A Digital Education

Meredith Dabek, Maynooth University

Category: technology

Helping IMMA Plan for the Future

This term, as part of the MA program, I am completing a practicum with IMMA, the Irish Museum of Modern Art. The practicum provides me with hands-on, real-world experience working on a digital humanities project and helps the host institution find solutions to a unique problem or challenge.


As my Bringing Irish Artists Closer practicum with IMMA (the Irish Museum of Modern Art) enters its final month, my focus has shifted to center on the web-based application prototype. While the prototype for this project is initially intended to complement the Gerda Frömel exhibition by presenting information and context on Frömel and her art, it also needs to be flexible and adaptable enough to accommodate future artists featured in the series. As a result, many of my conversations with IMMA supervisor Aoife Flynn and exhibition curator Sean Kissane have carefully considered the need to plan for the future and preserve the prototype’s structure and foundation for the exhibitions still to come.

Of course, it can be challenging to envision all possible future scenarios when designing and creating a website prototype, but keeping the expected uses of the prototype in mind can be helpful in guiding the decision-making process. The future of the web application was foremost in my mind when I opted to create the prototype using the WordPress platform. In addition to being a platform with which I am already familiar and proficient, WordPress is free and open-source, with both blogging and content management tools. Most importantly, however, since the project’s timeline and scope didn’t allow for building the prototype from scratch, WordPress offers specific options that will help ensure the application’s preservation.


IMMA website IMMA’s current website, in terms of both design and content management system (CMS), is more than ten years old. According to Aoife Flynn, IMMA’s Public Relations Executive, the result is a website that “is not extendable and has become costly to use” and update (“Re-Imagining IMMA Online”). Accordingly, IMMA is in the process of planning and designing a new website, with the goal of launching it within the next few years, and therefore it was not practicable or possible to use IMMA’s CMS for this practicum project. WordPress has an extensive library of site themes, which offer opportunities to create a prototype with a clean, streamlined design and structure that can easily adjust to and merge with IMMA’s new website when it does debut.

Such a merger is possible because of WordPress’ functionality and the ease with which a website or blog can migrate to another domain or server. For the purposes of this practicum, the prototype will be created on WordPress’ “.com” platform, with access shared between myself and IMMA. WordPress will fully and freely host this initial version of the prototype until the new main website is live. At that time, WordPress’ capabilities will provide IMMA with several options. The museum’s staff might choose to change the prototype’s URL, directing it towards IMMA’s new website, while leaving the content and structure in place, or IMMA might choose to export the entire prototype in XML format for implementation on IMMA’s new content management system. Both options preserve the original content of the application prototype while giving IMMA the greatest amount of flexibility in deciding how to incorporate the application with its new web presence.

Private Pages

Another key consideration for the future of the IMMA prototype is designing and creating an application versatile enough to accommodate multiple artists. Though the initial prototype will focus on Gerda Frömel, it is IMMA’s intention to use the digital application for the whole of the Modern Masters Series, which will feature a variety of artists. As one might expect, each artist has his or her own influences, affinities, media and practices. Throughout her career, for example, Frömel studied metalwork and sculpture, created devotional objects for Christian churches (such as stained-glass windows), exhibited both small-scale bronze castings and pencil drawings, and designed and produced a large, stainless steel public sculpture on commission. In contrast, Irish artist Patrick Hennessy focused solely on painting still life, landscapes and portraits, while Barrie Cooke was an abstract expressionist painter who also created mixed media pieces.

Given the wide diversity and variety of contemporary artists in Ireland, it would be quite difficult to create a “one-size-fits-all” application. Instead, in consultation with Aoife and Sean, I’ve structured the prototype with a few high-level categories that can then be divided further into sub-categories more specific to each artist. In order to maintain the clean, streamlined design and navigation, these sub-categories will be constructed as private pages in WordPress.

Page VisibilityOne of the benefits of a web-based application comes from (relatively) unlimited real estate on the Internet. WordPress allows users to create as many pages as needed and, most importantly for this project, WordPress offers the option of setting pages as “private.” Private pages do not show up on a website or application’s navigation menu, in RSS feeds or in search engine results. These pages are only accessible through the administrative console, by site editors and administrators. Thus, the WordPress prototype can host multiple pages representing the various sub-categories for each individual artist in the Modern Masters Series. These pages can then be turned “on” or “off” depending on IMMA’s needs for the application at any given time. The overall structure of the prototype will remain the same, but IMMA will retain maximum flexibility over its content, allowing the museum to use the application beyond its initial intended implementation.


In creating a digital resource for IMMA and its Modern Masters Series, I have given careful consideration of the future needs and uses of the application, particularly when choosing a web-publishing platform with which to build the prototype. With the planned new website and a diverse range of artists featured in the series offering unique challenges, WordPress provides appropriate options and solutions to IMMA’s needs. The result will be an application with built-in flexibility to ensure the continued use of a valuable digital art resource.

Works Referenced:

Flynn, Aoife. Reimagining IMMA Online. Dissertation. Trinity College Dublin, 2014. Print.

IMMA. Irish Museum of Modern Art. Web. 6 April 2015.

“Page Visibility.” WordPress Support. WordPress, n.d. Web. 6 April 2015.

“WordPress.com and WordPress.org.” WordPress Support. WordPress, n.d. Web. 6 April 2015.

Digital Engagement with Irish Artists

This term, as part of the MA program, I am completing a practicum with IMMA, the Irish Museum of Modern Art. The practicum provides me with hands-on, real-world experience working on a digital humanities project and helps the host institution find solutions to a unique problem or challenge.  

Introduction to IMMA

IMMA English logoIMMA – the Irish Museum of Modern Art – is Ireland’s premier modern art institution, and is home to the nation’s collection of modern and contemporary art. Established by the government of Ireland in 1990, IMMA opened in 1991 and, since then, has featured a dynamic and evolving series of exhibitions, events, and programs, which are designed to engage the general public with the museum’s collections while supporting and promoting Irish artists.

IMMA’s emphasis on creating an enjoyable visitor-centric experience for museum guests has led to such initiatives as its award-winning Education and Community Program, the Artists Residency Program, and regularly scheduled talks, lectures and events. Through these offerings, IMMA strives to provide innovative and inclusive opportunities for a variety of audiences, including the more than 400,000 annual visitors from Ireland and abroad.

Practicum Goals

The practicum with IMMA is titled Bringing Irish Artists Closer at IMMA and is primarily focused on connecting and engaging museum visitors with a specific Irish artist and her body of work through a digital resource. In April, IMMA will open a new retrospective exhibition featuring the work of Gerda Frömel, an artist who was well-regarded during her lifetime and who first exhibited in Ireland in 1957. The digital resource will be designed both to complement the Frömel exhibition as a mobile-responsive website and serve as a template for future exhibitions in IMMA’s Modern Masters series. In addition to increasing overall awareness of IMMA and of Gerda Frömel, the practicum will seek to position IMMA as the primary source of information for contemporary Irish artists.

Challenge: The User Experience

There are a number of challenges – and opportunities – associated with this practicum, but one key issue revolves around understanding the user’s experience of exhibition, the digital resource and the combination of the two. Traditionally, a visit to an art museum might involve a visitor giving his or her near-complete attention to the art or exhibition itself. In some cases, there might be a tour, led by museum staff. In these cases, the experience is primarily analogue, with no digital component.

Tate Modern Art App

Tate Modern’s Art Terms App

With the rise in mobile applications designed specifically for museums, however, visitors may now divide their attention between the art and a smartphone or hand-held device. They may Google a phrase or name that might be unfamiliar, upload photos to a social media website or “check in” via a geolocation app. As a result, museums (including IMMA) must determine how to balance the benefits of a digital, mobile resource with the decidedly un-digital experience of viewing art.

During the nascent years of mobile museum applications, many institutions created multimedia guides for exhibitions and collections that were based, in part, on the traditional docent-led tours of gallery. In a 2009 paper for the Museums and the Web conference, Koven Smith of the Metropolitan Museum of Art points out that multimedia and/or digital “tours” with “stops” often do not take the specific user experience into account, thus limiting the usefulness of a mobile, digital resource. According to Smith, only a small percentage of museum visitors still want the “led-by-the-hand” approach. Rather, he says, “museums [must] now encourage users to self-curate.”

A mobile app or other digital resource for a museum exhibition or collection needs to be flexible enough to provide a user with choices that lets him or her drive the experience. This may mean incorporating content that can and should be viewed (or read or seen) while the visitor is at the museum, and it may also mean specifically including content intended to be accessed via the Internet before or after visiting the museum. The digital resource for the Frömel exhibition, for example, will be built as a website, but will also be accessible on and responsive to mobile devices. This decision was made deliberately, as it offers a range of possibilities for IMMA visitors in choosing how, when and where they experience the complementary information. The website option also allows IMMA to use the Frömel exhibition and digital resource as a test for future exhibitions, helping museum staff discover the format that best suits IMMA’s visitors.

Of course, the user experience incorporates more than simply how and when a visitor will use a specific mobile app or a website. The specific nature of the museum, the widespread use (or lack thereof) of mobile devices and user demographics will all influence a visitor’s experience. In working to build a digital resource for IMMA, the Bringing Irish Artists Closer practicum will explore best practices from other museums and cultural heritage institutions, while also analyzing specific data about IMMA’s audiences and visitors to present a whole and complete understanding of how best to engage art lovers and art newcomers alike with the work of Gerda Frömel.

Reimagining the Audience for Digital Scholarly Editions

According to the Modern Language Association’s Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions, a scholarly edition’s most basic task is to “present a reliable text,” one that can also contribute to academic research on a particular topic. Traditionally, scholarly editions have had fairly limited audiences, the final printed version intended primarily for other scholars conducting similar research. With the dawn of the digital age, however, the creation of digital scholarly editions is changing the nature of the audience for these works. The availability of scholarly editions online and the use of crowdsourcing to help create these editions are just two ways the digital world is blurring the lines between the traditional academic audience and a much larger, more public audience.

In 2009, at the Association for Documentary Editing Annual Conference, Andrew Jewell presented a presented a paper that explored new ideas around the reading of digital scholarly editions. According to Jewell, “the dominant model for distributing [scholarly] editions in the age of print [was] to sell large volumes at large prices” (1). But the advent of digital publication on the Internet has upended this model by amplifying the reach of a scholarly edition. Where they once would have been available only to a narrowly focused audience, many scholarly editions in digital form can now be accessed by anyone with an Internet connection.

A general audience, however, has different needs than a scholarly one, and may even approach the edition with different intentions. In fact, many casual readers of a scholarly edition may not have even specifically sought out the resource, but rather stumbled across it accidentally. Jewell offers the example of his own Willa Cather Archive, noting that a reader may find the archive “because search engines lead them to hidden bits of knowledge deep in the site” (3). A wider, more diverse audience for a scholarly edition also means the text and content will be consumed in new ways. A printed scholarly edition may follow a traditional, linear format; in a digital world, readers skim, search, scan and skip over parts that may not interest them.

Moreover, readers can access digital editions through any number of Internet browsers, mobile devices or tablets. Each option changes the experience of the edition in subtle ways, even when the content available remains the same. As Jewell correctly points out, “we cannot fully predict how readers will interact with digital publications…[and] we cannot expect every view of that website to be the same for each user” (6). The very nature of the Internet means each visit to a digital edition website will result in a different kind of engagement with the text, with the idea of “the audience” changing each time as well.

The evolving nature of a digital scholarly edition’s audience is not limited to reading and accessing information, though. Some scholarly editions are blurring the boundaries even further by actively involving the audience in the creation of the text itself. In 2010, Cathy Moran Hajo, Associate Editor of the Margaret Sanger Papers, wrote, “Web 2.0 tools are increasing in sophistication and enabling large amounts of people from all walks of life to participate in the creation of editions.” Hajo was, in effect, referring to crowdsourcing and in the years since, an increasing number of cultural and academic institutions have turned to crowdsourcing to complement and contribute to existing projects.

Crowdsourcing in the humanities (or, indeed, in Digital Humanities) aims, in part, to “expand the scope of the community membership beyond academics, and into the interested and engaged general public” (Siemens, et al.). Crowdsourced projects specifically reach out to the audience and invite them into the scholarly editing process, by having them either enrich existing materials or help create an entirely new resource (Carletti et al). In doing so, these projects are not simply looking for free labor, but instead, according to Carletti et al., are “collaborating with their public to augment or build digital assets through the aggregation of dispersed resources.”

Transcribe Bentham, one example of a crowdsourced scholarly edition project, has relied on volunteers to help transcribe thousands of manuscripts from philosopher Jeremy Bentham. The rationale behind opening up this project and scholarly edition to the larger public was due partly because the initiative hoped to “democratize the creation of, and access to, knowledge and humanities research” (Causer and Terras). Beyond opening access to the research, however, crowdsourcing connects passionate, interested individuals with these scholarly projects. The vast majority of crowdsourcing volunteers are not rewarded monetarily, and so many participate simply because they have a deep, personal interest in the subject. And as Ricc Ferrante, Director of Digital Services & Information at the Smithsonian Institution Archives points out, “passion breeds evangelists, breeds new volunteers, and new discoveries,” all of which can, in turn, lead to new knowledge.

There are some who may question the value of an open-access, online digital edition or the use of crowdsourcing to create such an edition. These individuals may maintain that scholarly editions should remain in the realm of the scholar. Ultimately, though, the blurred audience lines can be considered a good thing, as it expands the reach of a particular subject and opens up the humanities to new understandings. For Jewell:

“The defining feature of the broader audience that encounters free, online documentary editions is diversity: it comes from around the world, from a variety of perspectives and educational levels, and with a variety of goals.”

With more diversity comes more readers, more perspectives, and more people discovering new content that they may not have before encountered. Digital tools and technologies create a larger audience for scholarly editions, providing an enriched, varied and dynamic way of accessing and experiencing humanities data. The challenge, then, for scholarly editors, is to “move beyond the ivory towers of research libraries to high schools, town libraries and even to the comfort of private homes” (Hajo). By extending the reach of a digital scholarly edition and blurring the line between a traditional audience and a more expansive one, researchers and editors can ensure that their work is truly open and accessible.


Works Cited:

Carletti, Laura, Gabriella Giannachi, Dominic Price, and Derek McAuley. “Digital Humanities and Crowdsourcing: An Exploration.” MW2012: Museums and the Web. 17-20 April 2013. Portland, OR. Paper. Web. 2 December 2014.

Causer, Tim and Melissa Terras. “’Many hands make light work. Many hands together make merry work’: Transcribe Bentham and crowdsourcing manuscript collections.Crowdsourcing Our Cultural Heritage. Ed. Mia Ridge. Ashgate, 2014. 57-88. Web. 2 December 2014.

Ferrante, Ricc (@raferrante). “@McMer314 @sandilo60 @phcostel #askletters1916 …and passion breeds evangelists, breeds new volunteers, and new discoveries = new knowledge.” 2 December 2014, 1:08 PM. Tweet.

Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions.Modern Language Association. MLA, 2011. Web. 2 December 2014.

Hajo, Cathy Moran. “The Sustainability of the Scholarly Edition in a Digital World.International Symposium on XML for the Long Haul: Issues in the Long-term Preservation of XML, 2010. Paper. Web. 2 December 2014.

Jewell, Andrew. “New Engagements with Documentary Editions: Audiences, Formats, Contexts.Library Conference Presentations and Speeches. The Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2009. Web. 30 November 2014.

Siemens, Ray, Meagan Timney, Cara Leitch, Corina Koolen, and Alex Garnett. “Toward modeling the social edition: An approach to understanding the electronic scholarly edition in the context of new and emerging social media.” Literary and Linguistic Computing. 27.4 (2012): 445-461. Web. 2 December 2014.

Text Mining: An Annotated Bibliography

Text Cloud of Text MiningIn 2003, in an issue of the Literary and Linguistic Computing journal, humanities computing scholar Geoffrey Rockwell asked the question, “What is text analysis, really?” More than ten years later, some Digital Humanities are still asking the same question, especially as technological advances lead to the creation of new text analysis tools and methods. In its most basic form, text analysis – which is also known as text data mining or, simply, text mining – is the search for and discovery of patterns and trends in a corpus of texts. The analysis of those patterns and trends can help researchers uncover previously unseen characteristics of a specific corpus, deconstruct a text, and reveal new ideas and theories about a particular genre or author. The following annotated bibliography offers an overview of text mining tools in Digital Humanities, with the intention that it may serve as a starting point for further exploration into text analysis.

Argamon, Shlomo and Mark Olsen. “Words, Patterns and Documents: Experiments in Machine Learning and Text Analysis.Digital Humanities Quarterly. 3.2 (2009). Web. 15 November 2014.

In Argamon and Olsen’s article, they suggest that the rapid digitization of texts requires new kinds of text analysis tools, because the current tools may not scale effectively to large corpora and do not adequately leverage the capability of machines to recognize patterns. To test this idea, Argamon and Olsen, through the ARTFL Project, developed PhiloMine, a set of text analysis tools that extent PhiloLogic, the authors’ full-text search and analysis system. Argamon and Olsen provide an overview of PhiloMine’s tasks (predictive text mining, comparative text mining and clustering analysis), and then summarize three research papers that highlight the tasks’ strengths and weaknesses.

Borovsky, Zoe. “Text and Network Analysis Tools and Visualization.” NEH Summer Institute for Advanced Topics in Digital Humanities. Los Angeles, 22 June 2012. Presentation. Web. 15 November 2014.

This presentation by Borovsky, the Librarian for Digital Research and Scholarship at UCLA, provides an overview of text mining tools, with an in-depth look at a few specific tools: Gephi, Many Eyes, Voyant and Word Smith. Borovsky highlights some of the benefits and challenges of each tool, and offers examples of sample outcomes. Though the slides are presented without the addition of a transcript of Borovsky’s presentation speech, the slides themselves a high-level overview of these four specific text mining tools and Borovsky’s template easily allows readers to discover relevant information about each tool.

Green, Harriett. “Under the Workbench: An analysis of the use and preservation of MONK text mining research software.Literary and Linguistic Computing. 29.1 (2014): 23-40. Web. 15 November 2014.

To help further humanities scholars’ understanding of how to use text mining tools, Green conducted an analysis of the web-based text mining software MONK (Metadata Opens New Knowledge). Green studied a random sample of 18 months of analytics data from the MONK website and conducted interviews with MONK users to understand the purpose of the tool, it’s usability and the challenges encountered. Along with other findings, Green discovered that MONK is often used as a teaching tutorial and that it often provides an entry point for students and researchers learning about text analysis.

Muralidharan, Aditi and Marti A. Hearst. “Supporting exploratory text analysis in literature study.Literary and Linguistic Computing. 28.2 (2013): 283-295. Web. 15 November 2014.

According to Muralidharan and Hearst, the majority of text analysis tools have focused on aiding interpretation, but there haven’t been many (if any) tools devoted to finding and revealing insights not previously known to the researcher. So Muralidharan and Hearst created WordSeer, a text analysis tool designed for literary texts and literary research questions. To illustrate the functionality of WordSeer, Muralidharan and Hearst used this text analysis tool to examine the differences in language between male and female characters in Shakespeare’s plays.

Ramsay, Stephen. “In Praise of Pattern.Faculty Publications – Department of English. Digital Commons @ University of Nebraska-Lincoln: 2005. Web. 15 November 2014.

Ramsay sets out to explore the idea of pattern as a point of Intersection between computational text analysis and the “interpretive landscape of literary studies.” Ramsay wanted to prove that there could be a computational tool that offered interpretive insight and not specific facts or results. So he set out to create StageGraph, a tool designed ostensibly to study structural properties in Shakespeare’s plays, but one also stemming from a branch of mathematics known as graph theory.

Rockwell, Geoffrey. “TAPoR: Building a Portal for Text Analysis.” Mind Technologies: Humanities Computing and the Canadian Academic Community. Ed. Ray Siemens and David Moorman. University of Calgary Press: 2005. 285-299. Print.

In this chapter, Rockwell introduces readers to the TAPoR – the Text Analysis Portal for Research. The TAPoR project began as a collaboration of researchers and projects and eventually proposed a network of labs and servers that would connect and aggregate the best text analysis tools, making them available to the larger academic community. Rockwell then explores TAPoR in more detail, offers an overview of the portal’s specific functions, and discusses the types of users the project envisions will use the tools available through the portal.

—. “What is Text Analysis, Really?Literary and Linguistic Computing. 18.2 (2003): 209-219. Web. 15 November 2014.

In this article, Rockwell argues that text analysis becomes, in effect, an interpretive aid because it creates new hybrid versions of a text by deconstructing and reconstructing some original text. As a result, Rockwell stresses the need for new kinds of text analysis tools that emphasize experimentation over hypothesis testing. He concludes the paper with a proposal for a portal model for text analysis tools, using his own TAPoR as an example.

Simpson, John, Geoffrey Rockwell, Ryan Chartier, Stéfan Sinclair, Susan Brown, Amy Dyrbye, and Kirsten Uszkalo. “Text Mining Tools in the Humanities.Journal of Digital Humanities. 2.3 (2013). Web. 15 November 2014.

Derived from an oral presentation at a research conference, Simpson et al.’s brief article and accompanying poster presents the testing framework developed for the TAPoR text mining tool. The TAPoR testing framework was then used as a proposal for the creation of a systematic approach to testing and reviewing humanities research tools, especially text mining tools.

Text Mining.DiRT Digital Research Tools. n.p., n.d. Web. 15 November 2014.

The DiRT directory compiles information about digital research tools for scholarly and academic use. The directory is divided into several categories, with one category devoted to text mining tools. Users can narrow the category by platform (operating system), cost, whether or not the tool is open sourced and more. Each individual entry includes a description of the tool as well as a link to the tool itself or its developer’s website. While the DiRT directory is an invaluable resource of text mining tools, one drawback is that the tools themselves are not rated in any way, either by the directory’s editorial board or by other users.

van Gemert, Jan. “Text Mining Tools on the Internet.ISIS Technical Report Series. The University of Amsterdam: 2000. Web. 15 November 2014.

van Gemert’s report is a thorough and comprehensive overview of text mining tools available on the Internet, though as it was published in 2000, it is now out-of-date. Still, this report offers a great deal of information both about specific text mining tools and the companies behind their creation. Van Gemert includes website links, summaries and information about available trial versions for each tool.

[Image note: text cloud created from the content of this post using Tagul, an online word cloud creator.]

“Wasting Time” as a Way to Read

These days in the United States, students can take college- and university-level courses in just about anything. From lectures centered on pop culture behemoths like Harry Potter and Star Trek to classes entitled “The Art of Walking” or “Understanding Basket Weaving,” apparently nothing is off limits in the realm of higher education.

Now, from the University of Pennsylvania, comes the course “Wasting Time on the Internet.” In a recent article for The New Yorker, course instructor Kenneth Goldsmith explained his rationale behind the course, which is aimed at creative writing students.  His course will attempt to help students capture the distractions of the Internet in order to remake them into works of literature.

For Goldsmith, “drifting, daydreaming, and procrastination have long been a part of the writing process” and the Internet provides these in spades. Of course, critics of digital modes of reading and information processing believe the World Wide Web is actually making us dumber. But according to Goldsmith, the digital world we live in merely provides a new way of reading – one that isn’t better or worse, simply different:

Every click is indicative of who we are: indicative of our likes, our dislikes, our emotions, our politics, our world view. Of course, marketers have long recognized this, but literature hasn’t yet learned to treasure—and exploit—this situation… We’re reading and writing more than we have in a generation, but we are reading and writing differently—skimming, parsing, grazing, bookmarking, forwarding, retweeting, reblogging, and spamming language—in ways that aren’t yet recognized as literary.

In a previous post, I talked about digital literature and how it differs from traditional literature and even e-books. Goldsmith’s course is offering yet another way of thinking about digital literature and how it’s created. While his students may indeed end up creating a literary work that more closely resembles a traditional format, the process of getting there is entirely digital. I’m very curious to see what might come out of this course – and how it connects to other digital literature.

Digital Literature and “Click Lit”

computer-books-300x233In 2007, postmodern literary critic N. Katherine Hayles defined electronic literature (also known as digital literature) as literature that is “generally considered to exclude print literature that has been digitized” (e.g., e-books) and “is by contrast ‘digital born,’ a first-generation digital object created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer.” Wikipedia extends Hayles’ definition by contrasting electronic literature with e-books, pointing out that electronic literature may have elements that require computation: links, multi-media, animation or reader interaction (source).

[Note: From here on, I’ll refer to electronic literature as digital literature. This is both a personal preference and a reflection of the rapid advancements made in digital technologies since 2007, when Hayles published her definition.]

The publishing industry has seen a significant shift towards the digital in the last decade, and while many e-books still have an analog companion, there are an increasing number of authors (both those who have traditional contracts with a publisher and those who self-publish) who are producing born-digital novels and books that are never released in print format. There is also a rise in e-books with digital content – books that could be classified as digital literature, thanks to the inclusion of hyperlinks, videos and more.

From this rise in digital literature comes “click lit,” a term coined by Rosetta Books, an independent e-book publisher. Rosetta Books recently published a new e-book entitled Find Me I’m Yours. While this romantic comedy’s plot may sound familiar, its format takes interactive reading to a new level. The e-book is only one part of the story, which is supplemented by more than three dozen websites and online videos. Readers are actively encouraged to play a role in the story by visiting the various “custom-designed narrative platforms” and posting their own pictures, videos and stories.

“Click lit” turns the idea of reading on its head. Gone is the process of linear reading and in its place, a multimedia narrative that moves forwards, backwards, and sideways, changing every time a new reader experiences the story – and adds his or her own contributions. It’s a narrative that is constantly evolving.

So, what does “click lit” mean for digital literature and literary studies? How do you begin to analyze and study a story that is spread out over more than 30 websites? Is the e-book itself of primary importance, or do you have to consider it within the context of the digital world created by the publisher? How do you distinguish between content that may have been created by an author, and content added by a reader? Is one more legitimate than the other, or are both an integral part of the narrative?

As of right now, it seems to me that “click lit” raises more questions than it answers. Besides questions pertaining to the academic research of something like “click lit,” there are potential issues of feasibility. According to the New York Times, Rosetta Books’ latest publication took three years and $400K to develop – compare that to the cost and time of publishing a “regular” e-book or even a print book. There are also issues of commercialization, as some “click lit” books are also experimenting with product placement and sponsorship, further blurring the lines between what is literature and what is a paid advertisement.

As a lifelong avid reader and someone deeply interested in the future of digital literature, I plan to keep watching the “click lit” space to see how it does with other readers. It may be that “click lit” will resonate more with younger generations, those who have grown up in a digital world and have no trouble navigating a wide-spread multimedia narrative. There’s potential with “click lit” for sure, but what kind of potential? That remains to be seen.

Further Reading:

The Future of Multi-Platform Novels (“Though undeniably entertaining, a multi-media book takes away this sense of imagination, of wonder.”)

Click Lit (The Guardian)

The Future of the Book – CNN (“”This is how Millenials will consume all content one day. It’s going to start a revolution.”)

[Photo Credit: Book Riot]

Scholarship and the Future

In 2007, Digital Humanities scholar Peter Robinson wrote a paper titled, “Electronic Editions for Everyone,” in which he explored the current state of digital or electronic scholarly editions. Though the primary focus of his paper is concerned with scholarly texts, Robinson spends the first section outlining why he believes books have defied the digital revolution, in contrast to film and music. According to Robinson, electronic books (e-books) cannot offer either a better distribution medium to printed books, nor a better performance medium. As a result, print books continue to flourish because e-books do not offer anything worthwhile in exchange.

While reading Robinson’s article through the lens of my 2014 perspective, I couldn’t help but disagree with nearly all of his introductory arguments about e-books and printed books. These arguments might have been valid at the time Robinson wrote the paper, but seven years later, I believe they don’t hold up well at all. While e-books and e-readers haven’t replaced print books (or print book sales), the rapid rise of products like Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook have made e-books far more commonplace in 2014 than they were in 2007. U.S. e-book sales in 2013 alone accounted for $3 billion. Furthermore, e-readers offer benefits a print book can’t, including the ability to carry an entire library around in one (relatively) small device. *

Of course, it is not Robinson’s fault that his arguments from 2007 look very different in 2014; after all, how could anyone have possibly predicted the incredible rate of technological advancement within the last few years? It does, however, raise some interesting questions about the future of Digital Humanities: for a field so intertwined with technology, how might the continuing advances of technological tools and methods affect the sustainability of DH scholarship?

That technology will continue to change, develop and move forward seems inevitable. Tech companies thrive on pushing the limits and the finding the next big thing. At some point, Web 2.0 will likely give way to Web 3.0 (or 2.5 or some other term indicating advancement). Whatever that may look like, it also seems inevitable that the next generation of tech and web tools will make our current digital environment seem obsolete. So what, then, happens to Digital Humanities projects and scholarship developed during Web 2.0? Will we be able to access the information? Will the data even be useful anymore, if the technologies used in its creation are no longer valid?

I don’t necessarily have any answers right now. I don’t believe we can stop technology from changing (nor, I think, would we want to). Still, Robinson’s paper – and my reaction to it seven years later – seem to illustrate this uncomfortable uncertainty within Digital Humanities. If we can’t know or predict the future, how are we to ensure our scholarship in the present day (particularly, or at least, scholarship involving and aided by technology) isn’t rendered archaic in the future? Or do we simply accept the possibility of obsolescence?

In my first blog post on this blog, I talked about the difficulty in defining Digital Humanities, in part because it’s a field that is in constant motion, always evolving – something largely due to DH’s relationship with technology. In my opinion, this fluid notion of Digital Humanities is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it keeps pushing Digital Humanities projects and scholarships forward, testing the limits of the field and its tools. On the other hand, it mean very well mean that what we do today will be irrelevant in two, five or 10 years time. Perhaps that’s the risk we take as digital humanists. The one thing I do know is that it’s important to keep asking these questions, to keep refining and re-shaping our ideas of Digital Humanities. Since we can’t move backwards, we might as well keep moving forward – whatever the future brings.

(Post Script: my classmate, Josh Savage, wrote a blog post about the durability of data, in which he grapples with similar themes and questions.)

Note: In 2010, Robinson’s paper was published as a chapter in Text and Genre in Reconstruction, edited by Willard McCarthy. In an updated appendix, Robinson does mention the introduction of the Kindle, but (in my opinion) rather casually dismisses its potential to upset his arguments.

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