Monday, 4 April 2016

follow up to our final class

Hard to believe that we've finally reached the final class -- especially when the weather outside today looks pretty much identical to the day we started, back in January!

The final set of lecture slides is posted in the usual place. There were also a few references that I mentioned in class. One is Neal Stephenson's short book In the Beginning Was the Command Line, which is worth checking out if you're interested in user interfaces, and especially their history in relation to the history of operating systems. You can download it from the author's website at the link, and I recommend pairing with Terry Harpold's more recent book Ex-Foliations: Reading Machines and the Upgrade Path.

And if you're looking for some Future-of-the-Book-ish films to watch once you get all those assignments off your plate, I recommend the two films I mentioned in class today: Fran├žois Truffaut's adaptation of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (the original book is worth reading too, and rather different), and Linotype: the Film, a fascinating documentary about technological change and human tenacity.

Thank you all for being such an engaged class this term! I've learned a great deal from you all, and look forward to reading more in your final papers and blog posts. Best wishes for the rest of term and the summer, and happy reading (on whatever platform you choose)!

Friday, 1 April 2016

follow up to our class on digital narratives and new media experiments

A very quick follow up today, as there's no blogging question to post for next week. Lecture slides for this week are posted on BB. You can also read about Edinburgh's mysterious book sculptures here: .

Speaking of mysteries and the future and such, here's an odd research report that began circulating at the iSchool earlier today: . I'm sure the date is just a coincidence.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

follow-up and final blogging question: books of futures past

Thanks, everyone, for a great discussion this week with our guest lecturer, U of T's Copyright and Scholarly Communications Librarian, Bobby Glushko. Sorry that the sound wasn't working on Monday, but Bobby has sent us links for the videos he would have shown:

There's a fair bit of extra reading/playing for next week's class, and be warned that I'll be spoiling the endings of Portal, Portal 2, and possibly The Stanley Parable (Actually I'm not sure how to spoil The Stanley Parable  -- if you've played it, you know what I mean.) However, with all this tempting video game arcana to distract us, let's not neglect our main readings, especially as they're two of the most important readings of the course, Matthew Kirschenbuam's article "Editing the Interface" and Zachary Wendler's article "'Who Am I?': Rhetoric and Narrative Identity in the Portal Series."

Also, we've reached our final blogging question for the course! It's deceptively simple: if you could go back in time to whatever year you choose (by whatever means you choose, which doesn't really enter into the question, so don't get distracted by that aspect...), 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?

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 (the title of which shouldn't be mistaken as trademark infringement on any Marvel/Fox films...)


At the suggestion of a student, I'm adding an optional twist on the question: what would you tell someone not in the past but in the future? (Technically, you can tell people in the future what you think; you'll just have to take it on faith that you got their attention...)

Saturday, 19 March 2016

follow up to our class on sound and image

A few threads to collect from our class in this follow-up post, in addition to the lecture slides 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:

Our lecture on the prehistories of digitization, as read through photography and sound transmission in the nineteenth century, actually originated as lectures in previous Future of the Book courses but then became two chapters (4 & 5) in a book I published last year, which you can access online through the library catalogue. Several of the images in the lectures slides receive a more detailed discussion in those chapters. What's probably more interesting, however, is the website for the Smithsonian Museum of American History's website for their exhibition "Hear My Voice: Alexander Graham Bell and the Origins of Recorded Sound." Its curator, Carlene Stephens, was a great help when I was working on the book, and the exhibition brings to life some of the recordings discussed in the book (especially ones that include bits of literary texts). Although we're used to hearing audio recordings from the past, such as King's sermon, I still get goosebumps from hearing a human voice recorded within a couple of decades of the American Civil War. It makes one think of the future histories of digital artifacts being made today, especially experiments whose importance may become clear only later, to future historians who haven't even been born yet.

On Alice in Wonderland and 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:


I knew I was forgetting something...

Two of the researchers I mentioned in relation to the study of sound reproduction, Jonathan Sterne and Philip Auslander, have their relevant books now linked from the recommended readings for last week. They don't deal with the history and future of the book directly, but their work on media history does intersect with our course themes, especially if we take a broad view of what we mean by text.

Also, some of you have communicated with me about working on the topic of artists' books for your final project. Hopefully you've been reading lots of Johanna Drucker, but let me also recommend this recent article:

Athanasiu, Eva. "Belonging: Artists' Books and Readers in the Library." Art Documentation 34, no. 2 (2015): 330-338.

If this article seems to approach its topic in ways especially relevant to our course, there's a good reason: Eva was a student in this course in 2014, and she developed this article out of her final paper! Hope this provides a bit of inspiration at a point in the term when it can do the most good. And the article itself is a wonderful reflection on the future of a particularly interesting kind of book.

Finally, in the spirit of pushing the boundaries of the book, you might find this CBC Spark story on virtual reality and literature worthwhile, especially if you're interested in James Joyce's Ulysses. (It makes me think of the novel's famous phrase "ineluctable modality of the visible," which opens one of the book's most challenging parts for readers...) 

Friday, 18 March 2016

week 9 blogging question: the future of the (owned) book

(Sorry this week's blogging question is being posted a bit late -- I've been enjoyed the beginning of the iSchool graduate student conference!) This week's blogging question is another chance for us to share and reflect on our experiences with digital books, texts, and other bookish resources and objects. This question should also tie into our reading for the coming week, and to our upcoming guest lecture from Bobby Glushko, the U of T Libraries' Head of Scholarly Communications and Copyright.

Our discussions and readings have touched upon the changing meanings of traditional roles such as authorship and readership, but we haven't yet touched upon 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 it's often described, 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? 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. 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. Oddly enough, I had a 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. 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.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

week 8 blogging question: workshopping essay topics (or rough ideas, or just vague inklings)

With the deadline for the final project/paper on the horizon, I thought we could use this week's blogging question to share the ideas that you've all been working on. I've been talking with some 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 bit of a waste 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 I grade these posts I'll use a fair bit of latitude, and I 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!) Finally, if you've already decided to do a collaborative final project, all group members should still post individually for this week.

I've been seeing some great commentary happening in the blogs, 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 mid-March stress:

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

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

follow-up to e-books, part 2

No lecture slides to post this week -- the images related to The Sentimentalists and Eric Gill are all in the article -- but there's lots of other material.

First, 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, and The Waste Land). Here's the Inforum's page for equipment loans:

The question of whether typography can have politics came up in discussion yesterday, and on that topic I've added a recommended reading by Megan Benton on typography and gender in nineteenth-century bookmaking. On the question of the readerly practices of annotation and commonplacing in relation to ebook design, you might enjoy this blog post by Stephen Berlin Johnson, titled "The Glass Box and the Commonplace Book." His notion of "the glass box" is a useful one for this week's class topic.

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