

Claus Pias claus.pias at univie.ac.at
Sat Jun 29 10:12:17 UTC 2013

Dear all, 

I am curious if anyone did some historical research on WHY protocols were called "protocols". From the existing literature and old RFC's I vaguely know WHEN transmission protocols emerged and how the structure of packages was defined in the times of early online-systems. There are also a few texts on the history of protocol engineering (i.e. Computer Networks 54(2010) 3197-3209). But as far as I see, no one yet asked the questions why the term "protocol" was chosen. 

The background is that I am working on medieval and early modern documents (deeds) whose structure is called "protocol" in diplomatics (in the sense of Mabillon). In fact, the structure of digital data packages very much resembles the structure of deeds, that follow a highly formalized framework of invocatio, intitulatio, inscriptio, narratio, sanctio, corroboratio, eschatocoll  (to use the latin rhetorical terms) that are equivalent to time stamp, sender, receiver, message, 'checksum' or authentifier etc. etc. Questions of security of transmission were crucial for that kind of structure.  

Was anyone aware of this historical notion of "protocol" when the term was introduced to computer networks in the 1960's?

My apologies for such an esoteric question -- it's my first post here.

Best wishes, 

Claus Pias
Leuphana University Lüneburg, Wallstr. 1, 21335 Lüneburg / Germany
Professor for History and Epistemology of Media (ICAM)
Director, Institute for Advanced Study in Media-Cultures of Computer Simulation (MECS)

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