Pre-web Digital Publishing and the Lore of Electronic Literature

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

This Element examines a watershed moment in the recent history of digital publishing through a case study of the pre-web, serious hypertext periodical, the Eastgate Quarterly Review of Hypertext (1994-1995). Early hypertext writing relied on standalone, mainframe computers and specialized authoring software. With the Web launching as a mass distribution platform, EQRH faced a fast-evolving technological landscape, paired with an emergent gift and open access economy. Its non-linear writing experiments afford key insights into historical, medium-specific authoring practices.

Access constraints have left EQRH under-researched and threatened by obsolescence. To address this challenge, this study offers platform-specific analyses of all the EQRH’s crossmedia materials, including works that have hitherto escaped scholarly attention. It deploys a form of conceptually oral ethno-historiography: the lore of electronic literature. The book deepens our understanding of the North American publishing industry’s history and contributes to the overdue preservation of early digital writing.

(Source: Cambridge University Press copy)

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Overall, this study offers a multi-faceted, plurivocal understanding of a historic yet fleeting moment in the late 20th century publishing industry. Chapter 2 examines the media-historical dilemma of the EQRH, highlighting Mark Bernstein’s and Eastgate’s critical role and documenting the ways in which his particular vision translated into practices of solicitation, author liaison, contractual matters, packaging, distribution, PR and communications. Chapter 3 zooms in on the EQRH itself as an experimental platform for new hypertext forms and genres and provides platform-specific analyses of its primary material, including hitherto un- and under-documented works. In the concluding chapter, I evaluate the lasting significance of the EQRH and explore some ideas of where small e-literary publishing is headed now and in the years to come.

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Astrid Ensslin