Category Archives: Technology

Academic publishing

In Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy Kathleen Fitzpatrick notes about problems of preservation of digital works that “their solutions are not predominantly technical in nature. In fact, the examples presented by the emulators I mention above may help us recognize that what we need to develop in order to ensure the future preservation of our digital texts and artifacts may be less new tools than new socially-organized systems”

Books can be just as fragile and transient as electronic texts depending on social structures. Some medieval manuscripts are known from fragments recovered from being used in bindings for other books. Other manuscripts are palimpsests, older work scraped off and replaced with newer, depending on the needs of the writer and the desires of the audience.

One of the most powerful aspects of Fitzpatrick’s work is her insistance on the importance of people and their social systems to the employment of technology and its long term implications. She does not see technology as a rigid force that mandates a particular path.  Rather, she points out the multiplicity of possible reactions to or uses of technology.

One of the concerns about SOPA is that the MPAA and other organizations which were supporting it were attempting to legislate protection for old models of business and technical organization.  Opponents of SOPA pointed out that things like DVRs and VCRs were also supposed to put the moving picture industry out of business but instead changed the revenue streams. The Oatmeal comic recently commented on the reasons for piracy. Not because people want to pirate, but because the piracy gives users what they want.

One of the problems with the state of academic publishing is that the multiple constituencies not only don’t agree on what they want, but they have conflicting needs and desires as Fitzpatrick points out.  Some of what happened with online video will happen with academic publishing. Academic publishing is already transforming itself with the online discussions and publications.  In the sciences, more than the humanities, preprint online editions of peer-reviewed articles are becoming common. Since the online copies appear under the auspices of the print journal, they are seen as just as valid as when they finally appear in print (hardcopy journals).


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Filed under History and Future of the Book, Technology

Audio books

Longread on audiobooks with some historical information on their development.  But it’s also about being a grad student and reading more generally.

The opening lines are:  “I used to avoid talking about audio books. In general if you are 28 years old and in graduate school and you listen to audio books then the worst thing about the whole practice is admitting it to your graduate-school peers.”

I think some programs and disciplines are probably more open to audiobooks than others, but there’s also that question (or secret guilt) of whether you as a student are engaging “fully” or “properly” or “the way we always have” with a text if you don’t have a physical book. This applies to ebooks as well as audiobooks.


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Bits and Pieces

1609 Shakespeare’s Pericles with corrections It was popular enough that there were 2 editions printed in 1609.

Annotated books online This looks really intriguing, although I haven’t had time to delve into it too deeply. It’s a collaborative academic project based in the Netherlands that will let people work on digital editions of annotated early modern (“first three centuries of print”) works.

And for brand new work:

Prof Hacker’s recent column on tools for creating ebook content  is fairly short but has a few links and notes if you haven’t worked with things like this before.

Here’s a bit of a long read from the New Yorker on the recent commercial plagiarism case involving a spy novel that Random House published that was cobbled together from other spy novels. It includes an account of how the “author” composed and revised it and raises questions about the nature of authorship, editorship, and remix.

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Filed under Digitized works, Manuscripts, Technology, textbooks

Pamela & Texting

Here are a couple of things on the theme of hey-look-what’s-coming-back-around :

A 19th C glove with a map of London on it for handy reference offers an alternative to modern GPS and smartphone maps.

Secondly, the author of this post on student response to  Pamela suggests that students now might be more comfortable with a central character who documents her life in her letters even as the door to her bedroom is being opened than students from 8-10 years ago.  She also talks about her research into some 18th century correspondance which includes some short notes that resemble text messages. It’s a long post but worth reading.


Filed under New again, Reading, Short Form, Technology, Texting, Twitter

Things that were said about what was read

Elizabeth Eisenstein raises some interesting points about scholars having to be careful how they intepret who was using particular books.  She points to a useful distinction between “audience” and “public,” where audience is the documented set of users or purchasers of books and public represents the “hypothetical targets” of the producers of books (241). Eisenstein equates audience with “actual readers”, but I would shade that even farther, since a catalogue or subscription list may prove ownership but not consumption.

Eisenstein further suggests that scholars have made unwarranted assumptions about audience and particularly publics for books such as cooking books, or manuals of etiquette for young ladies. That is to say, while the etiquette might have pertained specifically to the young women, those interested in reading about it might very well include tutors or parents. This difficulty in deducing demographics reminded me of  a current dust-up over Google’s demographic assumptions based on your search interests. A group of self-described women geeks found that Google had uniformly classified them as young men, apparently based on their searches and click through patterns.

Another nuance that Eisenstein raises has to do with questions of literacy versus reading. She rightly points out that being able to read does not mean that one read, and that while Latin literacy might have held high status, that does not mean that those of high status would restrict themselves to Latin, or even prefer Latin over the vernacular.

Eisenstein draws attention to the use and dissemination of illustrations within printed books as significant. Reliable reproduction of those images made developments in science and engineering easier to share.

Although she doesn’t mention them in particular, printed anatomies (books showing anatomical details of human bodies) were an important part of medical education in England in the early modern period, because human dissection was illegal in England until quite late. People had to go to one of the universities on the continent where such things were permitted to see an autopsy. Printed works filled some of the gap, although there were some omissions in those texts as well.

Eisenstein discusses “job” printing, the production of advertising ephemera, official publications and the like as opposed to more speculative printing for general sale. While these are not always studied, they made up a large portion of the print volume for many printers.  It would be interesting to know more about the audience and public for these types of printing. How were they being used? A large chunk of EEBO consists of crown proclamations printed by various printers. How many of them were actually read?

An  article in The Economist in December compares the use of cheap print, including and especially woodcuts by Martin Luther to the use of social media by protest movements today. The author draws attention to the importance of timeliness and interactivity (that is, Luther and his opponents quoting each other and responding to each other quickly) in both cases.


Filed under History and Future of the Book, Reading, Technology


danah boyd’s blog is one place among many that talks about why many sites went dark on January 18, 2012.

Here’s another article on the reporting about this issue and why it’s problematic.

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New ways to look at academic publications

The Citeology project offers a new, visual, way to look at connections between articles.    The current project is limited to papers from Computer Human Interaction conferences.

What underlies the network of citations for each individual paper is itself a visual representation of articles. One axis is time (1982 to 2010) and it’s interesting to see the peaks and dips in the volume of papers. Volume went up and down through the 90s and actually seemed to maintain a slide down from 97-98 to 2002. After that, the volume of articles went steadily upward.

In order to make the images maneagable, the most-cited articles run down the center of the images. I wonder what the patterns would look like if the y-axis was based on citation frequency high to low (or low to high)?

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I’m sure this isn’t the only article on this story about the University of Michigan making a deal for ebooks for its students, but this is the one that I read today.  It shouldn’t really surprise anyone that the U of M would be interested in electronic forms of books given it’s involvement with other forms of digitization (the HathiTrust, among others).

Some of the comments were more productive than the article, and (as of the point where I was reading), most of them were civil and constructive.  One person argued that the inability to highlight or comment on electronic forms of textbooks would be problematic and someone replied to them pointing out that many digital texts allow for commenting and marking up.

One aspect of ebooks that I think is often ignored in articles like this is that implementation matters. Because an ebook could have annotation features does not mean that it does.  Because it could have bookmarking or split screen viewing dose not mean that it does. One of the comment exchanges pointed out that the pilot program involved “renting” the ebooks for a single semester, rather than owning them permanently or long term.

Unfortunately, better functionality does not always (or even often) win the marketing and distribution battle. Token ring was better technologically than ethernet, but ethernet won the wired networking battle. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep trying to identify what it is we want our tech to do and which applications and devices do it for us.

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Filed under Digitized works, Technology, textbooks, Usability

How do I open it?

First post. Not the same as the last post.

One of my favorite youtube videos of all time:

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Filed under Technology, Usability