What Hypertext Is

Critical Writing
Language: 
Year: 
2004
Presented at Event: 
Page Numbers: 
126-127
Record Status: 
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Abstract (in English): 

Over the past couple decades, as the term "hypertext" has gained a certain popular currency, a question has been raised repeatedly: "What is hypertext?" Our most respected scholars offer a range of different, at times incompatible, answers. This paper argues that our best response to this situation is to adopt the approach taken with other terms that are central to intellectual communities (such as "natural selection," "communism," and "psychoanalysis"), a historical approach. In the case of "hypertext" the term began with Theodor Holm ("Ted") Nelson, and in this paper two of his early publications of "hypertext" are used to determine its initial meaning: the 1965 "A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing, and the Indeterminate" and the 1970 "No More Teachers' Dirty Looks." It is concluded that hypertext began as a term for forms of hypermedia (human-authored media that "branch or perform on request") that operate textually. This runs counter to definitions of hypertext in the literary community that focus solely on the link. It also runs counter to definitions in the research community that privilege tools for knowledge work over media. An inclusive future is envisioned.

Pull Quotes: 

How should a historically-based definition of hypertext continue, after these initial sentences? It would make sense to note that, in the literary community, the definition of hypertext shifted so that it applied almost exclusively to chunk-style media. It could be speculated that this took place because most authors who called their work hypertext fiction or poetry worked in link-oriented forms (though exceptions such as the work of Jim Rosenberg were well known). Within the hypertext research community a different shift took place, with a focus on knowledge work (largely on tools Nelson might have instead called “facilities”) rather than media. At the same time, this community maintained a definition of hypertext’s possible structures that was broader than the chunk-style. With the rise of the Web (a chunk-style hypertext media system) the term’s popular understanding shifted.

Teaching Resource using this Critical Writing:

Resourcesort ascending Teaching Resource Type Author Year
Digital Poetry (English 3116) Syllabus Lori Emerson 2012
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Scott Rettberg