Exhibiting Pathfinders

Madeleine Brookman at SURCA 2015

Madeleine explaining Pathfinders to visitors to her poster at SURCA

Madeleine Brookman and I are in Pullman, WA to show the work that Madeleine has done on the Pathfinders multimedia book to hundreds of faculty and students at WSU’s main campus.  The event is called SURCA (Student Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity) showcase. We have hauled iPads, a pedestal, laptop, and copies of Patchwork Girl, Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse, and other works of early e-lit to show to the audience.  With 102 videos and other media already organized into the Scalar environment, the book is looking robust.  Her work will be evaluated by judges and could possibly win an award––a Crimson, if it wins 1st place, or a Gray if it wins 2nd place.  She has also applied for a CAS Summer Mini-Grant and another Auvil Fellowship for next year to continue her work on the project.

Multimedia Book Almost Ready

scalarThe open-source, multimedia book created in Scalar that we are making for  Pathfinders is almost ready.  It will be comprised of 102 videos of authors’ and reader’s traversals and interviews + commentary by Stuart and me for each work + images and documentation about each work.  So much credit goes to my research assistant Madeleine Brookman, who edited a lot of the video, uploaded them all to Vimeo and then arranged them in the Scalar structure that Stuart and I produced. It was a very pleasant shock to realize yesterday that we are so close to completing this first phase of Pathfinders.

I am also pleased to announce that Madeleine has been invited to talk about her research with Pathfinders at the 2015  Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities at WSU Pullman at the end of March.  This is a highly competitive event and one that results in prizes for the best projects.  Needless to say, I am very proud of her.  Madeleine is a recipient of a 2014 Auvil Scholars Fellowship and has applied for the 2015 fellowship as well.  Her work on Pathfinders shows that she is very adept at independent research.

Finally, Pathfinders has been featured in the university’s Research Now! publication.  Here is a link to the article.

Pathfinders Update: Traversals, Grants, & References


While we may have been quiet lately, rest assured much has been done on Pathfinders.  

First, Stuart and I are planning the next round of traversals and have received permission from Michael Joyce and MD Coverley to include their work in the project.  The inclusion of afternoon: a story and Califia, respectively, are important additions to our research.  Joyce’s hypertext novel is one of the most cited in literary scholarship and Coverley’s is one that uniquely uses Toolbook and a PC for its production.


Adding two traversals to Pathfinders means we have been busy writing grants to support our work.  To date, we have written five grants in support of the project, with the target of having enough material in the open source multimedia book to pursue a larger foundation grant.  We are getting pretty close . . .

Other good news:  Pathfinders is referenced by noted e-lit scholar Leonardo Flores in an interview for the journal, E-Literatura by Karla Guadalupe Gonzales Nino and Monica Nepote.  The interview focuses on “the creation of the first [e-lit works] in the eighties to boom years new works were developed from  programming, special software and the proliferation of random write on social networks.”  The journal is sponsored by the Centro de Cultura Digital, in Mexico City, Mexico.



Talking about Pathfinders at the University of Victoria

etcl.logo_I will be giving a talk, entitled “Paths to PAD:  Saving the Legacy of Early Electronic Literature,” to scholars involved in the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab (ETCL) at the University of Victoria on January 22, 2015.  The presentation argues that while digital preservation has centered on emulation and migration, the Pathfinders project has made it clear that the 3rd and least popular method of preservation––collection––though challenging to undertake, provides essential information about a work that may be lost. Ultimately, the work Stuart and I have done with the traversals of five different works of e-lit has led us to encourage preservationists of early digital literature to pursue all three methods. I will be looking specifically at Judy Malloy’s Uncle Roger in this presentation in order to underpin my argument.

I thank Dr. Ray Siemens for this invitation and for the opportunity to visit the ETCL.  While I am there, I will be able to observe the work the lab is doing with Wikipedia, something I am very interested in.

Patchwork Girl on Flash Drive


Animated gif from Eastgate’s website

Eastgate Systems announced this week that it is releasing Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl on Flash Drive, for Macs.

We have posted the interview and traversal that Jackson gave us for the Pathfinders project on our Vimeo channel.

I have ordered two copies for my archives and an additional floppy version to supplement the one I already own.  It will be interesting to compare these two versions along with the CD version to see if there are any variations and how the platform affects the cultural context of the work.



Pathfinders at Narrative 2015

Stuart and I have been invited to give a talk about Pathfinders at the 2015 International Narrative Conference, taking place at Swisshotel in Chicago, Il from March 5-8, 2015. We were invited to present on a panel created by Eric Dean Rasmussen that also includes Bernard Gervais, Ariane Savoie, and Ed Finn.  My particular talk is entitled, Uncle Buddy and an Argument for Collection.”

Here is the abstract:
In order to experience John McDaid’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse, one of the finest examples of early electronic literature and an early experiment with multimedia storytelling, readers need access to a Macintosh computer, circa 1992, running Hypercard 2.0­­––for reading and seeing the words and images––and a cassette player––for hearing the music. Because these technologies are no longer easily accessible, this important cultural work is not well known today by a new generation of literary scholars.

There are countless other Uncle Buddy’s out there, works published by Eastgate Systems, Voyager, and other prominent publishers of the early to mid 1990s. This presentation argues for collection as a method of conservation of digital literature, focusing on examples of early literature that are now impossible to read or gain access to and processes those involved in collection use for introducing a contemporary public to this important literary work.


I want to thank Eric for organizing this panel and giving Stuart and me the chance to talk about our work.


Bill Bly’s Traversal and Interview Are Ready

The videos of Bill Bly’s traversal and interview are now available at our Vimeo Channel.

Bill Bly Interview, Part 1 from Dene Grigar on Vimeo.

If you are visiting this site, you probably already know that Bill is the author of the hypertext, We Descend, an important work of early digital literature published by Eastgate Systems in the 1990s.

You can read the brief essay I wrote about the work.  If you are a Dante lover, you may enjoy the essay from the perspective of the journey theme found in Dante’s Commedia.

We included Bill in Pathfinders at the invitation of Matthew Kirschembaum at the University of Maryland’s Maryland Institute of Technology in the Humanities  where the Bill Bly Collection is archived.  Porter Olson, a PhD candidate at UMD and a scholar involved in the Bit Curator project, is transcribing the videos so that they exist in a textual form for use by scholars.  It is this kind of translational redundancy that Pathfinders embraces, advocating as we do for collecting as well as emulating and migrating for digital translation and transcriptions for media translation.

I am writing about media translation in my article for Maria Mencia’s book to be published with the University of West Virginia Press.  Specially, I will be looking at the ways in which Uncle Roger changes as it moves from the serial poem delivered over the WELL, to the database narrative that constitutes the version found on the floppy disks, and then to the web-based version available currently.  A same type of study can be undertaken with Bill’s We Descend since it too has been published in various formats.  Any grad students looking for a research topic for a M.A. thesis out there?


Pathfinders Trailer

We are pleased to announce that the Pathfinders trailer is ready for viewing.  Produced by Madeleine Brookman, a CMDC Honor student who is Research Assistant for Pathfinders, the trailer gives a good idea about the aim and scope of the project.  It features all of the artists Stuart and I have work with in the project and highlights some of the moments of their traversals.

Most of the footage for this video was shot in the Electronic Literature Lab (ELL) that I direct at Washington State University Vancouver and, so, shows some of the 35 vintage computers we have access to for the project.

Students at Princeton U Using Pathfinders Videos for Their Course

As scholars we labor hard on our research projects hoping that what we do is useful to others and indeed we are making new knowledge for the world.  So, it is always a delight to find out this is true.

I learned today that students in Judy Malloy’s course, Hypertext Lit traversals for Electronic Literature: Lineage, Theory, and Contemporary Practice, at Princeton University have consulted the videos that Stuart and I produced for the project and made available at Vimeo.

Pathfinding: The Next Step

[Much of this language came from the grant narrative and so means that Stuart and I are co-authors this post.]

While Stuart and I finish Pathfinders, where we have developed the methodology for preserving the experience of early digital literature, we have already conceptualized the next step, which we are calling Pathfinding.  This phase is a two-day symposium that will bring together leaders in the preservation, archiving, and dissemination of electronic literature, computer games, virtual worlds, digital collections, online journals, and mobile media to initiate a nationwide, trans- institutional consortium for treatment of born digital objects.

The project builds upon the research undertaken in Pathfinders (Grigar and Moulthrop, NEH ODH Start Up Grant, 2013) that introduced an important innovation––the documentation of experience––to the preservation, archiving, and dissemination of born-digital productions. To support the symposium, we have written another Stage 2 NEH Start Up grant. We will know in March if it has been funded.

The symposium’s goals are to : 1) share and exchange knowledge gained from Pathfinders, as well as other initiatives relating to the preservation of born digital objects; 2) coordinate diverse approaches to work of this type; 3) broaden the scope of inquiry beyond art and literature to all types of digital expression within Digital Humanities; and 4) facilitate a critical discussion of concepts and methods in this emerging field.

Pathfinding  aims to bring new approaches and document best practices in a core area of Digital Humanities: the posterity of expressive objects developed in computational media, what we refer to as “born digital objects.”  While Pathfinders focused on documenting experience through a process we call the “traversal,” exploring collection––that is, the use of historical platforms that themselves suggest a specific cultural context––as a method of preservation, archiving, and dissemination, Pathfinding applies our findings for the purpose of opening a critical dialogue about the full range of relevant strategies, including the importance of combining migration to newer media, software emulation, and collection for this purpose.  Discussion among key innovators from a wide range of fields that generate and/or study born digital objects will improve understanding of potential and limits of various approaches and lead to better coordination of future research, both in sharing of tools, insights, and strategies, and in decisions about areas of focus.

The need for this kind of project in the humanities led by those with experience in the production and scholarship of digital born mediacannot be overstated.  As Alan Liu observes, “[w]here postindustrialism extends its baseline back only as far as the last financial quarter or year, the humanities respond by asserting that the real value of knowledge can only be gauged across centuries and millennia” (381). Writing has been the primary means by which humanists have extended their work through time, but with the advent of digital media, writing faces serious complications. Enfolded within software systems, writing and other forms of symbolic expression are subject to disruptive forces of obsolescence, in material as well as social terms. Media objects themselves grow more complex, from the basic duality between encoded or latent text, and what users see, to the particular intricacies of individual interfaces and architectures. If the humanities are to remain a vital cultural force, it is essential that humanists evolve ways of dealing with relentlessly advancing media.

It is also clear that multiple approaches are needed. Some objects may lend themselves to software emulation or system migration––two other methods of preservation––while others, constrained by property claims and other issues, may be better served by collection and the documentation of experience that we argue goes hand in hand with it. Each of these methods brings unique affordances, and each also comes with limitations. Scholars committed to the posterity of computationally intensive expression need a frame of reference that integrates approaches across a broad domain of application.

While preservation, archiving, and dissemination has long been an interest of the Electronic Literature Organization’s (ELO) PAD project, reflected in the publication of Acid-Free Bits (version 1.0) in 2004 and Born-Again Bits in 2005, much has taken place in nine years that require an extension of this work. The development, for example, of scholarly collections of Stephanie Strickland’s and Judy Malloy’s work at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University and Deena Larsen’s and Bill Bly’s at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities at the University of Maryland predicates further research in best practices for preserving born digital work. Moreover, we believe there is much to be gained in sharing what we have learned from Pathfinders with scholars and artists who study and create other forms of born digital objects so that we can determine best practices for those works where participation and interaction feature largely and continue to contribute to literary criticism and history of these important cultural works.