Finally getting ready to put this baby to bed. Ironically–or appropriately, depending on your point of view–I ended up completely missing the events around this years Day of Digital Humanities to get the final draft out to readers for review. I post it here on the off chance that someone else might be interested (hi mom!).

“Technography and the Soiciology of Texts: Reading Phenomena in the Digital Humanities” [PDF]


This dissertation explores the intersection between digital and material cultures in electronic texts through the critical lenses of textual criticism and book history. Taking cues from D. F. Mackenzie’s “sociology of texts” and Matthew Kirschenbaum’s “forensic imagination,” I propose the idea of “technography:” roughly, the bibliography of electronic texts. Successful critical discourse relies on an understanding of textual conditions, but electronic texts have situations and histories very different from those of printed matter and manuscripts. Therefore, I suggest a collection of general methods and techniques that enable discussion of electronic texts as such by examining embedded textual features that enable or prohibit investigations of the creation, transmission, reception, and transformation of electronic texts—an analytic technography and histoire du fichier to complement analytic bibliography and histoire du livre. I focus specifically on two areas. The first is examining electronic transmission and reproduction techniques and technologies in the context of contemporary theories of book history and textual criticism that stress the interpretive importance of physical bibliographic features such as typography. The second is the possibility of constructing historical bibliographies of electronic texts. Taken together these two subjects addressed by technography give a good indication of the implications of electronic texts for textual criticism, critical practice, and scholarly editing. To illustrate this technography I explore several electronic texts, through different textual-critical lenses. I compare the print and electronic versions of N. Katherine Hayles’s Writing Machines, a book published simultaneous in print and electronic formats. I examine the impact of technical decisions on editorial policy and production in scholarly archives, specifically The Rossetti Archive and The Walt Whitman Archive. I review the implications of crowdsourcing textual production and the possibilities for historical bibliography in crowdsourced texts such as Wikipedia and the text produced by the Project Gutenberg Distributed Proofreaders. Ultimately I conclude that technographic evidence indicates a radical re-envisioning of the role of the publisher in relation to electronic texts. Where the reader (or “user”) has significant control over the presentation of the text, the ability of text producers to mediate meaning through the physical form of a particular textual artifact is greatly diminished.

Wikiswarm Perl

January 24, 2011

This is a little something that didn’t make it into my latest project. After reading James Bridle’s post on Wikipedia and historiography last fall–where he uses the Iraq War article as an example–I thought it would be interesting to visualize the article in a different way: using Jamie Wilkinson’s Wikiswarm. The result was quite interesting, particularly how long it took for things to heat up, and the way no on seemed to care about the war during the World Cup. Unfortunately, both the Wikipedia API and the wikipedia and URI gems have changed over the last two years. wilkinson’s code no longer works, and I didn’t know enough Ruby to fix it quickly. So I re-wrote the download routine and xml accumulator in Perl. The video is best in HD at YouTube. Code below.

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copyright DrewVigalIf you have anything to do with web design, you really need to put Yet Another Girl’s <Wax></Wax> blog on your reading list. Why? because she is one of the very, very few people out there talking about web design and “usability” in terms of, well, actual usability. Her latest post, “Are You Designing for These Users?” is a great wakeup call for anyone who wants to increase their traffic, or who sees their user base as “the public,” for any arbitrary value of “public.” In it, she reminds us that public access points, in particular public libraries, still provide millions of users with their main link to the internet, and that the sessions those users initiate violate most of the accepted “norms” that most web designers, particularly “Web 2.0” (can we kill that phrase now, please?) designers seem to assume hold true everywhere and always. The important thing to keep in mind, is that she’s using library sign-ons as an example of an entire class of users. Most of what she says holds true for any public access site, including internet cafes and airports. And increasingly, her observations apply to corporate environments, as well.

Some highlights of her common sense observations that people seem to forget:

  • Not everyone can choose or upgrade their browser, flash version, JavaScript, or Java VM;
  • Not everyone can turn off pop-up-blocking;
  • Not all monitors are larger than 800×600;
  • Not everyone can override bad SSL certs, or change security settings;
  • Not everyone can change their proxy settings;
  • Not everyone can wait for forgotten passwords to be emailed; sometimes access is limited to 30, or even 15 minutes;
  • Not everyone can accept cookies.

I’ll add a few of my own reminders:

  • Not everyone has broadband, particularly not in the US;
  • Not everyone has the most current OS, let alone browser;
  • Users expect the back button to work; this is a legitimate expectation.

Image copyright DrewVigal