Thursday, 15 December 2016

Follow-up to our final class

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

follow up to our class on the future of the page

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 1 December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Follow-up to our week 10 class

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

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

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

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

Friday, 25 November 2016

follow-up to our class on sound and image

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Blogging question #5: workshopping essay topics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Follow-up to e-books, part 2

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

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

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

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