Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Spring cleaning of available topics list

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January's going to be a busy month for ArchBook, with some new team members joining the Toronto crew (Jennette and Matt), my ArchBook workshop beginning at the iSchool, and work beginning on a public interface for our image database. Seems like a good time to do some spring cleaning of the topics list posted on the "For Authors" page.

Yesterday I updated the page with a list of topics that are already underway, or which team members have expressed interest in working on. That list is pretty long, which is good, but we need to make the list of available topics is also healthy -- especially now that we're about to solicit a bunch of new entries.

I've updated that list with some new topics that emerged from offline discussions with Richard, Scott, and Rebecca. Defining a good topic is tricky, and I've erred on the side of inclusiveness, figuring that it's best to record ideas before they slip our memories, and then to refine them later. The criteria for a good entry, as I see them, would be:
  • the feature has long enough history or range of use to support an entry (as opposed to being a one-off oddity that would work better as a blog post); remember, that history can be one of success or failure, or both
  • the feature has what Scott calls "digital potential," in that it can inform digital interface design (including but not limited to e-books)
  • the feature's "digital potential" isn't simply that of a cute literalized metaphor, like page-turning animations, but can be connected to a more abstract sense of functionality; for example, bookmarks are a good feature because they point us toward bookmarking as an activity that fits into a bigger picture of discontinuous reading (thinking of Stallybrass's "Books and Scrolls" article)

    Note: with the above criterion I'm hoping we can avoid the mistakes that Johanna Drucker warns against in her chapter "Modeling Functionality: From Codex to E-book" in SpecLab. That chapter is essential reading for us. Further in the background here, but also important, is John Unsworth's notion of scholarly primitives -- that's probably not a concept we need to apply dogmatically here, in the sense of matching features up with primitives, but the spirit of that article could help us think about what textual features matter, and why.
  • ideally, though not necessarily, the feature should be relevant to the work of the other INKE teams; I don't want to confine my students to this criterion, but we should ensure that new entries undertaken by INKE team members meet this requirement
Do these criteria make sense? If not, how should we revise them?

In any case, what entry topics should we add to the list? Would you define any of the existing ones differently? Do you have an idea for an entry that you can't quite put a name to?


  1. Here are some ideas, with some rationale/commentary added in a few cases. I have also erred on the side of inclusiveness, and I don't see any obvious reason to exclude any of the topics that Alan has listed.
    * Initials, historiated and otherwise, as well as litterae notabiliores
    * decoration
    * copyright page (which performs some important functions that are often lost in the Web environment).
    * bibliography/works cited
    * preface (an important entry-level device in the printed book: is there a conventional element in Web-based documents that serves similar functions?)
    * dedication
    * epigraph (has been easily adopted in the Web environment)
    * tabs and leather strips called pippes (perhaps in relation to bookmarks)
    * nota bene (N.B.) (perhaps in relation to the manicule)

  2. It's great to see this list expanding.

    Decoration-- I mentioned to Alan yesterday that we could use more entries on image/illustration, and so I am happy to see decoration here. I wonder if decoration would be limited to a discussion of the page, or would it also include the binding, the foreedges of the leaves etc.

    Historiated initials seems a little close to (if not part of) the entry on decorated letter--I'll have to think a bit more about.

    Copyright Page--lots of potential here. The privilegio, establishment of copyright law, copyright and digital media.

    I like the others as well.

    What about an entry on marks of ownership? It could include a discussion of bookplates, stamps and autographs. The digital potential is there too.

    Other ideas:

    --different fonts/letterforms (italic, roman etc.)

  3. Great ideas -- I've updated the "For authors" page with these and some others. Nice to see that list nearly doubling this week. I've become a bit more verbose in the descriptions of possible entries on that page, but hopefully that's helpful rather than confusing.

    I agree with Scott that historiated initials are being covered in the "decorated letters" entry currently in progress. However, I don't think "litterae notabiliores" is covered substantially there, and it could use an entry of its own. One of my students was initially interested in historiated initials, so I'll propose "litterae notabiliores" to her as another option.

    While looking up "litterae notabiliores" I discovered that the British Library has online an illustrated glossary of manuscript terms ( This was an exciting find because: 1) it's really useful to us, especially to counter-balance the print culture bias we're worried about; and 2) it doesn't duplicate our project. It's worth browsing through the entries to look for potential topics.

    The topic on "inline images" came to me after reading Edward Tufte's work on Galileo's images of Saturn. It's also relevant to what Tufte calls "sparklines," and perhaps also the famous visualizations in Byrne's edition of Euclid.

    Anyway, great to see the ideas accumulating here. Please keep them coming.

  4. Here are some more possible topics: paper, within which watermark and countermark, chain line, and wire line might be spot lights. The latter three might join watermark in our list as independent entries, alternatively. Format, within which folio, quarto, octavo, etc. might be spot lights, or perhaps each warrants its own entry? Other possible spot lights within format or entries in their own right might be book, codex, scroll, role, manuscript, typescript, holograph, and autograph. We might also want to look at principles of division: section, part, or book; chapter; paragraph. It seems likely there are more.

    1. The list gets better by the day. Thanks Richard. I was wondering about some other topics, both topics that are a bit more difficult to define and topics that reach beyond the features of the book.

      The first is erasure: here I am thinking of things like bearing type (and the subsequent unlinked impressions one sees left on paper only with a raking light). One might also think of wax tablets and table books, those devices that allow one to erase. The erased/deleted/hidden text is also very much a part of digital environments.

      Also, thinking a bit more about architecture, I wondered if reading devices (stands, weights, bookmarks---even bookwheels) might qualify for an entry. Understandably, our focus is often on the book itself, and less on where the book is read and/or used and how we read it?

      In regards to this final point, we mentioned inks, but what about writing instruments like quills, pens, pencils, highlighters. Is this another cluster?

      Do these suggestions go too far beyond ArchBook's trajectory?

    2. I think these are great suggestions, Scott. I've added them to the website list.

      Erasure seems like an essential topic, though I wouldn't include bearing type and other ghost impressions under that heading. Oddly enough, it seems to fit more with waste paper when you think about its digital potential. Recently I found an unused paragraph mark image file buried in the guts of an EPUB e-book, which reminded me both of uninked type and waste paper. However, I wouldn't compare that e-book example to bearing type because the unused image file wasn't serving some other structural function, as bearing type does.

      As for writing instruments, that might work best as a single entry. There's a clear link to the use (and non-use) of the stylus with tablet computers.

  5. Agreed about principles of division deserving a topic, or several. Parkes's touchstone article about compilatio and ordinatio would be helpful here, as would Ann Blair's latest book. I can see clear lines of continuity to digital texts there.

    About paper, I fear that many highly specific entries on that topic would lose the forest through the trees. For example, are chain and wire lines really textual features according to the criteria above? Oddly enough, I've started to notice pseudo-chain and wire lines showing up as PowerPoint slide backgrounds. But is that anything more than a literalized metaphor (thinking of the Drucker I mentioned above)? Can we relate chain/wire lines to functionality and affordances, the way we can with section divisions and ordinatio?

    Maybe the solution is to take one step back in terms of abstraction, and define the feature as "substrates," which would expand to include wax tablets, papyrus, and light-emitting versus light-reflecting tablet screens. I could imagine Christian writing a good entry along those lines.

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