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: