10.0380 books

WILLARD MCCARTY (willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Thu, 31 Oct 1996 19:41:11 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 380.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: "Dr. David Harrison" <prospero@pncl.co.uk> (16)
Subject: Re: 10.0377 books and reading

[2] From: Renee Landrum <slandrum@sophia.smith.edu> (26)
Subject: Re: 10.0377 books and reading

[3] From: Roger Brisson <rob1@psu.edu> (61)
Subject: books and reading

[4] From: Ron Tetreault <tetro@is.dal.ca> (17)
Subject: re: books, body and soul

[5] From: Hope Greenberg <hag@zoo.uvm.edu> (29)
Subject: Future of the book, of humanities

Date: Wed, 30 Oct 1996 21:53:14 GMT
From: "Dr. David Harrison" <prospero@pncl.co.uk>
Subject: Re: 10.0377 books and reading

One of the main problems with e-texts is the display technology.

E-texts may well soon function more like books as most folk seem to find it
easier to deal with the design of the book. Remember, the book was designed
as a functional artefact over a long period. Monitor screens are rather new
designs by comparison. In a few years flat white-screen LCD displays with
very high definition and low white luminescence (books don't glow) will make
reading an e-text a lot more like reading a book, perhaps using a
Newton-like virtual book. In the meantime, it amazes me that so few people
design workstations with the monitor built in to the desk, so you look down
on to it.

Although you can increase the font size in an e-text, they just don't have
that nice book smell. :-)

Dr. David Harrison.
Roehampton Institute, London.

Date: Wed, 30 Oct 1996 16:24:30 -0500 (EST)
From: Renee Landrum <slandrum@sophia.smith.edu>
Subject: Re: 10.0377 books and reading

> From: David Sisk <sisk@macalester.edu>
> Subject: Re: 10.0372 real books
> allowing. In my experience, the act of reading off of a computer screen
> "works" only for brief tidbits of information. The faculty and students
> I have worked with, here and at other institutions, print out nearly
> everything more than about three meaty paragraphs in length--including
> e-mail. This is especially true for those doing research, who plan to
> cite their sources and quote from them.

Okay, so perhaps I'm an exception, then. I'm in the process of designing
a website for credit (final project in an undergraduate special-studies).
For me it's just as easy to cut-and-paste an article from Netscape into a
notes file. I've got a database set up to handle things like this, so that
I can go look up an electronic source just like I might consult an
encyclopedia. Then, when I want to quote a source in my final work, I
cut-and-paste again. Works for me, but then again I'm a techno-geek.

To me, the *whole point* of having electronic references is that I don't
have to generate excess paper, and that I can sort and search and catalog
my notes easier on disk than on paper. Then again, I have a laptop...
I think that as portable-computer technology advances (and gets cheaper),
workstyles like mine will probably become more common...

+O-Renee Landrum, Smith College, Northampton MA---slandrum@sophia.smith.edu-O+
"Don't resent your struggles; struggle is a victory. Through struggle,
change occurs, and through change, liberation occurs." -Aishah Shahidah Simmons

Date: Thu, 31 Oct 1996 07:59:44 -0500
From: Roger Brisson <rob1@psu.edu>
Subject: books and reading

As I follow this interesting discussion on books and reading, I am
continually reminded by many of the comments made thus far just how much
this current revolution in transmitting the printed word resembles aspects
of the Gutenberg Revolution of the late 15th century. In discussing
electronic text, we naturally use the characteristics and values of the
medium we are most familiar with-- the printed book. In the late 15th
century the standard of comparison was of course the handwritten manuscript.
Just as we are doing now, the point of comparison then was taken on many
levels-- aesthetically, economically, technologically, and so on (Perhaps
the exception is the theological: if I recall correctly, it was also
questioned whether it was proper to print the Bible using the printing
press). For contemporaries of Gutenberg, there was much debate as to the
aesthetic qualities of the manuscript vs the printed book, and this drove
the early printers to do all they could to reproduce as accurately as
possible the characteristics of handrwritten manuscripts. In doing this it
took some time to recognize that the printed book possessed aesthetic
qualities that were arguably superior to manuscripts (not to mention the
practical advantages, which were more readily recognized). Recently IBM
introduced not a 6 pound, but rather a one-inch thin, 4 pound laptop with a
strikingly sharp, vibrant color 12-inch screen. With its one gigabyte hard
disk, it can hold several hundred books; indeed, with a cellular phone one
can gain access to all the resources of the Internet. With this kind of
technology I must admit that I have given up most of my (aesthetic)
resistance to reading an electronic book in bed. Only the most expensive
'coffee-table' books could reproduce the rich colors that this IBM
possesses, and the book of course is not in a position to infinitely
transform its images as the IBM can. I suspect at in the 15th century
there was also some question as to whether the manuscript or the printed
book was easier to read. I'm sure it took some time getting used to reading
the increasingly smaller fonts of the printed book, and many with poorer
eyesight (and without reading glasses) had problems with this. I'm
confident that as text display continues to improve in laptops the still
common view that one does not read more than a few paragraphs with a
computer will quickly disappear. As an aside, I find it interesting how many
Web pages now available are using 'parchment' wallpaper backgrounds,
reproducing the vellum qualities of the manuscript, to add to the richness
of their sites. As digital technology continues its breathtaking
development, it seems inevitable that we will come to view the printed book
(at least those without high-acid paper) much like how those in the
Renaissance came to regard the handwritten manuscript.

While we are using the printed book to structure our thoughts regarding
digital text, we are in danger of not recognizing the radical nature of the
revolution in electronic text. A couple of years ago I published an article
that was first made available via anonymous ftp. After announcing its
availability on an electronic list, within a week the article was downloaded
over 400 times by individuals around the world. This kind of rapid
dissemination of ideas is now a commonplace on the Internet, and it is
having a profound effect on how we do research (which in turn has had a
noticable influence in many areas of society). The theme has been touched on
in several postings already, but when viewing the printed book strictly as a
'container,' or vessel, of the the written word, I think it is possible to
recognize the liberating impulse that electronic text possesses vis a vis
the written word, and hence in transmitting ideas. Seen historically, the
printed book was a pragmatic, technological achievement that allowed us to
disseminate our ideas more efficiently, economically, and much faster than
the handwritten manuscript, and the same forces are driving the revolution
in the digital realm. The interesting exercise here, of course, is to
speculate how the 'vessel' of electronic text will shape our ideas (with its
dynamic, hypertext qualities), for it will certainly be much different than
how the vessel of the printed book has shaped our ideas.

Roger Brisson
Penn State University

Date: Thu, 31 Oct 1996 09:10:46 -0500
From: Ron Tetreault <tetro@is.dal.ca>
Subject: re: books, body and soul

Willard's analogy of the iron horse vs. the train is very appropriate to
where we are now in defining the nature of the e-text medium. I'd like to
add another: when it became possible to make moving pictures, early
directors were content to set their cameras up and film a play just as it
might unfold on the stage. But when someone decided the camera could move,
scenes could be edited, and close-ups had punch, the cinema was born.

What can we do in the new medium that we can't in print, and that is worth
all our trouble and effort?


+ Ronald Tetreault Tel: (902) 494-3494 +
+ Department of English Fax: (902) 494-2176 +
+ Dalhousie University Home Fax: (902) 453-4786 +
+ Halifax, Nova Scotia e-mail: tetro@is.dal.ca +
+ B3H 3J5 CANADA or Ronald.Tetreault@Dal.Ca +
+ http://is.dal.ca/~tetro/home/welcome.html +
+ learning by the (cyber)sea +

Date: Thu, 31 Oct 1996 11:45:11 -0500
From: Hope Greenberg <hag@zoo.uvm.edu>
Subject: Future of the book, of humanities

Hoorah! Greg has voiced here one aspect of the book versus computer
debate that has always bothered me:

> I am struck by the analogy with the introduction of electronic
> technology in the humanities. What concerns me is that in the replies to
> date, I don't see much evidence of attitude a) when it comes to
> electronic books. Are we all too old (or at least middle-aged)? Or
> should we see it as our duty as computing humanists to push the limits
> of information Technology, which means trying it out every chance we
> get? After all, (1) it's fun, and (2) if we don't, who will?

Who will control your scholarly future? Computer science nerds? Bill
Gates? While humanists are fiddling Rome is burning apace. Well, let's
not be needlessly alarmist. But I do a slow burn when I think of the
time spent arguing about whether there will be books in the future. That
will probably be determined by the likes of Harlequin and (fill in your
favorite multi-national publishing conglomerate here) rather than by
humanities scholars.

Computing is providing more and more possibilities for humanist
scholars. What can we do to encourage that and see it grow. Let's put a
saddle on this beast and have some control over where it takes us
instead of simply getting dragged in the dust behind it.

Oops...sorry, clumsy metaphorical soap box mode off...back to the main

Scholars who avoid or do not embrace information technology have no
opportunity to shape that technology to their current or future needs,
and they shut the door for their descendants. A sad prospect, indeed.

- Hope

Hope Greenberg
University of Vermont