Pathfinders: Documenting the Experience of Early Digital Literature

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2018
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Electronic Literature Organization 2014: Hold the Light
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Description (English): 

This presentation outlines the work currently underway to preserve early digital literature authored by Stuart Moulthrop, Judy Malloy, John McDaid, Shelley Jackson, and Bill Bly. Entitled “Pathfinders: Documenting the Experience of Early Digital Literature,” the project is led by Dene Grigar (Washington State University Vancouver) and Stuart Moulthrop (University of Wisconsin––Milwaukee). It is a digital preservation project that aims to capture an important moment in literary history: the development of early digital literature. As such, it seeks to enrich our understanding of key texts from that moment and pioneer methods that can be used to preserve and explore other examples of participatory media.

Starting from the premise that much of electronic literature is interactive and, so, is predicated on reader’s experience, the project focuses on the production of documentary video recordings of readers as they engage with five works of early computational literature involving multi-path reading strategies, dating from the crucial period of invention that preceded popularization of the Internet (roughly 1985-99). Part reading, part performance, part software user-experience, these sessions constitute what we call “traversals.” The readers making our traversals include both authors of the works themselves, as well as a group of volunteer from a diversity of age, gender, and interests. Thus, “Pathfinders” brings new approaches and documents best practices in the study of the digital humanities, specifically with literary artifacts generated from digital production. The project also develops prototypes of new digital tools for preserving, analyzing, and making accessible digital resources. These methods and practices for presenting traversals in a rich audio-visual record can be applied to other forms of participatory media, such as web-based writing (blogs, wikis), multi-user spaces, and computer games.

Three of the traversals have taken place at the Electronic Literature Lab (ELL) at Washington State University Vancouver, directed by Grigar. ELL contains 28 vintage Macintosh computers dating from 1983 and, so, allows the traversals to occur on computers for and with which the works were originally produced or viewed. Malloy’s traversal occurred at her office at Princeton University; Bly’s, at MITH where his work is collected. The end product of Pathfinders is a multimedia media created in Scalar that will be distributed for free to the public.

(Source: Author's Description)

Contributors' notes: 

“Pathfinders: Documenting the Experience of Early Digital Literature,” led by Dene Grigar (Washington State University Vancouver) and Stuart Moulthrop (University of Wisconsin––Milwaukee), is a digital preservation project that captures an important moment in literary history: the development of early digital literature. As such, it aims to enrich our understanding of key texts from that moment and pioneer methods that can be used to preserve and explore other examples of participatory media. It is funded by a Digital Humanities Start Up Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Works preserved include: Judy Malloy's "Uncle Roger: The Blue Notebook," John McDaid's "Uncle Buddy Phantom Funhouse," Stuart Moulthrop's "Victory Garden," Bill Bly's "We Descend," and Shelley Jackson's "Patchwork Girl."

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Dene Grigar