Brief Insight Into the Historical Development of Hypertext

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Brief Insight Into the Historical Development of Hypertext

By | Jan. 2013
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Nowadays, when we hear the term “Hypertext” there is one typical image that comes to mind; underlined text in blue color. We can safely assume that 99.9% of people interacting with computers recognize this text format, and are subconsciously driven to interact with it (click).

Officially, we call “Hypertext” the kind of text that is displayed on a computer or other electronic device with references (hyperlinks) to other text that the reader can immediately access, usually by a mouse click or key-press sequence.

Hypertext has a really rich history. Its’ evolutionary timeline through history has many stations.

It all began as early as 1588, when an Italian military engineer invented the “Book wheel”. His name was Agostino Ramelli and his device was a wooden structure with a circular core that could hold books. In a more technical insight, to ensure that the books remained at a constant angle, Ramelli incorporated an epicyclic gearing arrangement, a complex device that had only previously been used in astronomical clocks. The idea was that he could present volumes of text to readers in whatever position they had last placed them, and thus it is considered an early prototype of hypertext.

Quite further into the timeline, an Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges published "The Garden of Forking Paths". It is a novel that can be read in multiple ways, a hypertext novel. Borges described this in 1941, prior to the invention of the electromagnetic digital computer. Not only did he arguably invent the hypertext novel—Borges went on to describe a theory of the universe based upon the structure of such a novel. Borges's vision of "forking paths" has been cited as inspiration by numerous new media scholars, in particular within the field of hypertext fiction.

Officially though, the publication of Vannevar Bush’s text “As We May Think” in 1945 marks the birth of the idea we refer today as “hypertext”. Bush proposed a system comprised of microfilm, cameras...
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