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... ;-)

Friday, 4 March 2016

week 8 blogging question: content and containers

In last week's class and readings we considered how the relationship between e-books as content and their containers, in the form of various ebook file formats such as EPUB, the Kindle formats, and PDF. This week's blogging question asks you to share a specifically digital example of a case where the line between content and container has become blurred. It could be from an ebook of some sort, but there are lots of other ways to play with the content/container distinction in digital form.

Here's one exercise to test the supposed fluidity of digital content that you can try at home -- though be warned: if you appreciate elegant XML code, this experiment isn't pretty. Start with a short paragraph written in an MS Word document, ideally with a few formatting elements like italics, bold, coloured text, and accented characters. Then  copy and paste your paragraph into the text field of, say, the wysiwyg editor that your group's blogging platform uses (Blogspot works nicely) -- or, for that matter, one of the similar text-entry boxes on Blackboard. You may want to create a temporary draft of a post to your blog or the BB discussion list, which you then delete -- the point is to be able to past your copied Word text into a wysiwyg editor that also lets you view the HTML.

On the surface, your copied text probably pastes fairly seamlessly with formatting mostly intact. But under the surface, pure horror awaits. If you view the HTML code after pasting the Word text, you'll see some of the most tortuous and misbegotten XML ever created by human or machine: unnecessary tags, unreadable attribute names, proprietary extentions, bloated code -- it's all there, lurking under the surface of the text like some horrible nightmare on the edge of rationality. Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit -- just a bit -- but we can learn something from the tension between the supposedly fluid and transferable content on the surface and the madness-inducing, gibbering tentacled code that serves as its container. [Note: parts of the preceding paragraph were written with the help of the H.P. Lovecraft Description Engine. I also resisted a strong temptation to put scare-quotation marks around content and container, but you get the idea.]

Here's another example of a digital container showing up where it shouldn't in printed content. This comes from the 1990 New Canadian Library edition of Ethel Wilson's novel Swamp Angel, published by McClelland & Stewart. If you look closely, with the help of the person who annotated this page, you'll see the thing I mean. (Click to enlarge.)

Actually there are a couple of interesting annotations on these pages, and the one on the verso hints at the novel's complex textual and publishing history. (Like many Canadian novels, it was printed in rather different British and American editions.) But on the recto, we can see something that brings us back to our theme for this post: what is "<ed space>" doing there? Having recently done some research on this small textual mystery, I can give a fairly thorough explanation of what it is and how it got there. (I may touch upon it in Monday's class if there's interest, but I'm also planning to use it as an extended example in my upcoming Toronto Centre for the Book talk on March 24th at 4:00 in BL 728: "Bibliography for a Used Future: Finding the Human Presence in E-Books and Other Digital Artifacts.") For bibliographers and ordinary readers alike, moments such as this when content and container become blurred are like glitches in the matrix, or glimpses behind the curtain as the stage hands set the next scene, or as D.F. McKenzie put it, instances of the "human presence" discernible in "any recorded text" (p. 29).

What examples can you think of that show the supposedly seamless world of content being disrupted or otherwise affected by that which contains it? What insights into the nature of digital textual production can you draw from it? Remember, your example doesn't have to be from a book or even textual, but it should be somehow digital.

<ed space>

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

follow up to our first e-books class

vesalius frontispiece
Frontispiece to Andreas Vesalius's
De humanis corpora fabrica (1543)
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. As Andreas Vesalius knew, sometimes you can only understand how something works by taking it apart, and thankfully e-books are rather easier to anatomize than some other objects of study.

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: .

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. Sigil is the one we looked at in class, which is a bit simpler to use.

On other fronts, in our last class we got onto a tangent (unheard of in my classes, I know...) about the genre of the "wordless novel." The work that introduced me to this genre, and which has been one of my favorite books to discover this past year, is Laurence Hyde's 1951 masterpiece, Southern Cross: a Novel of the South Seas, Told in Wood Engravings, which tells the story (wordlessly) of a nuclear test in the South Pacific. If you're looking for an excuse for a quiet hour in the Fisher reading room, you can call up their copy here: . It's one of the most moving books I've read in a long time, and it's inspiring to know that Hyde was from our neighbourhood (literally; he went to Central Technical High School a few blocks down Harbourd Street).

Finally, I also mentioned in class that the Centre for Reformation and Renaissnace Studies here at U of T is looking for an iSchool student to do a summer practicum with them. Details are posted in the discussion section of Blackboard.

Happy dissecting!

Update: I neglected to mention that the lecture slides are now posted to BB. Also, here is the link to the iSchool ebooks symposium even I mentioned:

Post-update update: 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. Anyway, interesting times for our course, that's for sure.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

week 7 blogging question: how we read, and why

Next week we'll be turning to e-books, which raises the interesting question of our own reading practices. Some of my blogging questions have been fairly rambling recently, so I'll keep this one concise: what do you choose to read on screen versus on paper, and mostly importantly, why? And 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, here's my current fun reading: . It probably wasn't Antonin Scalia's favorite book...)

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.

How do you read, and why?

follow-up to our Fisher field trip

Hope you all enjoyed our field trip to the Fisher earlier this week. As promised, here's a post with some follow-up information for those who'd like a closer look at the books we viewed.

The books in the Shakespeare exhibition will be behind glass and unavailable for calling up for the next few months, but you can find a complete listing and several detailed chapters about them in the exhibition's catalogue, copies of which are held at the Fisher: . Part of the exhibition includes work by three living bookmakers, whose websites are worth checking out. The book Illustrations from Macbeth (with the black binding and diagonal slashes) was made by Toronto bookbinder Don Taylor (, who can sometimes be found in the bibliography room at Massey College. The tiny dos-a-dos-a-dos book Storming Shakespeare was made by Jan Kellett, who specializes in miniature books ( Finally, one book I didn't discuss but which some of you may have noticed in one of the downstairs display cases was the edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream that was rebound by Toronto's Robert Wu (, pictured below. As I mentioned during the tour, it was important that the exhibition include work by bookmakers who are alive and well and actively pursuing their craft, which is very much a living tradition. That's especially so in Toronto, where we have a thriving book arts community, thanks in part to the Canadian Book Artists and Bookbinders Guild (or CBBAG, pronounced "cabbage"), who offer workshops on various aspects of book production.

Downstairs, Sarah took us through several examples of Thomas Hardy's works in various formats, from serials to rebound magazine publications to triple-deckers to that wonderful 1970's faux-luxe edition. (I imagine the latter sitting on Ron Burgundy's bookshelf, mostly unread.) As Sarah mentioned, the those Hardy books are still uncatalogued, but if you ask Alexandra at the Fisher's reference desk about them, she may be able to help.

Here are the catalogue links for the other books we examined:
Note that the catalogue entry for the 1847 Euclid -- the one with the multi-colour pages -- includes a print-on-demand link that gives you the option of downloading a full PDF of the book, or having it printed at the U of T bookstore. If anyone decides to get their own copy printed, please bring it to class to show us!

Thursday, 18 February 2016

week 6 blogging question: the reinvented page

To pick up some of the threads from our readings on the history of the page, and to get us thinking about e-books for the next few weeks, this week's question asks you to find an example of a digital text, e-book, app, or other form that reinvents the page in an interesting way. Your example might be an innovative example of page design, or it might be a more radical example of an experiment that completely challenges our idea of what a page is. Remember that the kind of design that leads to a well-made page, digital or otherwise, is often subtle, and works best when it doesn't call attention to itself. Or it might be some crazy experiment that unabashedly calls attention to itself. You decide what counts as interesting, innovative, elegant, or worthwhile in this context -- but tell us why it counts.

You might wish to refer back to last week's readings from Piper and Stoicheff & Taylor, or perhaps the recommended readings, to consider some of the themes that connect the history of page design with future possibilities. Given that e-books -- especially EPUB-style ebooks for reading devices, as opposed to apps -- are still evolving, we'll have lots of opportunities to consider how ebooks don't hold up well next to their print counterparts. (As John Maxwell rightly says in the title of the article we'll be reading soon, when it comes to e-book design we can do better.) Let's try to balance that with some examples of how digital page design has succeeded -- remembering, too, that success sometimes takes the form of an experiment that fails, but fails well.

If you can, please include a photo or screenshot so that we can see what you're writing about. If you're unfamiliar with taking screenshots of windows on your computer screen, this is a good chance to learn! Luckily there's an entire organization dedicated solely to educating people on how to take screenshots on different platforms: (Speaking of screenshots, one of the very first things I did after buying an iPad, which happened to be on the weekend of its first release in the US, was to place it on a photocopier to see if I could take a screenshot that way. It didn't work. But I did learn how to replace a toner cartridge on the iSchool's photocopier! ;-)

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

reading week intermezzo

No class this week requiring a follow-up post, but I'm on a book-history related visit to Yale for the next several days and thought I'd post something from the road. Thanks to Abby's tip, I took some extra time in New York this afternoon before catching my train at Grand Central to check out an exhibition at the NYPL's central building, just a couple of blocks away. Printing Women: Three Centuries of Female Printmakers 1570-1900 showcases graphic works made by women using traditionally male techniques such as woodcuts, wood engravings, etching, and lithography (some of which are techniques we'll see in our field trip to the Fisher Library next week). Though I've been studying print culture for years, I had no idea there were this many women engravers, illustrators, and printmakers during the early modern period and 18th century. It was something to see two full gallery spaces of their work, stretching nearly the width of the building. Sometimes an exhibition can do far more than an article or book to call attention to people and work that's been sidelined in the standard historical narratives. The idea that technologies may be gendered (and re-gendered differently, for different reasons) is also something to think about as we consider the production of ebooks, video games, and other artifacts built out of code.

Another aspect of this exhibition that might be of interest to the class is the set of blog posts that the curators have been doing for it: . The library-based blog, curated by library staff themselves, has become an important form of outreach and also, in the right hands, an engaging form of scholarly writing that didn't really exist prior to the rise of the blog itself. (Maybe in exhibition catalogues, but those obviously aren't as accessible if they're only in print.) The NYPL has particularly strong digital outreach, and if you look closely at how they construct their posts, you may see one of the reasons that I set the blogging assignment for this course. It's a genre that's worth adding to one's communication skillset, and I've been enjoying reading the blog posts from this class so far.

Anyway, it's a given that anyone in this class who visits New York City should make time for the NYPL building at 42nd and 5th. Aside from the Ghostbusters connection, it's remarkable that one can just walk in off the streets of one of the world's biggest, most expensive cities and -- after a quick security check -- look at the Gutenberg bible on display or call up some books in one of the world's most iconic reading rooms, all without paying a cent (well, you need a library card to call up books) and while remaining in a public space.

I'll be posting next week's blogging question before the usual Friday deadline, so keep an eye on this space.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

week 5 follow-up

Lecture slides are now posted for this week in the usual place and formats, and embedded below:

I've also added an entry under this week's "recommended reading" for those who are interested in the King James Bible and its typography. David Norton's 3rd chapter from his book on the printing of the 1611 KJB goes into greater detail about many of the typographical features we discussed in class, and he explains what those mysterious paragraph marks were!

Next week is reading week, during which I hope you'll be able to do some actual reading. I'll be travelling for much of the latter half of the week, but will hold extra office hours next Tuesday from 10:30 to noon. There won't be a blogging question posted this week, but keep an eye out for one to be posted by next Friday. I'll also send out a note via BB with details for our field trip to the Fisher Library in our first class after reading week.

Finally, some sad news. This week one of the founding figures of book history as an academic discipline passed away. Elizabeth Eisenstein probably did more than any other individual scholar in the last 30 years to establish the history of books as an important field of historical inquiry. Although her historical methods and conclusions have been much debated since she first published her magisterial 2-volume The Printing Press as an Agent of Change in 1979, there's a good chance we wouldn't have a course like "Future of the Book" or a Book History and Print Culture program if it wasn't for her. (Even the term "print culture" itself owes much of its currency to Eisenstein.) Her Wikipedia entry is a good starting place to learn more about her work.

Friday, 5 February 2016

week 5 blogging question: encoding challenge examples

To make things a bit easier, let's tie this week's blogging question to the encoding challenge assignment. One of my favorite things about this assignment is seeing the range of examples that students come up with, but as with many assignments it's usually just the professor or TA who gets to see that range as a whole. Let's rectify that this week by sharing descriptions (and images, where possible) of materials we're considering for the encoding challenge. Keeping in mind that the encoding challenge is a group assignment whereas the blogging is individual, let's open the topic up to include encoding challenge materials that your group considered but decided not to use. That way one member of your group might blog about the example you're actually working on, while another might blog about one of the other examples you considered but didn't choose. (In my early consultations with the groups I've been seeing some great alternative examples.) Also, it's not a problem if more than one person blogs about the same materials, since part of the rationale for this being a group assignment is that markup is innately social, and we can learn from having multiple perspectives on the same object.

Whatever you choose to blog about, please give us a little background on it and tell us what prompted you to consider that example. What makes it challenging and interesting? If you started down the path of encoding it, tell us about any illuminating problems you encountered, including decisions about what strategy to take and how your approach meshed (or didn't) with TEI. If you or your group has been imagining a particular use-scenario for your encoded representation of this example, tell us about that, too!

Just to be clear, if your final encoding challenge submission ends up being very different from what you blog about for this week's question, that's no problem. The kind of thinking I'm looking for in this week's question is more about process than product.

Monday, 1 February 2016

week 4 follow-up

Now that the hectic start-up month of January is settling into the routine of February, I'm hoping to post these follow-up notes a bit more promptly. By the way, for anyone who's interested, this morning's wake-up music was some Shakespeare-themed jazz by way of Duke Ellington, in the spirit of the Fisher exhibition opening. Like the best XML/TEI encoders, Duke knew a thing or two about adaptation, representation, and the potential that lurks in details.

Lecture slides for last week and this week are now posted on Blackboard, and you can view them here:

We covered a fair amount of technical ground today, and the specific files we examined in class can be downloaded from BB, under the reading schedule entry for today. I also mentioned 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.

Speaking of printing, I also mentioned the fun coincidence that our class takes place nary a block away from Coach House Books, one of Canada's most technologically innovative (and just plain cool) small presses. It's a "crucible of electronic publishing technology," as my colleague John Maxwell in publishing studies at SFU has described it. (John is currently writing a book-length technological history of Coach House Press, and when it comes out it's going to be one of my drop-everything-and-read books.) When I mentioned earlier that this course attempts to leave the death-of-the-book debate and its polarities behind, I was inspired partly by the printers who've been combining knowledge of bookmaking and digital technology for decades. If you're ever looking for an intelligent and illuminating conversation about digital markup and the technologies of bookmaking, just ask a printer.

Friday, 29 January 2016

week 4 blogging question: 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? Let's use this week's blogging question to find out, and we'll talk more about the TEI in detail in Monday's class.

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 scholarly 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 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 early 2016. My hope is that this exercise in hunting-and-gathering, in combination with TEIbyExample and Monday's class, will help us understand not just what XML is, but also what it's for.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

follow-up to weeks 1-2

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 week 2 class we considered Ramelli's book wheel, which you can read more about in the supplementary article I posted to the week 2 readings, titled "Reading the Book of Mozilla." 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 my RA Matthew Wells for finding this.

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

In our discussion of disciplinary frameworks for the course, I also mentioned a post about digital humanities by Andrew Prescott that's well worth reading:

Thursday, 21 January 2016

week 3 blogging question: on representation

I'll post a separate follow-up to our Monday class, but for now wanted to get the coming week's blogging question posted before it slips past me.

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 fictions. This week's blogging question is designed to get us thinking about representation, digital technologies, and what's at stake in that 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), and are really just creating a new, second-order representation in digital form. Yet the English word digitization, and its grammatical form of an action (making digital) performed on an object (something not digital), can elide the act of representation that underlies all digitization. Why is this important? 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.

This week's question, like last week's, asks you to share examples. Can you think of some specific act of digitization -- it could be anything: an image, an ebook, digital music, you name it -- where an originally non-digital object or artifact (very broadly defined) has been digitized in ways that reveal interesting (or controversial, or funny, or illuminating) representational choices. However, I'm not asking for examples simply of digitization getting something wrong; rather, I'd like to know when a choice made in digital representation illuminates some quality of the original thing that we might otherwise take for granted. Of course, your example might arise from digitization going wrong somehow, but I'd like us to look beyond basic error-identification for this question. What does the error—or simply choice—in representation teach us about the original?

For example, if you bought the Beatles's 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 physicially 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 something else? (I like to imagine that somewhere in the great beyond David Bowie is having this conversation with John Lennon and George Harrison -- with Jimi Hendrix and Benjamin Franklin playing a game of air-hockey nearby...)

This might not seem to have much to do with books, but noticing this kind of representational choice, in which form and meaning become intertwined, is exactly what bibliographers and other textual scholars do. 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.

Friday, 15 January 2016

first blogging question

Welcome to the public blog for INF 2331, The Future of the Book! Each week I'll post follow-up items from our lecture, as well as the set blogging question for the group blog assignment. Lecture slides will be primarily available only on Blackboard, though I may post some embedded Prezi slides here. For now I'll get straight to our blogging question for the coming week.

In our Monday class we'll consider some theoretical frameworks for approaching the future of the book as a topic. One of those frameworks, the discipline of bibliography, concerns itself in part with the relation between a book's physical form and the meanings it makes available for interpretation. The author of one of our recommended readings, D.F. McKenzie, even goes so far as to argue that "forms effect meaning" (in Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts, p. 13). Note his choice of words here: effect as distinct from affect (though once or twice McKenzie's text has been misprinted with "affect," which changes the meaning of his argument but proves his point by accident...). This week's blogging question is fairly open-ended, and geared to get us thinking about the materials we'll study in this course: when was the last time you encountered a book (or book-like thing), whether printed, digital, or otherwise, whose form affected or even effected its meaning in a way that struck you as interesting? What made it interesting?

Please include a full reference so that others can hunt down the book, and be specific about the formal feature(s) that caught your attention. These could be design features -- subtle or overt -- or physical attributes of the book, or some other kind of inventive or playful approach taken by the author, designer, or others involved in the book's making. Remember, too, these effects don't need to be intentional: accidents that happen to books as physical objects can be illuminating, too.