Thursday, 15 December 2016

Follow-up to our final class

In our final class, we started off by continuing our discussion of the future of the page from last week. The slides for the class are in the usual place on Blackboard, and you can also view below the presentation about pages of Shakespeare editions that I gave at the Yale Renaissance Colloquium last year:

The purpose of looking at that visual timeline of Shakespeare editions, however, was to arrive at what I would argue is one of the most interesting experiments in print-based reading interfaces ever designed. That's Teena Rochfort Smith's Four-Text Hamlet, published as a prototype in 1883 but never completed. For the full story and detailed images of her work, see my blog post that makes the case for Teena Rochfort Smith as the Ada Lovelace of the digital humanities.

Finally, I hope you'll consider submitting a proposal to the iSchool graduate students conference for 2017, which is on the theme of "Canada Now: Disrupting the Past, Activating the Future." You can find its call for proposals at, and the deadline is January 15th. I'm happy to speak in the New Year with any Future of the Book students who are thinking of submitting a proposal based on their work in the course. In any case, I hope you'll plan to attend on March 10-11!

Sarah and I will be in touch via BB about assignments and grades. Thanks, everyone, for a great class and many illuminating discussions, and I hope you all have a wonderful holiday with lots of time to read whatever you've been saving for the end of term!

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

follow up to our class on the future of the page

Lots of items to include in this week's follow-up post, in addition to the lecture slides now posted in the usual place on BB. To begin with, I've added links to two recommended readings, one being a chapter from Andrew Piper's book Book Was There, and the other being Peter Stoicheff and Andrew Taylor's introduction to their collection The Future of the Page.


The second of these readings contains some useful references to the concept of ordinatio in medieval books, which we discussed in class. If you are interested in learning more about this concept and the world of medieval scribes as some of the world's earliest information designers, I recommend two projects by Erik Kwakkel: his blog, and a richly illustrated introduction to medieval manuscripts called Quill: Books Before Print. I'm part of a project that's similar to this but broader in scope, called Architectures of the Book. Some of Monday's lecture was drawn from an entry I wrote for ArchBook on the subject of the opening.

Closer to the present, we also looked briefly at the field of typography and the concept of bibliographic codes as read through Dave Addey's excellent blog post on the typography of the film Alien. Although he's writing about films, not books, his mode of analysis and attention to detail are good models for the study of all kind of media, including books (digital and otherwise). I also recommend this post as a great example of the genre of the blog post, especially one that blends form and content to great effect.

We also spent some time at the end of class with the Spritz speed-reading interface. As a class we did pretty well keeping up with the flashing words, even at 700 wpm, but feel free to try it out on your own screen, which is closer to the interface's natural habitat. The Spritz website is also worth exploring, especially the section titled "The Science," which is where the image below comes from. (Just remember that science without citations is usually just advertising...)

 The Spritz interface generated some interesting discussion about reading last year, when it first started making news. I recommend checking out Lifehacker's post on "The truth about speed reading," and Charlie Jane Anders's excellent io9 post on the question "Does anyone read books the right way any more?".

And if all this speed reading has you wanting to slow things down to a livable pace, I recommend spending some time in the Inforum's new mindfulness corner. There you'll find copies of David Levy's book Mindful Tech, which includes a discussion of calligraphic writing as a meditative exercise -- which closes the circle that began with medieval pages. 

Happy reading and writing (fast, slow, or otherwise)!

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Blogging question #6: messages from (or for) the future

Our final blogging question is deceptively simple: if you could go back in time to whatever year you choose (by whatever means you choose; don't worry about the practical aspects), and if you could tell people in that era one really important thing to understand about the future of books and reading (without, let's assume, needing to worry about polluting the timeline), what would you tell them -- and why?

Or, as a twist, if you could send a message into the future about books and reading in the present, what would it be, and why?

When we grade this final blog post, we'll take into account the fact that integrating secondary sources will be more difficult with this one. We won't be expecting it, but if you can connect what you have to say to the past or future to a scholarly discussion of some kind, we'll count that as a bonus.

Although this will be our final assigned blog question for the course, though you're welcome to keep on using your group blogs however you like -- they are, after all, your blogs. My hope is that this final question will also help set up our final time-travel-themed class on Books of Futures Past.

Follow-up to our week 10 class

A few threads to collect from our class in this follow-up post, in addition to the lecture slides now posted on BB. We began by considering audiobooks in relation to a recording of a Martin Luther King sermon as an aural text, and one related in turn to a controversy over inscription and erasure on the MLK memorial in Washington, DC. If you're interested in the example, it's worth checking out what the National Park Service's official website for the memorial says -- and doesn't say -- about the controversial inscription "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness." For more on King's sermon "The Drum Major Instinct," including a downloadable mp3 recording and historical background, see Stanford's King Institute's page for the sermon: The section we listened to in class begins around 37 minutes into the recording.

We spent a bit of time on the topic of writing, and looked briefly at some research writing tips that I've also covered in my Research Methods class. You can view the slides for that class here:

I've also updated the reading lists with a few items that I've referenced in recent lectures. Nelson Goodman's chapter from Languages of Art which gives us the terms autographic versus allographic to describe different kinds of art forms is now included among the recommended readings for week 10. I've also added two items to the recommended readings for our class on sound and image in week 9. One is Matthew Kirschenbaum's article "Towards a Grammatology of the Hard Drive" (which is also a chapter in his book Mechanisms), and another is a collection of articles edited by Matthew Rubery called Audiobooks, Literature, and Sound Studies.

I should have our final blogging question of the year posted shortly. Stay tuned!

Friday, 25 November 2016

follow-up to our class on sound and image

Sorry to be a bit late with the follow-up post this week. Slides are now posted in the usual place on BB in PDF.

Here are links to three items I mentioned at the beginning of class: the Iguana, a blog run by MISC which is looking for posts (and willing to accept reposts from your class blog); the iJournal, the student-run iSchool journal, which will be looking for submissions before long (for which you might consider your final papers or even your encoding challenge projects); and the call for papers for the graduate student colloquium for the Book History and Print Culture program, on the theme of "Form, Function, Intent: Materiality and the Codification of Knowledge." You don't have to be a student to submit a proposal for the BHPC student colloquium, and I recommend considering it -- it's been a really worthwhile gathering every time it's run. When the iSchool graduate student conference issues its call for papers, I'll let you know about that, too.

In this class and our previous one we discussed Alice in Wonderland and its illustrations. If you're interested in the history of its publication and illustration, see the Harry Ransom's Center's description of John Tenniel's work. Also, the British Library has made available a digitization of Lewis Carroll's illustrated manuscript, which he gave to the original Alice in 1864. Finally, if you'd like to explore the Brabant Collection of Lewis Carroll material at the U of T's Fisher Rare Book Library, you can read about it here:

We also spent time discussing a photographic facsimile of Shakespeare's 1623 First Folio that was published in the mid-1860's. As one of the first photographic facsimiles of a rare book, it was an example of new media in its own time. Specifically we contrasted the claims made in an advertisement against the material evidence that survives from the making of the facsimile -- each of which tells a different story about accuracy. The linked image below will take you to the fully readable issue of The Publisher's Circular from 1864:


Against the rather grandiose claims for accuracy made in the ad, we contrasted the proof-corrections made by Howard Staunton (named in the ad), as he worked with the printer to correct numerous errors arising from the photographic and lithographic processes. This detail from Staunton's proof copy at the Folger Shakespeare Library gives hints at some real exasperation with all the errors (click for a more detailed image):

In this image, we can see Staunton telling the printer to fix errors that cause long-s characters to look like the letter f, as well as other letters that aren't registering on the paper. These are small errors, but the pages of Staunton's proof-copy of the facsimile are full of these kinds of corrections. As we discovered in our XML assignment, the accurate reproduction and representation of texts takes a lot of work and can depend upon hidden labour and human judgment, whether in modern digitization projects or early photographic facsimiles. Bonnie Mak's article "Archaeology of a Digitization," which we read this week, serves as a useful link between those worlds.

We spent a bit less time on the topic of sound, but if you found the Ruberry article on Edison interesting, I recommend checking out this Smithsonian exhibition on Alexander Graham Bell. I got to see the actual exhibition at the National Museum of American History a few times while in DC researching Bell in the Library of Congress and Smithsonian archives, and it was very well done. You can still experience online one of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition, which was the chance to listen to recovered sound recordings from the late nineteenth century, including Bell's own voice. The account of the recovery project itself is a fascinating account of media forensics, and the use of new technologies to study old ones.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Blogging question #5: workshopping essay topics

With the deadline for the final project/paper on the horizon, I thought we could use the next blogging question to share the ideas that you've all been working on. I've been talking with several students already and have heard some really promising ideas, both for traditional papers with interesting topics, and for more experimental approaches to the assignment.

It seems a missed opportunity if it's only the professor who gets to hear about the various ideas that students have been cooking up, so let's use this week's blog posts to share final paper/project ideas -- and especially to get some feedback from each other, which is essential for a course like ours. If you don't have a well-developed idea yet, that's ok -- you can post something speculative and use the exercise to work through some ideas. Even if you have no idea of your topic as you read this, you'll be further ahead by next Friday! If your idea is well-developed, that great; you can use the post to solicit some feedback, and to inspire your classmates. As I've been suggesting all term, there are many ways into a course topic like ours, and a diversity of perspectives is not only a strength, but a necessity.

A few caveats. I won't be treating these blog posts as contractual or as research proposals, so don't worry if your final product changes from what you write about in your post. Also, when we grade these posts we'll use a fair bit of latitude, and we won't be grading the viability of your proposed topic so much as the thought you've put into the post. In other words, feel free to post about problems you haven't solved yet! I've been seeing some great commentary happening in the blogs, too, and this post is a chance to keep up the good work.

Finally, if you're in need of inspiration, I never fail to find some in the videos put out by the New Zealand Book Council, especially this first one (based on Maurice Gee's Going West, animated by Andersen M Studio):

And if you liked that one, here's another...

Closer to home, Toronto's own independent bookstore Type Books has done some fine bibliographic animating of their own:

And if you've come this far, why not watch this video of a husky playing in a pile of leaves? It'll ease some of that November stress:

Ok, enough with the videos -- back to work!

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Follow-up to e-books, part 2

We began class this week with some music: Jeff Buckley's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Cohen's original version is a classic, of course, but I thought Buckley's more spirited and hopeful version might be more fitting after the events of last week in the U.S. You can find Buckley's cover on his 1994 album, Grace.

Lecture slides are now posted on BB. As I mentioned in class, the Inforum has a remarkably comprehensive collection of e-reading devices, going back to the earliest Kindle and Kobo readers. I believe most of these are in their original packaging, too, which is worth considering in relation to the marketing of these devices when they were new. (The first Kindle's packaging, as I recall, makes some interesting gestures toward the printed book.) The Inforum also makes it possible to take out iPads, and you can ask them how to install some of the ebook-apps we discussed yesterday (Alice for the iPad, Our Choice, Bottom of the Ninth, and The Waste Land). Here's the Inforum's page for equipment loans:

Here are the other ebook-app demo videos we watched in class, followed by a fourth clip about books that's worth watching, too... ;-)

I'll follow up with our next blogging question by tomorrow.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

blogging question #4: the future of the (owned) book

Our recent discussions and readings have touched upon the changing meanings of traditional roles such as authorship and readership, but we haven't spent much time yet discussing ownership. This role is easy to take for granted in a world of print: I can walk into a bookstore, buy a printed book, and walk out again with a clear sense that the object is mine to do with as I wish (mostly). I can read it, give it away, forget it on the subway, sell it to a used bookstore, leave it in a random location in the hope that someone reads it, or hurl it into Lake Ontario (actually, don't do that; it's littering, and that lake is pretty full of books already). In other words, the legal affordances of the owned print book as an object align fairly closely with its physical affordances (mostly). One thing I could do physically but probably not legally is scan several chapters of the book and post them on the web. So although it's not entirely true that there are no legal limits to ownership of a printed book, it's fair to say that digital books and related texts and artifacts are changing notions of ownership that have evolved over centuries. As Simon Rowberry mentions in one of our readings from this past week, publishers and online retailers are increasingly thinking of digital books not as objects but services.

Have you had any experiences with digital books, texts, games, software, or other textual artifacts that have made you question your own assumptions about what it means to own something? How would you contextualize that experience in relation to the discussions we've been seeing in our readings for recent classes? Feel free to delve into the recommended readings or other discussions not on the course syllabus.

For example, a few years ago I wanted to download a particular novel in EPUB format in order to do some bibliographical analysis of the file itself -- the very EPUB file we looked at in class this week, in fact. Not coincidentally, I was sitting in the reading room of the Fisher Library, looking at printed editions of the book, when I decided to do some online shopping for an ebook version. I had a surprisingly difficult time finding an online retailer that would allow me to download the book as a stand-alone file; most wanted me to access the ebook through their specific software, such as iBooks or the Kobo desktop app, both of which use EPUB files but within the software's own local database. I finally found a way to pay for and download an EPUB file that I could save directly in my computer's file system, but I was surprised at how difficult it was to find one. Not only had print conditioned me to think of a book as a discrete, locatable thing, but so had other software such as iTunes made me used to purchased digital things as files.

What are your experiences with the changing nature of ownership in a digital world? Bookish examples are welcome, of course, but keep in mind that other things like video games, audio files, and video files are also texts in the broader sense of the term that McKenzie advocates in one of our recommended readings. You could also extend the idea of ownership into the idea of access, such as the forms of digital access that come with being a student at the University of Toronto. However you approach the question, please give us an example, but also take the opportunity to reflect on what we can learn from it in light of scholarly literature on the topic.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

follow-up to week 7

This week's lecture slides are now posted on BB. This week the slides were in PowerPoint, not Prezi, so they're available only on BB instead of also being embedded here.

Hope everyone enjoyed our dissection of an EPUB file in our Monday class. Looking at unfamiliar lines of code can be daunting, but your experience with TEI in the encoding challenge should make it easier to make sense of the relatively simple markup that's usually found in ebooks. If you'd like to download some public-domain EPUB files that are free of DRM, there are lots of places to find them on the web, but Project Gutenberg is a good place to start. (And that's probably the only time I'll recommend Project Gutenberg for anything in this course.) For example, you can download a DRM-free version of the 1611 King James Bible, which we've examined in class, from this link: . The PDF standard we looked at briefly can be found here:

One you've saved one of the EPUB files to a local folder, you can rename the file suffix from .epub to .zip and decompress it. (In OSX I find StuffIt Expander works better than the other utilities for some reason.) Decompressing the file should create a new folder that will look a lot like the one we examined in class, and you can poke around using a web browser and text editor. (A good reference to the parts of an EPUB file can be found here: As an alternative to looking at the various EPUB sub-files directly, you can also open the .epub file itself (not the .zip file you created) in an EPUB editor such as Sigil or Calibre.

As an example of forward-thinking book design, I also mentioned Oliver Byrne's 1847 version of the Elements of Euclid (pictured above). You can find it in the library catalogue, along with a link to order a print-on-demand version, here: The same link from the catalogue page will also take you to a downloadable PDF version.

I'll have the next blogging question posted shortly. In the meantime, for those who aren't quite done with Hallowe'en, here's that excellent spooky Tumblr blog that I mentioned in class: . As we'll see when we come back from reading week, some new digital forms are reinventing traditional book-ish formats, including cartoons, but in very subtle ways. This blog is a great example of the subtle use of animation in a cartoon, while also making brilliant use of traditional features like static images and captions.

Hope to see you at the upcoming Toronto Centre for the Book talk this Thursday, which deals with the very relevant topic of public domain:

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

follow-up to week 6

This week we shifted gears to discuss digital publishing and literary labour, looking ahead to our upcoming classes on e-books, though we'll also keep some threads going from our recent set of classes on XML. Hope everyone enjoyed our guest lecture by Sarah Lubelski on literary labour! The discussion was especially good this week, and we'll develop some of those topics in upcoming classes. Sarah's slides are posted on BB (minus the sketch from the Bentley archives, due to copyright restrictions), and mine are posted there, too, and embedded below:

You'll also find two more readings mentioned in Sarah's lecture, dealing with the idea of immaterial labour, added to the recommended readings for this week.

At the beginning of class I also mentioned a New York Times article from last Fall that reported a recent slowing of e-book sales in relation to print. There were plenty of responses to this article, but one worth reading in particular is a piece in Fortune that disagrees with the NY Times article's interpretation of the sales data taken from the Association of American Publishers. A third, slightly more recent study that I also mentioned was published by Pew Research just last month, and looks at US book-reading habits and formats of choice (print and digital).

I also mentioned the recent case of a student's disappearing annotations to an e-book copy of George Orwell's Animal Farm, which resulted in a lawsuit against Amazon for revoking access to the e-book. If you found this story interesting, I suggest reading an initial CBC report on the story, as well as the position of the Electronic Frontier Foundation on the case, and PC World's story about the eventual settlement.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Blogging question #3: how we read, and why

Next week we'll be turning to a sequence of classes on e-books and related topics, which raises the  question of our own reading practices. That's a question we'll discuss in class, but let's also use the blogs to think through the question more slowly, and in relation to some of our secondary readings. It's a deceptively simple question: what do you choose to read on screen versus on paper, and mostly importantly, why?

When I say "on screen," that could mean a range of screens and formats, from dedicated e-reading devices like Kindles, to phones, to tablet computers and laptops. It could also mean different file formats, from EPUB (and other ebook formats) to .pdf to good old fashioned .txt files.

For example, when I got my first iPad a few years ago, I found it completely replaced my reading of articles and other PDF-type files in print. When I download a journal article to read it now, or when I receive a student essay, I no longer print it, but read and annotate it on the iPad. (The only exception is when I'm proofreading something like publication proofs; those things get printed, read very slowly at the kitchen table while leaning forward, and marked up in pencil or pen.) Yet oddly enough I almost never read e-books, and still buy printed books that I annotate yet can't search, the way I can search my digital annotations. Admittedly it's not the most rational system, but I think I stick to printed books because their physical inconvenience forces me to finish the ones I purchase, and not to purchase books unless I really mean to read them. Pleasure reading, usually before going to sleep, is always in print so that the light of the screen doesn't throw off my circadian rhythms and keep me from sleeping. (For what it's worth, I just began re-reading Geraldine Brooks's novel People of the Book, a fictionalized set of historical stories linked by the forensic work of a book conservationist.)

One consequence of this combination of habits, however, is that my reading results in a bifurcation of genre and platform, with articles and student writing being entirely screen-based, and long-form books being print-based. Format and genre have a long and complex relationship, of course, but in this case it's my own reading habits that have introduced a new pattern.

This blogging question is also an opportunity to think about our own reading habits in the context of various kinds of scholarship on reading. Several of our recent and upcoming required and recommended readings deal with the experience of reading, digitally and otherwise. Hayles and Kirschenbaum from last week (and parts of Striphas this week) deal with interface questions, Pierce, Erickson, and Murray and Squires deal with digital reading in broader social contexts (including childrens' and young adults' literature, in Pierce's case). Trettien, Benton, and Bornstein -- and, to a lesser extent, my "Enkindling Reciter" article -- deal with connections between typography and meaning. There are other threads to draw from these readings and others not on the syllabus. Steven Berlin Johnson's piece on commonplacing also discusses reading strategies and tactics: the specific techniques of reading that may be well or poorly supported by technologies of reading. In your own reading habits, what are the various relationships between technology and technique?

So, part of the challenge for this post is to think about and articulate your own reading practices (and strategies and tactics), but also to contextualize them in relation to scholarship on the topic. In other words, I'd like you to go beyond simply describing your own reading practices -- i.e. how we read -- and use secondary sources to provoke some reflection on the bigger question: why.

Monday, 17 October 2016

week 5 follow-up

In today's class we looked at how TEI/XML relates to interface, with our examples coming from digital scholarly editions much like the William Blake Archive, which Kirschenbaum discusses in one of our two required readings for the week.

One example is Folger Digital Texts, whose Shakespeare editions are available in readable form, as downloadable XML files, and via a prototype API which you'll find linked in the upper right of the screen. One API function that we looked at in class is the "character chart" for Hamlet, which you can see in a screenshot below. Characters in the play are listed in the leftmost column, and their appearances on stage are shown on the horizontal axis, with thick and thin red lines demarcating act and scene divisions. Within those horizontal lines, the black segments indicate lines spoken, while the grey segments indicate a character onstage but not speaking. The same is true for the green, which indicates dead characters, whether ghosts or simply characters who have died and remain on stage (like several characters at the end). What worth keeping in mind is that this chart, like all of the outputs of the different API functions, is derived from the same XML that's used to bring the reading texts to the screen.

The other digital edition we looked at is the Electronic New Variorum Shakespeare, which is described in more detail here. Like Folger Digital Texts, this project makes its source XML available with a fair amount of documentation in the form of a digital challenge to designers to use the XML to create new interfaces and applications.

We also looked at typographic markup on the first page of Genesis in the 1611 King James Bible. You can view a digital facsimile of the complete book here. If you'd like to read more about the typographic design of the book, see the David Norton reading linked under "recommended readings" for this week.

On the topic of typography as markup, we also touched briefly on the history and different meanings of quotation marks. You can read about their history at another online project I'm invovled with, called Architectures of the Book.

Not many lecture slides this week, but they're posted in the usual place on BB and embedded below:

We're down two runs in Game 3 of the Jays-Cleveland series as I post this (and Cecil's just gone in as reliever), but for what it's worth, here's some great book-spine baseball poetry for Cleveland courtesy of the Toronto Public Library:

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

blogging question #2: TEI in the wild

This week's blogging question involves some hunting and gathering: how do digitization projects, digital editions, and other forms of digital humanities research use and talk about the Text Encoding Initiative? Can you find a digital project that not only puts TEI to use, but also provides some explanation of its XML encoding strategies -- or even shares its XML for other researchers to use? The questions of what the TEI is good for, and how it functions in research, are central to the Elena Pierazzo reading this week, and the Julia Flanders reading assigned for our next class. This blogging question invites you to think about some of the same questions that they do in their articles, but also to focus on an example of a TEI project that reflects your own interests.

If you've checked out the recommended reading for our previous class, you'll have seen one example in the Comic Book Markup Language project. The example you find doesn't necessarily have to be a book-oriented project, but it should be doing something research-oriented and interesting with TEI. You could start by looking into the TEI community's online presence or conferences, and looking for projects affiliated with TEI or those that simply reference it.

Once you've found an example that interests you, tell us just a bit about what the project is, and how it puts XML to use. Does the project website give much detail about how it uses XML, and the encoding strategies it uses? Has the project gone so far as to publish articles about its methods and challenges? Finally, does the project make its code available for others to use? The answer to this last question could be more than a simple yes or no -- for example, a project might make code available only to subscribers, or, like the Folger Digital Texts project, to the public.

My guess is that projects that actually share their XML code (as distinct from talking about sharing it) will be in the minority -- or perhaps I'm just world-weary and jaded, and you'll prove me wrong! In any case, we should be able to build a collective picture of what TEI looks like in its natural habitat as of  2016. My hope is that this exercise in hunting-and-gathering, in combination with TEIbyExample and our next class on TEI and interface, will help us understand not just what XML is, but also what it's for.

Finally, if the project is somehow related to your group's encoding challenge example (as I imagine will be the case for several students, based on recent conversations about your projects) feel free to talk about the project in relation to your group's example as well -- with images, too, if that helps. When grading, we'll keep in mind that your group's submitted work for the assignment may differ from what you write about in your blog post, so feel free to use the post as a place to test out ideas that may evolve later.

week 4 follow-up

In this week's class we talked more about how XML is used in different contexts, including specific software. (We used the same lecture slides as last week; see my earlier post and the downloadable versions on BB.) The XML-specific editor that I recommend using is called oXygen, and you should be able to download a trial version. There are actually several different versions of oXygen for different levels of use, and either Author or Editor should be fine for this assignment. I also mentioned the usefulness of code-aware text editing programs, many of which are freeware. There are tons of these programs out there for all operating systems, and Lifehacker has a good (but now somewhat out-of-date) review of several. My own favorites are TextWrangler when working on a Mac, and EditPlus for PC -- though I stick to these more out of habit and familiarity than anything else. These kinds of small, lightweight text editors are great for working with a range of file types and languages, from XML to Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to scripting languages like Javascript. 

In class we also looked at one of my research projects, called Visualizing Variation, which provides ways to digitally visualize different kinds of textual variation as represented in XML documents. This is work in progress, but the section on animated variants has a fair number of examples, which show how XML works in conjunction with other web technologies like CSS and Javascript. Feel free to download the linked files from this site, run them locally in your web browser, and modify and play with the contents. In our next class we'll look at the Electronic New Variorum Shakespeare interface described on the site, which I hope will illustrate what a digital interface can do with TEI-XML.

In the meantime, I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving weekend, and uses our week off to rest, catch up on reading, and work with your groups on the encoding challenge. I'll be checking the BB discussion board and answering email next week -- though I'm offline over the long weekend, and especially during tonight's Blue Jays wildcard game!

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

follow-up to week 3

This week we began our deep dive into the nuts and bolts of XML and TEI encoding, while still keeping our eyes on the big questions of markup theory. As Sperberg-McQueen and others have argued (myself included, in one of our recommended readings) there are some big questions about markup and texts that can only be approached through the nuts and bolts. As we think about the big and the small together, our eyes will start to notice details in books and other artifacts that we didn't see before, and we begin to develop an encoder's-eye-view of texts and technologies alike. (Remember that William Blake poem Dean Duff quoted in our Orientation assembly!) For those who'd like a better look at our test-case, the 1609 version of Shakespeare's Sonnet 129, here's a link to a good digital facsimile available from the Folger Shakespeare Library:

We also considered punctuation, capitalization, spacing, and other taken-for-granted features of writing as a kind of markup we use every day (or everyday?). As we consider the future of the book, we'll consider how books and texts of all kinds depend (or don't) upon details like these. Literary texts are especially useful places to test the power of markup, given how small details can often make big differences in their interpretation, but the same is true of legal and policy documents. I alluded to the recent story of the "million-dollar comma" in a Canadian contract dispute, which you can read about here. I also referenced the variants in the text of the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights, which was passed and then ratified by Congress in slightly different versions. Wikipedia has a good quick summary of the textual situation of the Second Amendment, with an image of one of the versions (courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration) shown below:

For a good illustration of the power of markup, and the effect that a few millimetres of ink can have upon the world, see this New York Times piece about a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that hinged upon a comma. With a U.S. presidential election underway, it will be interesting to keep these questions in mind when we hear arguments made about the Second Amendment and the intentions of the framers of the U.S. constitution. Do those arguments take into account not just the framers but also the scribes, who were the original text encoders of these documents. Are we reading "whatever the author wants," as Steve Jobs said of ebooks in the iPad rollout video? To what extent are the intentions of the creators of a collectively made text or artifact recoverable through the details of its construction? RBG and Antonin Scalia must have had some fascinating conversations about questions like these.

(Incidentally, by an interesting coincidence the Supreme Court and the Folger Shakespeare Library are kitty-corner to each other on Capitol Hill in Washington. I've always liked the idea of researchers in both buildings deliberating upon markup details like commas, both working in different realms but only a few hundred yards apart, and maybe eating lunch in the same food court.)

Lecture slides are available here and in the usual place and formats on BB. Please note that I'll be using the same sequence of slides for this week and next, and may post an updated version again next week.

We covered a fair amount of technical ground Monday, and the specific files we examined in class can be downloaded from BB. I should also mention a couple of pieces of software that may be useful as you work on the encoding challenge.

An XML file, like an HTML file, is simply a text file that you can open in any text editor, but which can also be recognized by a web browser or other XML-aware software. (If you are trying to open an XML file in something other than a browser, you may need to use your operating system's "Open with" command, usually found by right-clicking on the file, rather than by double-clicking the file icon itself.) For working with XML and other kinds of web documents, I find it helps to have an XML-aware text editor. A good simple freeware editor for the Mac is TextWrangler, and a good PC counterpart (though not freeware) is EditPlus. But there are lots of others out there, and some are reviewed in this LifeHacker post:

Another piece of software that's a step more advanced than these is the oXygen XML Editor, which is made specifically for working with XML and offers features such as well-formedness checks (which you'll need for your assignment) and validation (which you won't, but is worth knowing about anyway). oXygen is the most widely used XML editor in the digital humanities, has good cross-platform support. It takes some getting used to -- hint: to check well-formedness, look in the "validation" button's sub-menu -- but it's a great place to learn to write and edit XML (and it has a 30-day free trial period). In any case, whatever you do, don't work with XML in a word processor -- and definitely don't use Microsoft Word's "save as XML" function. Not to get too Yoda-esque, but text encoding (like hand-press printing) requires us to unlearn much of what we've learned from word processing.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

blogging question #1: on representation

Our upcoming sequence of classes on XML and TEI will lead us into the topic of using digital technologies to create representations of existing artifacts (like digitized books), as distinct from born-digital artifacts like video games and hypertext novels. This week's blogging question is designed to get us thinking about representation, digital technologies, and what's at stake in their relationship.

At the beginning of one of our readings for this coming week, Michael Sperberg-McQueen starts with a counter-intuitive claim: "Texts cannot be put into computers. Neither can numbers. ... What computers process are representations of data" (p. 34). This helpful reminder serves to point out the paradox of the term digitization: when we say we're digitizing a book, we're not actually doing anything to the original book (usually; there are exceptions). What we're really doing when we digitize is to create a new, digital representation of the original. Yet the English word digitization, and its grammatical form of an action (making digital) performed on an object (something not digital), can lead us to forget the act of representation that underlies all digitization.

Why is this important? Well, Sperberg-McQueen's answer is that "representations are inevitably partial, never distinterested; inevitably they reveal their authors' conscious and unconscious judgments and biases. Representations obscure what they do not reveal, and without them nothing can be revealed at all" (p. 34). This line of argument leads to a deceptively simple consequence for everyone involved in digitization: "In designing representations of texts inside computers, one must seek to reveal what is relevant, and obscure only what one thinks is negligible" (p. 34). All digitizations, being representations, are choices -- so we'd better learn how to make good ones. That's why Mats Dahlström and his co-authors make a distinction between mass digitization and critical digitization in one of our upcoming recommended readings.

This week's blogging question starts by asking you to find an example that helps us think critically about digitization. Can you think of some specific instance of digitization -- it could be anything: an image, an ebook, digital music, you name it -- where an originally non-digital object or artifact, broadly defined, has been digitized in ways that reveal interesting (or controversial, or funny, or illuminating) representational choices. I'm not asking for examples simply of digitization getting something wrong, as fun as those may be. Rather, I'm asking you to unpack examples where a choice made in digital representation illuminates some quality of the original thing that we might otherwise take for granted, or some revealing aspect of digitization itself -- or possibly both. Your example might arise from digitization gone wrong somehow, but I'd like us to look beyond basic error-identification for this question.

The next question, then, is this: what does the error—or simply the choice—in representation teach us about the original or about the act of representation itself? 

Digitized books are good places to explore this question, but you could draw on other kinds of media and other kinds of texts (in D.F. McKenzie's broad sense of the word text; see our recommended reading from last week titled "The Broken Phiall: Non-Book Texts."). For example, if you bought the Beatles record Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on vinyl LP when it was first released in 1967, you'd experience it in at least a couple of different ways than if you bought it on iTunes today, or on CD in 1995. For one, an LP listener would need to flip the record over partway through, which may or may not give the impression of the whole album being divided into a 2-part thematic structure: some bands exploited this imposed division of records into Sides 1 & 2, but not all did. More to the point, an LP listener reaching the very end of the record, in which the song "A Day in the Life" ends on a long E-major chord that would just keep on resonating in a continuous loop until one lifted the needle from the record's run-out groove. A CD track or MP3 file can't (or simply doesn't) do this. What is the representational choice here, and why does it matter? I'd offer the answer that the original design of the Sgt. Pepper LP involves the listener bodily in the music, in that "A Day in the Life" only ends when you chose to lean over and stop the record. That effect is lost in the digitized version of the album -- or is it replaced by different effect that influences how we'd interpret the song? (I like to imagine that somewhere in the great beyond David Bowie and Prince are having this conversation with John Lennon and George Harrison, while Jimi Hendrix and Lemmy are playing air-hockey nearby...)

This might not seem to have much to do with books, but being able to unpack this kind of representational choice, in which form and meaning become intertwined, is exactly what bibliographers and other textual scholars do -- not to mention text encoders who are concerned with critical digitization, not just mass digitization. Your example need not be as involved as the one I've spun out above: the point is to get us thinking about how representation works, and what's at stake.


Dahlström, Mats, Joacim Hansson, Ulrika Kjellman. "'As We May Digitize' -- Institutions and Documents Reconfigured."Liber Quarterly 21.3-4 (2012): 455-74.

McKenzie, D.F. "The Broken Phiall: Non-Book Texts." In Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts, 31-54. Cambridge University Press, 1999. []

Sperberg-McQueen, C.M. "Text in the Electronic Age: Textual Study and Text Encoding, with Examples from Medieval Texts." Literary and Linguistic Computing 6, no. 1 (1991): 34-46. []

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Follow up to weeks 1 and 2

Normally I'll post a follow-up each week, but this week's post will be a bit of an omnibus to get caught up. In our first class we considered Ramelli's book wheel, which you can read more about in the supplementary article I posted to the week 1 readings, titled "Reading the Book of Mozilla," which includes images of two versions of the device made after Ramelli's -- one being a really interesting Chinese adaptation made just a few decades after Ramelli. There's also a film version of The Three Musketeers in which the book wheel makes an appearance (Michael York's character obviously doesn't know what it is, but finds out how it works in a pretty funny pratfall). I also alluded to another image of a futuristic reading technology, as it was imagined in 1935 (which those of you in my Research Methods class will recognize):

This image came from an issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics, and was recently popularized in a story in Smithsonian Magazine. The U.S. patent filed for the device can be found here: . A tip of the hat to Matthew Wells for finding this.

In last week's class we discussed the domestication of new media, so to speak, including the 19th-century stereoscope (kind of like a Victorian Oculus Rift... kind of). Here's an advertisement for a stereoscope from 1856, which could make for an interesting comparison with the image above, and the Ramelli book wheel, in light of the themes many of you raised in class discussions.

I found this ad in a serially published version of Charles Dickens novel Little Dorrit, held in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. Actually, to give credit where it's due, one of the Fisher librarians pointed it out to me, which shows why it's important to talk with the librarians when doing research in places like the Fisher. I was doing research on the use of Shakespeare in the introduction of new media (notice the Hamlet reference above the image), and ended up writing about it in the 4th chapter of this book (, which deals with the photographic prehistory of digitization.

Downloadable lecture slides for weeks 1-2 are now posted on Blackboard, and you can view an embedded version here:

I'm just polishing up our first blogging question, which will be posted here today or tomorrow.