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

Vertiginous Excess

The very first paper I ever gave at a computer conference was a flop. I didn't know the conventions that informed the delivery of information to the audience. I wasn't part of what Stanley Fish calls the 'interpretive community' for computer conventions . (It might also be the case that it wasn't a very good presentation for other reasons but let's for the moment assume that it was .)


This fact helps to frame the particular question that this paper asks: Is Linking Thinking? and to suggest in advance of the actual argument that the reason it is an interesting question is that just as we are in our adolescent years in terms of hypermedia production tools, we are infants still in terms of having vocabularies, conventions, and methods for interpreting these productions. 


It is not as if we in the computing business are somehow alone in missing this particular boat. Peter Lyman, from the School of Information Management Systems at Berkeley, wrote in the volume "Technology and Scholarly Communications" published by the University of California Press and based on a conference held by the Mellon Foundation in April of 1997:


"Consider, for example, the technology of scientific visualization and multimedia. Thus far, visual culture has been governed largely by the rhetorical rules of entertainment, which require us to surrender our critical judgment in order to enjoy the show. Thus the problem of the quality of multimedia information is not simply technical, but requires the development of new genres and rhetorical norms [emphasis  added] within which visual media are consistent with academic values such as critical judgment. Or, consider some of the new genres for digital documents, which might well be described as adding new kinds of value to information: hypertext, the Boolean search, and the database. The database raises new questions about the unit of knowledge, as we have seen. Will consumers subscribe to and read the digital journal, pay for network delivery of digital articles, or will the unit of knowledge be the screen, the digital analog of the paragraph, which is identified by a search engine or agent? HTML raises the question: who is responsible for the context of information, the author or the reader? If one can jump from text to text, linking things which had not previously been linked, it is the reader who creates context and therefore governs meaning, and reading becomes a kind of performing art. These questions might be described, perhaps, as a legitimation crisis, in that the traditional authorities which governed or mediated the structure and quality of print are no longer authoritative: the author, the editor, the publisher and the library. Who are the new authorities?"

the trouble with footnotes

Is linking just an extension of footnotes?

Lyman's observations speak to the heart of the problem of hypermedia scholarship, and raise hard questions about the future of scholarly communications, and the changing roles of various people both on and off campus with respect to the production of knowledge. Who is going to make this stuff? What will be the economics that drive its production, distribution, and consumption? How will it be evaluated? How does it challenge existing institutional practices such as tenure and promotion? As faculty, will you want to make this? As IT-support people, what does one need to know to collaborate on this sort of activity? As librarians, how does one know how to buy it, store it, catalog it, archive it? As a reader, how do you cite it?


This talk then will focus on three things:

1) a set of readings of existing scholarly hypermedia publications and a tentative set of negative definitions of what on the web is not scholarly hypermedia.
2) a review of some of the reception and meditations surrounding these publications both by the creators of these works, but also and more importantly by members of the scholarly communities for which these documents were prepared
3) a discussion of some of the evolving standards for improving the richness and stability of hypermedia productions

What is Hypermedia Scholarship?

From Assessing to Addressing
The original subtitle for this was Assessing the Value of Hypermedia Scholarship. In preparing this, it became clear that it is simply too early to begin that sort of  assessment. We are far enough along, however, to begin to  summarize and analyze some of the more ambitious attempts to "address" the problems and possibilities of  Scholarly Hypermedia. To do so requires some definition of the terms.

What is linking?
I will show many examples of linking as enabled by the hypertext markup language (html) , provide a host of meditations on the intellectual consequences of the application of linking technologies, and demonstrate how some of the new (circa: 2002) browsers allow for sophisticated linking using new mark-up languages such as xml, sgml, and hytime that begin to realize some of the theoretical work envisioned by the hypertext community


What is thinking?
According to Carl Smith, Professor of English and American Studies and History at Northwestern, in his brief essay entitled "Can You Do Serious History on the Web?" (AHA Perspectives, Feb 1998) serious history (and by extension, other forms of 'genuine' scholarship) means "original work that is responsibly based on primary sources, is intelligently informed by relevant scholarship, and makes a clear argument or group of arguments. "  As we progress through the reception of hypermedia scholarship, we will see that Smith's definition, while at times pushed to its limits, is not necessarily a bad definition, and certainly helps to distinguish the works I am presenting from its close cousins that, while scholarly, are not scholarship according to Smith's rule.

the trouble with this definition

What are the problems with Smith's formulation of scholarship?


What is addressing?

As is true of all the nouns in the title of this paper, addressing is a complex topic in and of itself. It assumes a stable, durable system of pathways that can be reproduced and communicated. This paper will deal both with the technical developments surrounding addressing and name space, but also with the sense of addressing conveyed by  "This paper addresses the problem of scholarship in the new millenium", which speaks to Lyman's point about the need for conventions if not standards to develop around the emerging genres and rhetorical norms of hypermedia. One of the most exhilarating features of the web is that it breaks the hegemony of the publishing industry, which in turn challenges the author and the reader to establish authority without the highly-evolved set of contextual clues that make visible our print culture. 


What is Scholarly Hypermedia?

I have a somewhat fussy (if not fuzzy) notion of Scholarly Hypermedia, which  is an awkward phrase to begin with. In the hopes of making clearer what the domain of interest is, I will demonstrate some examples of work that while both scholarly and digital do not constitute Scholarly Hypermedia.


It isn't about developing curricular materials academic portals, recovering lost texts, or putting already written books or journals on the web. All of these activities are important and relevant and many of the underlying technical and organizational issues come to bear on hypermedia scholarship, but for the purposes of this essay, they are different than hypermedia scholarship. One of the problems is that the technologies/technologists are imagining only incremental change, and not anticipating the needs of authros and readers who  want to take full advantage of the affordances of networked multimedia.


Scholarly Hypermedia is scholarship -- as distinguished from entertainment, 'pure' information, 'simple' translation of print into bits, textbook writing-- that takes advantage of the unique affordances of networked information, here meaning linking, the inclusion of multimedia data types, and so forth. 


on to negative examples

intro | not hypermedia scholarship | examplesstandards | conclusions 


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