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.