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Desktop Theater

Research Report by Jason Farman
(created 8/11/06; version 1.0)
[Status: Draft]

Related Categories: Text and Multimedia | Collective Reading

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
Desktop Theater was initiated as an alternate form of Internet chat that took place in the popular 2-D avatar-based chat room called The Palace. Started in 1997 by Adriene Jenik and Lisa Brenneis, Desktop Theater sought to extend the metaphor of chat room-as-public-space to creating a type of “street theater” through the avatars in a public chat room on The Palace’s servers. Several “actors” meet at a preset time in an agreed upon locale in The Palace, each donning a specific avatar for the performance. They perform a specific dramatic text through a cut-and-paste method that displays the text in a bubble above the avatar’s head. Other chatters enter the scene and often engage the actors, becoming part of the performance, or create their own conversations in the mise-en-scène of The Palace chat room, contextualizing the performance as an online form of street theater. (more…)

Tilty Tables

Research Report by Nathan Blake
(created 8/08/06; version 1.0)
[Status: Draft]

Related Categories: Hardware Innovations | Alternative Interfaces | New Reading Interfaces Working Group

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
Designed by the RED (Research in Experimental Documents) group at Xerox PARC, Tilty Tables was an experiment for the museum installation, eXperiments in the Future of Reading (XFR; Maribeth Back, Rich Gold, Anne Balsamo, Mark Chow, Matt Gorbet, Steve Harrison, Dale MacDonald, Scott Minneman, 2001), which was also exhibited for SIGGRAPH 2001 Emerging Technologies. Of the three tables developed, The Reading Table and The Tall Tale Table shall be addressed here. Each table is a three-by-three-foot-wide white square resting on a metal podium, attached in such a way as to allow it to be tilted in all directions. A high-resolution image is projected onto the table’s surface, which gives the appearance that the table is a glowing screen. When visitors tilt the table the images on its surface change in response. With The Reading Table, visitors glide across a large “map” of “napkin drawings” on the subject of future reading practices. The Tall Tale Table resembles the conception of an unlimited and cyclical universe of books from the Jorge Louis Borges’ story “The Library of Babel”; it presents an infinite plane of nonsense tall tales, constructed using a simple computer program with the input of two real fairy tales from various cultures. (more…)

Text Rain

Research Report by Nathan Blake
(created 8/07/06; version 1.0)
[Status: Draft]

Related Categories: Text Visualization | Text and Multimedia | Art Installations | Immersive Text Environments

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
Art installation of 1999 by Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv. To interact with the installation participants stand or move in front of a large projection screen. On the screen they see a mirrored video projection of themselves in black and white, combined with a color animation of falling text. Like rain or snow, the text appears to land on participants’ heads and arms. The text responds to the participants’ motions and can be caught, lifted, and then let fall again. The falling text will “land” on anything darker than a certain threshold, and “fall” whenever that obstacle is removed. If a participant accumulates enough letters along their outstretched arms, or along the silhouette of any dark object, they can sometimes catch an entire word, or even a phrase. The falling letters are not random, but lines of Evan Zimroth’s poem about bodies and language, “Talk, You.” As letters from one line of the poem fall towards the ground they begin to fade, and differently colored letters from the next line replace them from above. “Reading” the poem in the Text Rain installation becomes a physical as well as a cerebral, perhaps even an impossible, endeavor[1]. (more…)

BioMorphic Typeâ„¢

Research Report by Nathan Blake
(created 8/07/06; version 1.0)
[Status: Draft]

Related Categories: Text Visualization | Text and Multimedia | Art Installations

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
BioMorphic Typography is Diane Gromala’s term for a family of fonts that continually morph in real-time response to a user’s changing physical states, as measured by a biofeedback device. Part of a larger initiative, Design for the Senses, the goal is to develop approaches to experiential design that focus on the senses and “the history of the body.” The first in the type-style family of this dynamic text is “Excretia,” meant for display on computer screens and wearable liquid crystal displays, upon which the user’s/writer’s autonomic states are graphically indicated–for example, the characters “throb” as one’s heart beats. (more…)

Processing

Research Report by Mike Godwin
(created 7/7/06; version 1.0)
[Status: Draft]

Related Categories: Software/Coding Innovations

Original Object for Study description


Summary:
Processing is an open source programming language and development environment initiated by Ben Fry and Casey Reas of the Broad Institute and UCLA Design | Media Arts, respectively. The processing language and environment strives to simplify programming for the beginner, such that someone with little or no programming experience can easily experiment and immediately see their results. While processing is capable of simple results quickly, it is robustly integrated with Java and streamlines many tasks that advanced users might expect. Processing runs on any machine with Java, is free and open source, and boasts a very active online community. (more…)

MediaBASE

Research Report by Nowell Marshall
(created 6/14/06; version 1.1 on 6/26/06)

Related Categories: Browsing Practices | Social Networking Systems

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
MediaBASE is collaborative, multimedia-authoring software developed by the Institute for Multimedia Literacy at the University of Southern California. The Institute envisions MediaBASE as having two basic purposes. First, the software is a communication tool comprised of three basic discourse units: compositions, media objects, and concepts (defined below). These key elements allow integrated multimedia creation within a pre-defined user group. As its name suggests, MediaBASE also functions as a dynamic database. The software offers two methods of accessing media objects: users can import individual objects or an administrator can provide an entire archive of material for a given user group in advance. (more…)

Sony Reader

Research Report by
Lisa Swanstrom
(created 5/19/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: New Reading Interfaces

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
Slated to debut in the spring of 2006, the Sony Reader marks a key example of the next generation of commercial eBooks. While previous eBooks suffered criticism for their bulky appearances, hard-to-read screens, and limited availability of downloadable works, Sony claims to have resolved these problems through its use of new technologies that include e-ink, “electronic paper,” and a “CONNECT store” from which customers can purchase various downloadable texts. At the time of this writing, the product has not yet been released, but the pre-release reviews of the Reader have been extremely positive across a variety of technology-centered forums. (more…)

Poems That Go

Research Report by Jessica Pressman
(created 6/13/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: Online Journals (Experimental Paradigms)

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
Poems that Go is an online literary journal that showcases kinetic, digital poems. The journal is motivated by the question “What makes a poem a poem?” particularly when that poem is configured in digital form. The site features an extensive collection of Flash-based poems that display poetry to be multimodal and excitingly experimental. (more…)

Vectors: Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular

Summary:
Vectors is an online journal that embraces the Internet as the space for embracing and engaging critical experimentation and collaboration on topics related to and inspired by its digital environment.

Vectors is an international electronic journal dedicated to expanding the potentials of academic publication via emergent and transitional media. Moving well beyond the text-with-pictures format of much electronic scholarly publishing, Vectors brings together visionary scholars with cutting-edge designers and technologists to propose a thorough rethinking of the dynamic relationship of form to content in academic research, focusing on the ways technology shapes, transforms and reconfigures social and cultural relations.”
(more…)

BookCrossing

Research Report by Alison Walker
(created 4/23/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories:New Approaches to Reading Print Texts

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines bookcrossing as “the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.” BookCrossing’s main principle is that the world should be a book lover’s library. After members finish reading a book and decide they want to share it, they register it for free on BookCrossing.com. This gives each book a unique ID number and an accompanying journal entry on the BookCrossing webpage where the reader can write his/her opinions about the book. The reader then affixes a BookCrossing tag to the book with pertinent information on how another owner can find out about the book’s travels. Finally, the reader “releases it into the wild” (a coffee shop, bus stop, café, etc). Each subsequent reader of a particular book can add to the book’s journal entry on the BookCrossing website, giving his/her opinions and listing where they picked up and dropped off the book. (more…)

Accessing and Browsing Information and Communication
(Ronald A. Rice, Maureen McCreadie, and Shan-Ju L. Chang)

Research Report by Nowell Marshall
(created 6/13/06; version 1.0)
[Status: Draft]

Related Categories: Browsing Practices

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
Rice, Ronald A., Maureen McCreadie, and Shan-Ju L. Chang, Accessing and Browsing Information and Communication. Cambridge: MIT, 2001. This book synthesizes literature in relevant fields of information and communication studies to articulate an interdisciplinary framework for understanding the way users access and browse. Specific fields included in the study are described below. (more…)

TextArc

Summary:
TextArc is a program designed to display patterns in textual data in a visually accessible format. The program displays each word in a text twice: once in a spiral that contains all the lines, as they appear, in the text and once in larger font to represent its average position within the text.

TextArc promises to convert large texts into a format that allows users to discern patterns in the text. These patterns, however, are based purely on word frequency and, to that extent, limited in what they can reveal about the text.

The designer of TextArc has been invited to use TextArc in several museum exhibitions, including the online gallery of the Whitney Museum of American Art. (more…)

Television Without Pity

Research Report by Katrina Kimport
(created 4/2/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: Online Reading and Society

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
Television Without Pity (TwoP), first launched in 1998, is an online community that hosts recaps and forums on television shows, primarily reality shows and hour-long dramas.

This site is among the most well-known of a large number of fan websites that convert content from a non-text-based medium (television) into text. In so doing, they offer a reading format–specifically, an interactive reading format–for content that is generally viewed. Television executives and writers regularly read and react in future scripts to critiques provided in these sorts of communities. (more…)

ConceptNet

Summary:
ConceptNet is a software program that culls meaning from searchable text. ConceptNet focuses on semantic meaning in a text, analyzing concepts and the contexts in which they are found, offering a unique approach compared to traditional keyword or statistical evaluations of texts.

ConceptNet has been used as the basis for several programs designed to distill particular meanings from texts (affect, for example) and provide intelligent feedback about the text’s content. (more…)

Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc du Berry

Research Report by Donna Beth Ellard
(created 3/31/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: History of reading

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc du Berry (“The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry”) is one of the most sumptuous and costly books of hours. The calendars in Les Tres Riches Heures were painted by Paul, Hermann and Jean Limoges, three brothers from Flanders. Later additions were carried out by the late 14th- century artist Jean Colombe. The original manuscript is at the Condé Museum in Chantilly, France. (more…)

Blogdex

Summary:
Blogdex is a research project from the MIT Media Laboratory that traces the diffusion of content, represented in the form of hypertext links, over time, through blogs.

Programs such as Blogdex offer a window into the networking structure of the blogging community, an opportunity to systematically analyze large textual datasets, and a way to think about meaning in the online environment. (more…)

MIT Media Labs $100 Laptop

Research Report by Kim Knight
(created 3/30/06; Updated 8/13/06; version 1.2)

Related Categories: Hardware Innovations; Online Reading and Society

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
From the OLPC website: “One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is a new, non-profit association dedicated to research to develop a $100 laptop–a technology that could revolutionize how we educate the world’s children. This initiative was first announced by Nicholas Negroponte at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland in January 2005. Our goal: to provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment, and express themselves.” The ”$100 laptops–not yet in production–will not be available for sale. The laptops will only be distributed to schools directly through large government initiatives.” (more…)

XML

Research Report by Marc Breisinger
(created 3/29/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: Software/coding innovations, text encoding

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
This report describes the core concepts of XML, as well as how to deploy it and its capabilities. It tries to explain XML from scratch without getting too deep into the details. After an introduction and a first example for a possible XML structure and application, an overview about the components of the mechanisms around XML and their benefits is given. The technical analysis describes what exactly is necessary to work with XML and how. The report contains enough information to get entirely started with XML technology, but as XML is a very broad field, this short essay can not claim any form of completeness, and the interested reader should refer to the given references and various books about XML, XSLT and the other technologies involved. (more…)

Wikipedia

Research Report by Kim Knight
(created 3/21/06; Updated 8/13/06; version 1.1)

Related Categories: Online Knowledge Bases

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia, the content of which is contributed by users. The site describes itself in eleven words stating, “Wikipedia is a neutral and unbiased compilation of notable, verifiable facts.” While articles are not subjected to peer review, per se, the fundamental philosophy behind Wikipedia is similar to many “open” projects in that the expectation is that collaboration results in improvement over time. (more…)

electronic book review

Research Report by Jessica Pressman
(created 3/19/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: Online Journals (experimental paradigms)

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
electronic book review (ebr) is “an online scholarly journal promoting print/screen translations and new modes of critical writing on the Internet.” Edited by Joseph Tabbi and published by Mark Amerika, the site operates through a sophisticated design, by Anne Burdick, that implements and enacts the theme of weaving “thREADs.” The journal can been accessed at www.electronicbookreview.com. (more…)

FogScreen

Research Report by
Marc Breisinger and James K. Ford
(created 3/12/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: Immersive Text Environments, Hardware Innovations

Original Object for Study description

Fogscreen

Summary:
The FogScreen is an innovative display technology that allows for projections on a thin layer of dry fog. Imagine the traditional pull down screen that is found in many classrooms today. Instead of a screen being pulled down from the ceiling, fog is pushed down and held in place by several small fans, allowing for a consistent surface for display. A user may simply stand back and view the material but can also reach or walk through the fog. A user may also interact with objects displayed in the fog with the use of an input device like a data glove, a tracked wand, or simply using hands (see Technical Analysis). Currently, there are only nine FogScreens available in the world. Most of the FogScreens are used as a novel display technology for businesses looking to attract visitors at conventions, or by artists / musicians as part of their entertainment shows. However, research is being conducted in attempts to find ways that the FogScreen can be used as an educational tool. In this report, we describe the FogScreen experience itself and the findings made when deploying LEMMA (Learning Environment with Multi-Media Augmentations) on the FogScreen. Due to extreme financial and spatial efforts of the device, it is unlikely that the average citizens will be able to interact with such a technology, but there are hopes of creating smaller, less expensive FogScreens, or similar devices, in the near future. (more…)

“The Legible City”

Research Report by
Lisa Swanstrom
(created 3/12/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: New Reading Interfaces, Art Installations

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
Jeffrey Shaw’s “Legible City” is an interactive art installation that requires active, physical participation of its viewers. To make the installation function, a “rider” sits on a stationery bicycle, pedals, and navigates through simulated city streets and architectural structures made of letters, words, and sentences that are projected on a large screen. In this manner, the viewer both rides and reads as she navigates through this text-based virtual space. Requiring as it does the active, embodied participation of the reader/rider, Shaw’s “Legible City” provides a very interesting, very visible expression and enactment of reading as a fully embodied and physical activity in which the human body is well integrated into its surrounding environment. (more…)

The iPod as Ebook

Research Report by
Marc Breisinger
(created 3/12/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: New Reading Interfaces, Hardware Innovations

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
As documents of any kind increasingly come in digital form, our reading habits change. Printing out documents on paper is still a common practice at the moment, but will cease to be so as better and more convenient devices for reading digital data come into existence. Reasons for this change include less effort for transport and printing, as well the trend towards overcoming text-only modalities. When ebook readers first appeared in 2000, they were unsuccessful, mainly because they were inconvenient. The iPod, originally marketed as an mp3 player, has the capability to display digital documents and combines this potential with various other features like audio, video and hypertext, which makes it a convenient and flexible accessory that may meet plenty of our reading needs. (more…)

Medieval Writing Website

Research Report by Alison Walker
(created 3/7/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories:New Approaches to Reading Print Texts

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
The website “Medieval Writing: History Heritage and Data Source” provides its users with a broad overview of types, styles, and information on the culture of medieval writing from 400-1500 A.D. “Medieval Writing” showcases images from many types of documents, including manuscripts, legal, administrative and papal documents; the website provides an in-depth analysis of each type of document and its uses during the medieval period. Secondly, “Medieval Writing” offers paleography lessons so its users can become proficient in the various book hands and document hands used from the 6th to the 16th Centuries. (more…)

Marey’s Graphic Method

Research Report by James J. Hodge
(created 3/5/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories:New Reading Interfaces

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
The aim of this entry is twofold: to describe a field of discourse that located around the protean status of the word and suffix graph in latter half of the nineteenth century, and to instantiate that discourse through a consideration of Etienne-Jules Marey’s méthode graphique [graphic method]. The discourse of graph may be considered to be a micro-discourse, a series of signifying practices that loosely–perhaps even unconsciously–organizes meaning not from the standpoint of a unifying discourse such as science or theology that organizes knowledge from the outside in but rather signifies a particular episteme from the inside out. The word and suffix graph appears in the names of many new technologies in the middle and late nineteenth century: photography, cinematography, cardiography, phonautograph, graphophone, heliography, telegraphy, ideograph, phonograph, seismograph, myography, etc. Beyond recognizing graph as a facile gesture of nomenclature, this entry argues that its prevalence signifies a culturally and historically specific micro-discourse with deep implications for the study of writing as such in the broader media ecology of the late nineteenth century. Marey’s graphic method represents a meta-example of this micro-discourse. Marey’s graphic method modernized the study of physiology by helping to displace quasi-mystical theories of vitalism with a positivistic understanding of the human body. As writing, the indexical traces produced by means of the graphic method evidence a radical cultural transformation of the status of writing from transcendent signifying practice to the machinic writing of life based not upon a higher power but rather the movements of the body as machine. The graphic method takes part in a larger cultural and epistemic project of the scientific secularization of writing and inscription. (more…)

The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry

Research Report by Donna Beth Ellard
(created 3/5/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: New Approaches to Reading Print Texts

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
The Exeter Dean and Chapter MS 3501, or “The Exeter Book,” is the oldest of four collections of Anglo-Saxon poetry. It is believed to have been produced in southwest England, probably between 965 and 975 (Muir 1).

Digital images of the Exeter Book were produced in 1996, and from these images, a “virtual manuscript” has been produced. “The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry” is edited and compiled by Bernard J. Muir and Nick Kennedy and produced in July 2006. It contains interactive facsimiles, a page viewer, codicological report, historical and cultural materials, and short audio readings of selected poems. (more…)

Electronic Beowulf Project

Research Report by Donna Beth Ellard
(created 3/5/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories:New Approaches to Reading Print Texts

Original Object for Study description

Summary: “Electronic Beowulf Project” is an image-based CD-ROM edition of Beowulf, the great Old English poem, which survives in only one manuscript: British Library Cotton Vitellius A. xv. The CD is a full-color digital facsimile of Beowulf, its associated texts, and glossaries. Future editions will include illuminations from contemporary manuscripts and external links to medieval and Anglo-Saxon resource sites. (more…)

Inform.com

Summary:
Founded in late 2005, Inform.com is an online news synthesizer that allows its users to design and customize “news channels” according to their individual interests. While there are many sites that provide access to multiple news sources, such sites frequently rely upon RSS (really simple syndication) feeds for the bulk of their information. Inform.com is distinct because it actively crawls each news item it hosts in order to more effectively categorize and sort its contents. While Inform.com initially received some very critical reviews from the digerati at large, it has since ironed out many bugs and continues to refine its interface. At the time of this writing, Inform.com seems to be generating positive feedback, gaining momentum, and remains in its beta testing phase. (more…)

MySpace

Research Report by Garnet Hertz
(created 5/15/06; version 1.0)
[Status: Draft]

Related Categories: Online Reading and Society, Social Networking Systems

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
MySpace, as one of the top five most popular English-language websites in the world, is an increasingly influential part of teen popular culture in North America. As of March 2006, MySpace was more popular than the websites of CNN, The New York Times, and Amazon, and – unlike “the news” – MySpace embodies an emerging breed of Internet communication in which individuals both create and consume content, freely blend text, images, video and audio, and easily transition between online and real-world social interaction. (more…)

Mediawork Pamphlet Series

Research Report by Jessica Pressman
(created 2/26/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: Codex Book / Digital Text Hybrids

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
“Mediawork Pamphlets pair leading writers and contemporary designers to explore art, literature, design, music, and architecture in the context of emergent technologies and rapid economic and social change.” Published by the MIT Press, Mediawork Pamphlets “are ‘zines for grown-ups, commingling word and image, enabling text to thrive in an increasingly visual culture.” “Mediawork Pamphlets transform private theory into public discourse, visual experimentation into cultural intervention” and strive to “launch these hybrids out into a greater public” (Mediawork Website).

Peter Lunenfeld is Editorial Director of this innovative series that is inspired by such artistic collaborations as Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore’s The Medium is the Massage and War and Peace in the Global Village. The pamphlets are small, beautifully designed objects in which art and theory intersect. (more…)

The Medley Print

Research Report by Gerald Egan
(created 2/20/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: Historical Multimedia

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
Medley prints, similar to a contemporary collage, were mixed-media objects that enjoyed an indeterminate period of popularity in the visual culture of eighteenth century England. One of the intriguing aspects of medley prints is that so little information survives about them and correspondingly little contemporary scholarship has been published about them. An exception is Mark Hallett’s “The Medley Print in Early Eighteenth-Century London,”? and I appropriate his description of a particular engraving called The May Day Country Mirth to formulate a workable definition of the genre of the medley print, which, Hallett writes, “. . . for clarity, fuses the mechanics of trompe-l’oeil with a sustained programme of representational juxtapositions and overlap. By means of an almost microscopically exact process of pictorial imitation, the engraver attempts to persuade us, however momentarily, that we are gazing at a scattering of printed and drawn objects, thrown together in front of our eyes. . . . The medley print . . . was a pictorial genre that meshed together a variety of materials circulating in graphic culture in order to produce a modern, hybrid art form”? (214 – 235). Although there is little scholarship on medley prints, there are a number of surviving examples, upon a few of which I will attempt quick readings today. (more…)

Robert Carlton Brown, The Readies

Summary:
In 1930 avant-garde writer Bob Brown published an essay in the international avant-garde journal transition (edited by Eugene Jolas) calling for a new reading machine to push literature to keep up with the advanced reading practices of a cinema-viewing public and thereby produce the “Revolution of the Word.” In this essay, published a year later in a stand-alone publication, Brown boldly proclaimed

The written word hasn’t kept up with the age. The movies have outmanoeuvered it. We have the talkies, but as yet no Readies. I’m for new methods of reading and writing and I believe the up-to-date reader deserves an eye-ful when he buys something to read. I think the optical end of the written word has been hidden over a bushel too long. I’m out for a bloody revolution of the word (1).

And,

Books are antiquated word containers…. modern word-conveyors are needed now, reading will have to be done by machine (13).

(The Readies [Bad Ems: Roving Eye Press, 1930], UCLA Special Collections).
Following the publication of the essay, Brown published a collection of short works inspired by and supposedly created for the machine. Readies for Bob Brown’s Machine (Cagnes-sur-Mer: Roving Eye Press, 1931) included poems by Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, and Filippo Marinetti. Jerome McGann describes the importance of this anthology to literary history: “When the afterhistory of modernism is written, this collection… will be recognized as a work of signal importance” (Black Riders 89). (more…)

Internet Archive

Summary:
First launched in 1996, the Internet Archive is a San Francisco-based, non-profit organization that curates and maintains an accessible, online archive of a vast amount of multimedia objects that have been published on the web since the popularization of the Internet in the mid-nineties.

A self-proclaimed repository of knowledge, the Internet Archive aims to create a reliable database of online works and to give, in essence, the web a stable “memory” that will endure beyond any individual web page’s date of expiration. The Internet Archive additionally seeks to keep this access open and free to the public. While the ten-year-old project remains a work in progress, its continuing development has already raised many intriguing challenges in relation to what some have argued is the transitory and ephemeral nature of online reading sources. (more…)

The Mechanics’ Institute

Research Report by David Roh
(created 2/2/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: History of Reading, Literacy Studies
Original Object for Study description

Summary:
The Mechanics’ Institute sprang up in 19th century England for the ostensible purpose of imparting upon the working class mechanic knowledge of the sciences, literature, and arts. In actuality, a myriad of purposes shrouded the creation of these institutes, which were ultimately appropriated by the middle class when it became apparent that the working class was not as receptive as had been anticipated. Some scholars conjecture that they were really formed as a means of control and indoctrination of the working class, allowing only as little real knowledge as needed for them to improve as workers, but little else. As the middle class began to move in, the working class retreated to the Institute’s libraries and reading rooms, where they were free to discuss topics that interested them. One of the unintended consequences of the failed Mechanics’ Institutes was the aiding in the creation of a democratic infrastructure for working class access to printed materials, and despite the Institute’s discouragement, a predilection for popular fiction. In short, despite being borne from a desire to regulate, they were an important precursor to the establishment of public libraries and a liberated mass reading public. (more…)

The Codex Book

Research Report by Robin Chin
(created 1/30/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: Hardware Innovations, History of Reading

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
The codex form of book — a “sheaf of bound pages”[1] — became prevalent in Europe over the previously popular format of the scroll sometime around the fifth century A.D. In its inception and subsequent technical improvements, the codex revolutionized modern thought to include, among other things, a new understanding of individual and informative portability – through space, likewise through time. Increased efforts at portability of the codex not only directly added to the spread of literacy to different economic classes, but also contributed to changes in the format of writing towards the use of academic research and towards general “user-friendliness.” Notably, such technical developments mirror, or at least relate to recent concerns and trends in personal computing, including but not limited to the size and appearance of computer hardware, the layout and graphic design of web pages, and interface design of computer software. (more…)

Google Book Search / The Google Print Library Project

Research Report by Lisa Swanstrom
(created 1/19/06; version 1.1, 1/21/06)

Related Categories: New Reading Interfaces, Online Text Archives, Search and Data Mining Innovations

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
Google Book Search is a controversial initiative by the California-based search engine company Google to dramatically increase the amount of print literature available for on-line consumption. Google’s strategy is double-pronged, involving negotiations with both publishers and libraries to scan print works and convert them into searchable digital formats. While Google claims the project provides a benefit to the public good because it offers increased access to print texts, opposition has been fierce, resulting by early 2006 in at least two separate lawsuits arguing that the nature of Google Book Search constitutes an infringement of copyright law. Despite continuing litigation, the project is currently in beta-testing, is operational, and is growing steadily, boasting over one hundred thousand searchable texts.

This evolving project, as well as the controversy surrounding it, raises questions regarding intellectual property rights, authorship, access to information, and the shifting material nature of the book in the face of digital culture.

(more…)
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