Is Linking Thinking? Addressing Scholarly Hypermedia
michael roy, information technology services, wesleyan university  home

Conclusions: the prison house of standards

The American Quarterly experiment explicitly focused not on theoretical issues but on practical issues of design, production, and real values to existing fields of inquiry. Even with these restrictions, the authors of the response papers could not resist the temptation to predict the future and produce what I am calling mini-manifesto moments, which as noted above, have as much to do with their relationship to authority as they do with their relationship to technology.

The print version of American Quarterly does not impose any differential requirements for reading specific articles -- we do not expect warnings like 'must be read with an up to date pair of bifocals'-- On the other hand, reading the Quarterly also comes with its own elaborate set of educational and episteological requirements. In this transitional period, "minimum requirements" for reading are going to be a part of on-line publishing. " Rosensweig.


We must be willing to " put ourselves on the line (and online) where our work can be criticized as part of the process of advancing the state of the art. And as readers, we must commit ourselves to struggling through essays that are sometimes hard to read-- whether that means that they crash our web browswers or that the clash with our expectatins of what scholarship is all about." rr


As Randy Bass writes "we should encourage the development of innovative environments aligned with the structure of fields and subfields." Two such initiatives that Bass leads are




Taking Bass' claim seriously, and by extension thinking seriously about the relationship of the archive to analysis, raises the question is: what is the relationship between the methods and emerging standards/best practices for creating digital archives (digital library initiatives) and the methods and standards/best practices for creating digital scholarship of the types presented today?


The paradox of scholarly publishing on academic campuses has been well documented. Universities underwrite the expense of the production of knowledge, faculty do research in university facilities and write research articles, which in turn are edited and in many cases turned into camera-ready copy by university staff. These are then published by for-profit publishing houses, which in turn charge the universities to gain access to the fruits of their investment.


The web, taken here to mean both html and documents produced using emerging standards (xml,tei, etc.)  stands to turn this model on its head. If one looks at initiatives such as SPARC (scholarly publishing and academic resources coalition),  Stoa ( ), and the Open Archives Initiative (  ) 

see their projects list ( ) and their ideas for standards-based publications ( ) one can see emerging an environment that begins to define these new genres and rhetorics  while simultaneously addressing the economic costs to the University with respect to acquisitions. Neither of these initiatives appear to address the production costs one might associate with the work of creating Hypermedia Scholarship that is very different than the publication of traditional print-based scholarship. (DSpace might be,however)   The SPARC web site states that "Easy and open long-term access to research and scholarship cannot be secured by libraries alone. All members of the educational community--faculty, administrators, librarians, and publishers--must be willing to explore new ways of thinking about the creation and dissemination of scholarly communication ". ( 


While that is probably technically correct, I worry about how attractive and therefore useful the standards for archives may prove to be for the creation of hypermedia scholarship of the sort proto-typed in the examples I demonstrate. 


Flaggers v. Taggers and Tough green-eye shade questions
In the same Mellon-sponsored edition on scholarly communication, Susan Hockey triumphes sgml and standards-based projects 

 "The linking, or rather the interpretation which gives rise to the linking is essentially what humanities scholarship is about. When the information is stored as encoded pieces of information, it can be put together in many different ways and used for many different purposes of which creating a print publication is only one. We can expect other projects to begin to work in this way as they see the advantages of encoding the features of interest in their material and manipulating them in different ways."



"There is no doubt that SGML is considered expensive by some projects, but the pay-off can be seen many times over further down the line. The quick and dirty solution to a computing problem does not last very long and history has shown how much time can be wasted converting from one system to another or how much data can be lost because it is in a proprietary system. It is rather surprising that the simple notion of encoding what the parts of a document are, rather than what the computer is supposed to do with them, took so long to catch on. Much of the investment in any computer project is in the data and SGML is the best way we know so far of ensuring that the data will last for a long time and that it can be used and re-used for many different purposes. It also ensures that the project is not dependent on one software vendor. Projects are always under pressure to produce results and this can be done simply with SGML documents by using SoftQuad's Panorama SGML viewer"



but one has to think, looking at the work that I have presented , that the rapid development, the experimentation, the play afforded by simply using off the shelf web software that you can use without having to hire a consultant to write a dtd for you has real merit.


Contrast Hockey's strict orthodoxy with respect to standards with the far more pragmatic approach championed by James 0'Donnell

"For we do not know how to predict successes: there are no "leading economic indicators" in cyberspace to help us hedge and lay our bets. Those of us who have responsibility for large institutional ventures at one level or another find this horribly disconcerting, and our temptation over the next months and years is always going to be to ask the tough, green-eyeshade questions, as indeed we must. But at the same time, what we must be working for is an environment in which not every question is pressed to an early answer and in which opportunity and openness are sustained long enough to shape a new space of discourse and community. We are not yet ready for systems thinking about electronic information, for all that we are tempted to it: the pace of change and the shifts of scale are too rapid. The risk is always that we will think we discern the system of the future and so seek to institutionalize it as rapidly as possible, to force a system into existing by closing it off by main force of software, harware, or text-encoding choices. To do so now, I believe, is a mistake.  ( "


If new methodologies are needed to eventually institutionalize and preserve these new forms of scholarship, the extreme specialization that has occurred within the academy means that people who provide computing services are going to necessarily be at a loss to help with the particulars of the vast majority of projects that they will be approached on. This same extreme specialization also means that the new types of collaborations between faculty, computing types (problems with names) librarians, with publishers, and with their colleagues in other academic departments to undertake this sort of work. 


There are hard, pragmatic questions to be answered: How can the disciplinary needs and desires percolate back up into the technology? Are these technologies useful to some disciplines and not to others? Who will write the DTDs for these sorts of publications? Are there opportunities for collaborative work or needs for further expanding the important being done at places like the Institute for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities at the University of Virginia or at The Scholarly Technology Group at Brown?


Stepping back from these particular issues, Rosensweig asks (in a different forum within American Quarterly):


As with views of the Internet, in general, scholars should avoid unreflective boosterism or instinctive Luddism. New technologies could narrow access to students with the resources to purchase the latest equipment. And university administrators eager to cut costs or large corporations looking for new arenas for profitmaking could also use new technology for their own ends. But at the same time, new technology opens up the resources of the Library of Congress to students at institutions without extensive libraries and it offers ways for scholars to create their own teaching materials without the mediation of giant publishing conglomerates. Neither the democratization or the commodification of higher education is inherent in the technology. "New technologies," Phil Agre observes, "create a wider range of institutional possibilities, but precisely for that reason also force us to articulate more deeply the nature and purpose of our work." In that spirit, we need, as he urges, to seize the opportunity to "design institutions that more fully express the values of a democratic society." The future of the Internet and other new communication technologies--whether within the specific realm of education or in society at large--will be determined by how we act and organize as scholars and citizens.


The first fifty years of book publishing produced some of the most remarkable examples of printed matter and has provided not only historians of the book but also cultural historians and literary critics with a treasure-trove of materials for understanding the complexities of the transition from manuscript to print, and (some say) to the modern nation-state. We too (perhaps) work in the middle of a transition, and these digital incunabula will serve future scholars as they try to understand the changes brought about by the complex interplay among emerging technologies, new economies, and new forms of education and scholarship. 


Unless of course they can't open any of the files!


intro | not hypermedia scholarship | examplesstandards | conclusions 


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