5.0484 Philosophy of Hypertext? (1/47)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 27 Nov 1991 19:03:56 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0484. Wednesday, 27 Nov 1991.

Date: Wed, 27 Nov 1991 08:38:05 -0500
From: mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca (W. McCarty)
Subject: hypertextual doctoral scholarly edition

The question just raised on Humanist about tools for a hypertextual edition
of a Latin text with English translation raises in my mind some broader
issues. Perhaps some members of this group would care to comment on
my deliberately heterodox, mischevious, but honestly intended observations.

Recently I had the opportunity of putting together some thoughts on
the future of the electronic book for a lecture. One of the issues I
wished to raise was the extent to which hypertextual techniques
represented something not just new but also significantly better than
what can be achieved on paper (or parchment, vellum, wax, etc.).
Rummaging around in my library at home, I came up with a number of
examples ranging from modern critical texts & scholarly editions to
medieval mss. in a variety of languages and traditions. Examining
these closely, I catalogued the "proto-hypertextual" techniques
commonly employed in them. I was not surprised to find that these
techniques were numerous, subtle, and effective, often well beyond
what could be achieved on very expensive equipment with many hours of
programming invested in the effort. I wondered, and still wonder, if
our joy in hypertext isn't due to a combination of our ignorance of
these techniques and the poverty of the medium with which the computer
provides us.

Observing contemporary hypertextual systems, albeit only the few that
I happen to know about, I also wondered if the state of the art isn't
rather less than impressive in yet another way -- and needlessly so.
Although it is true that systems such as Intermedia present a wealth
of choices to the student, say in the area of Victoriana as developed
in Context32, does the student really gain from having it all laid out
like that, in a manner that can be freely explored but that provides
for this exploration within a fixed iconic panoply of objects? Have we
really advanced the state of the art of the "book" by allowing it, for
example, to play a concerto or show some animation?

In broader terms, I wonder if we are still stuck in the "horseless
carriage" stage of computing technology, i.e. the imitative stage
before the nature of the new medium itself becomes clear to its users.

So, I look at the request for software to do an e-edition of a
Latin text and wonder what's wrong with doing same on paper, in the
oldfashioned way. This is not to say it shouldn't, only to raise
questions about what we're doing and why we're doing it -- so that it
and other things can be done more effectively.


Willard McCarty