9.251 more on layered hypertext

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Mon, 23 Oct 1995 20:12:13 -0400 (EDT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 251.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca> (32)
Subject: more on layered hypertext

Fellow Humanists may remember my undoubtedly vague description of a "layered
hypertext" system for representing annotations to a text. Roy Flannagan then
asked me to clarify what I wanted out of my text that I needed such a system
to represent it. I return by asking myself what use it is to dream of
something no one has the time or money to build. I answer that question by
recalling a seminar I took once, with an Indian computer scientist who spent
the entire time discussing with us the design of a system so far beyond
current technology that we HAD to see the point. I take courage from his
example, enough now to suggest that more modest proposal is not just a
mental exercise, but a way of thinking about how we think about text.

I guess one way of approaching the question Roy raised is to think about the
bind New Critics (or at least their students) used to get into when
attempting to make note of all the minute phenomena one could notice in a
text. Another way is to think about any text you have studied intensively
for a long time, and the edition of it in whose pages you have made detained
marginal notes. I imagine that if one could virtually place a series of
transparent layers over the image of the text, on each of them inscribing a
particular set or kind of notes, one might achieve a more adequate
representation of the text's complexity than otherwise possible. In other
words, 3-dimensionalize the scholarly commentary.

Meanwhile, another friend has admonished me privately, saying that I should
not attribute to inherent structure or properties the inability of existing
hypertext systems to do what I envision. Rather, he says, this is "only a
user-interface issue". It may be so. Those who understand the difference
between inherent design and user interfaces may wish to instruct me further.
I certainly didn't mean to disparage good work. Only to provoke some thought
about how we think with texts, and what we could do with software to help that.

Further comments?


Willard McCarty, Centre for Computing in the Humanities
Departments of Classical Studies and Italian Studies (Toronto)
(416) 978-3974 voice (416) 978-6519 fax mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca