Pathfinders at Whittier College

Pathfinders is being taught at Whittier College this semester in a course called Digital Textuality. Students in the course are reading the chapter on Shelley Jackson and watching the videos from her Traversal. Here’s the link to the syllabus:

Judy Malloy’s Motifs

its-name-was-penelope-5During my visit to the MoMA Library to document its version of Uncle Roger, I had the opportunity to examine other works by Malloy that pre-date Uncle Roger, some by as much as six years. I had written in my chapter on Malloy in Traversals that she explores similar motifs in her work––both Uncle Roger and its name was Penelope, which she produced later, for example, include references to boats and water. But it was enlightening to see the extent of her exploration in earlier works.

Below is the list of art works studied. I have noted motifs in those that are also found in Uncle Roger. The most interesting can be found in “Eschew Gluttony,” which features a character named Roger who is as Falstaffian as Uncle Roger. Also note the focus on cats, computers, card catalog cards,sex, food, potato chips, cockroaches, and a blimp. These motifs are fully developed in Uncle Roger.

This discovery underscores that Uncle Roger was many years in the making, the logical culmination of her visual art practice, and at the same time the beginning of her experimentation with new digital media that came into full flower with its name is Penelope.

Come Back, Kitty Kitty Kitty (1979)
Hand-drawn graphic narrative
This is the only early work that had a sales price on it ($.75)
Appears in 500 3 x 5 Cards and Other Stories (#6 in the book)
***Includes references to cats

Honesty Is the Best Policy (1979) Hand-drawn graphonesty-croppedhic narrative
Appears in 500 3 x 5 Cards and Other Stories (#1 in the book). Includes references to cats, cockroaches, sex, a computer, card catalog cards




Eschew Gluttony (1979)  Hand-drawn graphic narrative
Appears in 500 3 x 5 Cards and Other Stories (#2 in the book). Includes a ceschew-gluttony-cropped-2haracter named Roger, who is very much like Uncle Roger; also references to food, potato chips



is-everybody-done-now-3Is Everybody Done Now? (1980)
Hand-drawn graphic narrative
Looks like it was intended for card catalog
Appears in 500 3 x 5 Cards and Other Stories (#7 in the book)
***Includes references to a character named David; references food

500 3 x 5 Cards (1980)
Hand-drawn graphic narrative
Appears in 500 3 x 5 Cards and Other Stories (#4 in the book).
Includes references to cat, sex

A Year in Reno (1980)
Hand-drawn graphic narrative, organized around the conceit of a calendar
Appears in 500 3 x 5 Cards and Other Stories (#10 in the book).
Includes references to a cat

And Then (1980)
Hand-drawn graphic narrative, organized around the conceit of a calendar
Looks like it was intended for card catalog but is not (missing dots for holes)
Appears in 500 3 x 5 Cards and Other Stories (#11 in the book).
Includes references to cats, food

Dallas Berkeley (1981)
Hand-drawn graphic narrative, organized around the conceit of a calendar
Appears in 500 3 x 5 Cards and Other Stories (#8 in the book)

super-lucy-coverSuper Lucy (1982)
Hand-drawn graphic narrative
Includes references to computers, sex, tweed jacket

 500 3 x 5 Cards and Other Stories (1984)
A compilation of many of the hand-drawn graphic narrative that Malloy had previously made:

  1. Honesty Is the Best Policy (1979)
  2. Eschew Gluttony (1979)
  3. Forget It! (?)
  4. Private Parts (1980)
  5. 500 3 x 5 Cards (1980)
  6. Private Parts (1980)
  7. Come Back, Kitty Kitty Kitty (1979)
  8. Dallas Berkeley: Technical Difficulties (1981)
  9. The Big Zucchini (1981)
  10. A Year in Reno (1980)
  11. And Then (1980)

Lucy Comes Back! (1986)
Hand-drawn graphic narrative, organized around the conceit of a calendar
***Includes references to cat, blimp

bad-information-cards1-6Bad Information (1986-88)
12 catalog cards, each with a truism, reminiscent of Jenny Holzer’s work.





Visit to MoMA Library Nets Insights into Malloy’s Uncle Roger, Version 3.1

The version of Uncle Roger held by the Museum of Modern Art Library consists of one 5 1/4-inch floppy disk containing “A Party in Woodside” created in 1987. As Stuart and I document in Pathfinders and in the forthcoming Traversals, Version 3.2 is the version that corrected theAPIW-Disk-Label bugs in 3.1. Version 3.3 is the one that includes three floppies, each one containing one of the three episodes of Uncle Roger: “A Party in Woodside,” “The Blue Notebook,” and “Terminals.”

Version 3.1 has a white label (now yellowing), 4” x 1 ¾” in size, affixed to the top left hand side of the floppy. On the label reads:


+ + + + +     BAD         INFORMATION   + + + + +
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +


The typeface may be Berkelium (BSW), one commonly used for Apple II computers. The number “10” is hand-written (in Malloy’s hand), suggesting at least nine other copies of this version were produced. Because we have no definitive accounting of the number of Uncle Roger, Version 3 produced, this information is useful to know. The Museum of Modern Art Library is stamped on the left hand side of label. It is also marked in pencil “87.0203,” the library number.

APIW-Front-DiskIts sleeve differs widely from that produced for Version 3.3 we documented in Pathfinders in that rather than the entire sleeve being hand-made, only the label is. The label, 4 13/16” x 4 13/16”, is affixed to the front of the sleeve that the floppy had originally been packaged in. It is of the same paper type and texture––light copier paper––as that used for Version 3.3, so it stands out against the heavy card stock of the floppy disk’s original packaging.APIW-Back-Sleeve

The design of the label shows ‘WOODSIDE” repeated four times in each of 22 rows. Rows 1, 2, & 22 frame the label and show all the words repeated across it. However, in rows 3-21 “SIDE” in the first appearance of “WOODSIDE” and “WOOD” in the fourth are covered by a second label that Malloy had xeroxed onto the first label. On that second label she has typed “PARTY” in five columns. Evidence of the copier is seen in the light black shadow running on each side of the second label. A third label had been placed on top of the second after the 7th row, hiding three rows and three columns of “PARTY.” On this label we see:


The words are centered on that label and evidence of the copier is found in the shadow on the top, right, and bottom. The design, the word “party” in “wood” and “side” cleverly emulates the work’s title.

The xeroxing process renders the three labels into one, which is what we see here. A black border runs along its edge.

The MoMA Library’s conservator, Ben Fino-Radin, worked yesterday to provide me with the files from the disk so that I can compare them with Version 3.3. A special thank you also goes to Jenny Tobias, Librarian of Reader Services, for kindly providing me access to the many files I researched.


Pathfinders Mentioned in Malloy’s Social Media Archaeology & Poetics

social-media-archaeologyThe Pathfinders project is mentioned in Judy Malloy’s book, Social Media Archaeology & Poetics, just released this week from The MIT Press. In her Introduction to the book, Malloy cites Stuart’s and my work on the project as “bring[ing] electronic literature to a wider public” (xiv-xv). Stuart and I are now in the midst of preparing  Volume 2 of the work and have 50% of the work on done it.

Review of Pathfinders Published in Digital Literary Studies

Today is the 1st anniversary of Pathfinders. A year ago today Stuart and I published our NEH-supported project on the Scalar platform, making it available in a book-like webbed environment for free for anyone with an interest in electronic literature, experimental writing, literary history, and preservation. The project, for me, was the culmination of over 25 years of study and active collecting. So, it brings me much joy to read Elika Ortega’s view in-depth review of Pathfinders, entitled “Preservation Paths,” for the inaugural issue of Digital Literary Studies, edited by James O’Sullivan.

Here is my favorite passage, which comes at the last paragraph of the review:

As a result, Grigar and Moulthrop open the door for renewed studies of the works included in Pathfinders and set the ground for a subfield of E-Lit reading studies (my emphasis). The description and study of E-Lit reading like the ones found in the traversals might in time be explored further. Ultimately, these protocols propose and invite the development and establishment of a novel approach to E-Lit preservation.

Okay, so why did I emphasize “reading studies” in Elika’s excerpt? Because I believe one of the most exciting aspects of reading literature is analyzing the way it is constructed. The question I was trained to ask when reading lit was, “How does the work come to mean what it means?”

In analyzing the four works of e-lit for Pathfinders, Stuart and I used a combination of literary theory, traditional literary analysis, and digital-based platform studies. This approach, I find, provides a very robust way of making sense of born digital writing. With various theorists like Nicholas Carr, Cathy Davidson, and even N. Katherine Hayles  telling us that engagement with digital environments is changing the way we think, it seems to me a good direction to go with teaching reading in the late 21st century involves the deep reading practice that Stuart and I argue for with Pathfinders, one that takes into account both the literary features of a text along with its mechanic practices. So, yes, “reading studies” is exactly what we suggest.

10 Things I Learned about afternoon: a story

Michael Joyce conducting a practice Traversal of afternoon: a story

Michael Joyce conducting a practice Traversal of <i>afternoon: a story</i>

As I wrote on ELL’s blog this morning, we hosted noted e-lit authors and theorists Michael Joyce and Carolyn Guyer yesterday in the lab. Joyce read from his 1987 hypertext novel afternoon: a story, and both he and Guyer talked about their involvement in the early development of the field. Additionally,  Joyce and Guyer walked the audience through items from both Marjorie Luesebrink’s and my archives and provided background and context on the works and events they represent. We documented over two hours of conversation and plan to include it in the upcoming Pathfinders, Volume 2.

Here are 10 things I learned about afternoon: a story yesterday. You may already know this information, but after years of studying the work and Joyce’s theories myself, it was new to me:

  1. There are four different versions of the folio that contains the diskette, and one version of the cover for the CD jewel case. I am missing the first version in my collection. Once he described it to me, I recalled seeing it at some point of my career. If you Google the title, the image of this version does not appear––in fact, only two of the four do: numbers 2 and 4.
  2. The symbol on version 2’s folio front  (and perhaps on version 1––I don’t know since I do not have access to it) represents the yoni, the Hindu symbol of the womb. afternoon: a story, according to Joyce, is, among many things, an exploration of women and man’s relationship to them.WINAfternoonAStory-1-200
  3. The 3rd version of the folio contains an anomaly: the work’s title is capitalized. Joyce does not know why it was. He stated that his intention was for the title to be represented uncapitalized. While it is a cardboard folio fashioned with the same design as version 4, it differs from the 4th version in that it consists of a white background instead of a blue one.
  4. Joyce created the art for the opening screen himself, using MacPaint (he believes) and repurposing an image of reporters filing out of the Pentagon.
  5. When asked about the novel’s inclusion in the Norton Anthology of Postmodern Literature, he said that he found the notion of a postmodern classic to be “ironic.” The Norton’s website, consisting of only 10 lexias of the novel, was not working when I tested it yesterday.
  6. In afternoon: a story Joyce pays homage to hypertext author and theorist Jane Douglas. He  pointed out in his comments about Douglas that she viewed the lexia, “The Lady or the Tiger,” as the pivotal one in the novel.
  7. He also referenced his collaborator Jay David Bolter in the lexia entitled “Turing’s Run”––an obvious allusion to Bolter’s book Turing’s Man. I should have known this bit since I read the book when I was a grad student years ago.
  8. Interestingly, he found a typo yesterday in the lexia, “Peter, Peter,” that he had never noticed before. I will see if it appears in the other versions I have in my library and report back.
  9. He wrote afternoon: a story in Jackson, MI. He remembers the sounds of winter he describes in the opening screen’s text.
  10. He also said he wrote inside the computer, meaning that he did not write out the plans and text first on paper and then build them for Storyspace.

All of these comments will appear in the documentation video. As we did for Pathfinders, Volume 1, Stuart and I will make the rough cuts of the videos available as soon as possible.

Michael Joyce & Pathfinders

michael joyce invitationI am very pleased to announce that Michael Joyce, author of important e-lit works like afternoon: a story and Twelve Blue as well as numerous books of media theory including Of Two Minds and Othermindedness, is coming to WSUV on May 3 to prepare for his Traversal and Interview for Pathfinders, Volume 2. I will be traveling to the Harry Ransom Center this summer to study the Michael Joyce Papers for Pathfinders, but I have to say a visit with Michael as Stuart and I prepare for the next phase of the project will be extremely helpful.

The Electronic Literature Lab and the Pathfinders Project: Answering the Challenges for Digital Literary Achiving

The paper below is taken from my presentation to be given at the British Library on Monday, April 4, 2016 at the Archival Uncertainties symposium. Following it are the four research questions I posed in relation to the challenges of archiving electronic literature.



“The Electronic Literature Lab and the Pathfinders Project”

rubenstein table

The Malloy Papers, Box 3

In October 2015 I visited the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University to conduct research into Uncle Roger, the first commercial work of electronic literature by pioneering artist Judy Malloy. There, among the 27 boxes comprising the Judy Malloy Papers, I sifted through notebooks, computer readouts of code of her works, images she took of her many works, correspondence with other artists, and exhibition papers.  The materials associated with Uncle Roger were contained primarily in Box 3. At the time I was doing this work, I was researching four versions of Uncle Roger that Malloy had reported she had made between 1986 and 2012. Despite the fact that Uncle Roger was limited to one box and was organized in folders, it was still difficult to determine what constituted one of the


Uncle Roger, Version 1.0 as Topic 14 on The WELL

versions or where a version was located. Furthermore, one version––hand-made artists boxes with hand-designed inserts––were dispersed in different folders in the box, and the floppy disks themselves
were archived separately and, understandably, inaccessible for use. Unless someone knew exactly what she was looking for among the materials in the archive, she have not known that the item entitled, “Topic 14: A Party in Woodside, as first told on WELL, 1986 December,” represented Uncle Roger, Version 1.0, or know to look for four inserts for Version 3.3.


The Breathing Wall with its Headset

My experience with Uncle Roger is not unique. Electronic literature scholars can point to many examples of works where digital and analog materials are packaged together as “the work.” Some, like John McDaid’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse, include music cassettes.  Kate Pullinger, Stefan Schemat, and Chris Joseph’s The Breathing Wall, for example, came packaged with a headset with a microphone along with a CD. Even web-based works like Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse’s Between Page and Screen, may necessitate a print book. In light of current archival practices, how does one make such works available for study so that they retain their integrity? Herein lies the challenge.

I have attempted to address this challenge with the lab I have built for works of electronic literature at Washington State University Vancouver and the documentation I’ve been doing in that lab for these works. The lab is called Electronic Literature Lab, or “ELL,” and the documentation project is called Pathfinders.

[Here, I describe electronic literature and some of its recognizable features.]

Electronic Literature Lab (ELL) at WSUV

 I want to turn my attention now to a discussion of my lab. ELL consists of 45 vintage Macintosh computers and two PCs, all representing various operating systems and media affordances dating back to 1977. I own these computers and have collected them specifically to read electronic literature and document it for future generations.

ELL also consists of a personal library of over 200 works of e-lit. I began collecting it as I was a grad student in the early 1990s. As time passed, I became acutely aware that works produced a mere 20 years ago were quickly becoming forgotten and overlooked. After the introduction of the Apple iPhone in 2007 which eventually rendered works produced in Flash obsolete, I shared my collection through exhibits, which I have done at the Library of Congress in the U.S. and the Modern Language Association conferences in 2012, 2013, and 2014, among other venues. Information about the computers and works are available through an online catalog.

While preservationists make some e-lit works available via emulation and migration, something is indelibly lost in moving e-lit from its original source material into a new format. ELL, instead, follows the model of preservation called “collection,” by making it possible for scholars to study works on the

Bly’s Macintosh PowerBook 520

device on which they have been originally produced or for which they were originally accessed. In that regard, I own the laptop used by author Bill Bly to produce We Descend; I have a computer outfitted with Netscape Communicator so that scholars can read the full interactive version of Talan Memmot’s net masterpiece, Lexia to Perplexia.

The problem with ELL, like any specialized lab or library, is that few people get to visit it. This is one of the many archival uncertainties we face as scholars. I’m located in Vancouver WA, just across the Columbia River from Portland, OR. And though I get many visitors––scholars who want to do research in the lab––my location limits easy access to most people.

Enter Pathfinders, a project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Office of Digital Humanities and led by my collaborator Stuart Moulthrop and me.  In 2013 we harnessed ELL to document four seminal works of early digital literature: Judy Malloy’s Uncle Roger (1986-8), John McDaid’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse (1993), Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl (1995), and Bill Bly’s We Descend (1997). [I describe our project, which is outlined in detail on this blog site]


John McDaid giving a Traversal of Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse in ELL

The method innovated for documenting these is called the Traversal, which Stuart and I define as audio and video recordings of demonstrations performed on historically appropriate platforms. . . . The term is borrowed from Michael Joyce who used it in his essay, “Nonce Upon Some Times: Rereading Hypertext Fiction,” to refer to any particular reading of a hypertext (581). His use of the term was  influenced by Espen Aarseth’s notion of the “traversal function” described in his book Cybertext [but  . . . . ] for  Stuart and me the Traversal always involves human agency, even though it may be strongly inflected by program logic or machine operations.

Our Traversals method requires the author and then two readers to perform the work, talking through choices they encounter. Passages are read aloud, hyperlinks are selected and announced, and experiences with the words and media elements are expressed. Stuart and I videotape the Traversals, photograph the floppy disks, the containers with which they were sold, and other materials in the package. In some cases we include sound files of works. We provide an ekphrasis of the liners of the jewel cases and the notes packaged along with the folios, providing detailed information such that if someone in the distant future wished to recreate the ephemera that accompany the work itself, he or she could with the information we provide. The result of our effort is a multimedia book published in June 2015 on the open source Scalar platform, containing 173 screens of content, including 53,857 words, 104 video clips, 204 color photos, and three audio files. To date we have had over 10000 scholars from close to 250 universities, centers, libraries, and schools.

at work

At the Rubenstein with Pathfinders on my Laptop

What Pathfinders Means for the Literary Archival Experience
Imagine with me, if you will, another type of experience with the Judy Malloy Papers at the Rubenstein. This time the scholar is carrying her iPad or Android tablet and has accessed the section on Malloy at the Pathfinders book. She is interested in looking at Version 3.3 of Uncle Roger, so she opens Box 3. She knows from Pathfinders that she should probably study the materials in the folder marked “A Party in Woodside, Apple II version written in BASIC, 1987.” She also knows that she probably needs to look for the folder, “The Blue Notebook, Apple II+ version, written in BASIC, 1988,” and should also consult “Terminals, stand alone copy (disk removed),” as well as “Packaging, disk components” and “Packaging, disk versions, Apple II (disks removed).” In fact, any folder that alludes to a disk for an Apple computer is more than likely related to Uncle Roger, Versions 3.1 and 3.2. And because she cannot access the floppy disks, she can watch Pathfinder’s videos of Malloy traversing through a section of the work and hear the author talk about the production of all three parts of it in videotaped interviews with her. She can compare the materials she is examining in the boxes with the images of Version 3 used for the Pathfinders project. Doing so provides her with an understanding of the variances between the different artist boxes hand-made by Malloy, thus coming to see the level of material practice involved the digital production of this work.

Stuart and I have begun Volume 2 of Pathfinders. In this volume we are documenting Michael Joyce’s afternoon: a story, collected at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. We are also documenting M.D. Coverley’s Califia and Stuart’s own Victory Garden––the archives of these works have yet to be collected. Since both of these works are inaccessible to readers due to technological obsolescence, the work that Stuart and I are undertaking with Pathfinders in ELL to make them available for study, even at the level we are doing, contributes to long term study of them.

Research Questions
My work with documenting electronic literature raises four important questions about digital preservation.

  1. For what kinds of digital objects is one approach to preservation more desirable than another?

I have been, for example, experimenting with preserving literary apps and have found that each new version of an app’s operating system can result in a new version of the work, or that the work itself is updated to fix bugs and include new and better features. It is not possible to save multiple versions on the same device because the new one wipes out the old. Thus, in order to preserve each version of an app, I have to have as many smart devices as updates––an expensive endeavor. Also beta versions I am sent to review are limited in terms of the time frame in which I get to access them. This limitation makes it impossible to compare the commercially published version with the beta or to collect betas for long-term study.

  1. How can differing approaches be combined or coordinated to best serve the interests of future scholars?

In the case of Judy Malloy’s Uncle Roger, the 1995 migrated web version (Version 5) and 2012 DOSBox emulated version (Version 6) both provide readers ongoing and ready access to the authorized version of the work. The latter especially attempts to recreate the visceral experience of interacting with a 1980s computer in that it simulates whirs and clicks of a 1980s computer. But it emulates the PC experience and not the Apple, on which the work was also read and experienced. The experience of ELL’s collection, however, adds to our knowledge of the work by providing the cultural context time-stamped as it is by the original hardware and software––with all of its unique features and quirks.

  1. What can researchers working on one sort of digital production (electronic literature, for instance) learn from those concerned with different but related areas (e.g., video games, digital writing more broadly conceived, or social-network discourse)?

I have been guiding students in my academic program (the CMDC Program at WSUV)  with documenting video games with the Traversal method. One such project, Chronicles: Documenting the Articulation of Culture in Video Games by Madeleine Brookman, documents the iconic Japanese Role-Playing-Game, Chrono Trigger, released originally in 1972. This publication made an excellent case study for the application of the Traversal method to other media forms and showed that it does lend itself to documenting games. I see any form of media where sound, movement and interaction figure as part of its narrative strategy or poetics to benefit from our approach to documentation.

  1. How can researchers approaching the posterity of digital texts from diverse directions benefit from exchange of perspectives and results?

I think of this anecdote: A little over a month ago, I received an email message from Michael Joyce, author of afternoon: a story, considered one of the most important works of American e-lit today. It was published in 1990 on 3 ½-inch floppy disks and later migrated to CD technology. However, Apple computers running the El Capitan operating system cannot read the work. Curators of the Paraules Pixelades exhibit at the Art Santa Monica in Barcelona wanted to show afternoon but could not. Michael wanted to know if Stuart and I had produced a video of a Traversal of it. We had not. But within a week we produced one––James O’Sullivan, an e-lit scholar at University of Sheffield who was visiting ELL, served as a reader for a Traversal, which we videotaped. We were able to send the video to the curators, and the work could be exhibited as a documentary video. We fully understand that what the audience saw was not the work itself; but what they got to experience was a performance of it, and it allowed the work to live on to a new audience.

Giving a Talk about Digital Archiving at the British Library

UnknownOn April 4, the British Library is hosting “Archival Uncertainties: International Conference on Literary Archives.”  The Plenary Speaker is Trudy Huskamp Peterson. The event has this focus:

While information technology is changing rapidly and bringing new possibilities for the democratisation of knowledge, debates remain about intellectual property, ownership and access rights to individual archives.  Uneven investment in knowledge institutions contributes to a complicated understanding of how archival values can be realised – as commercial, cultural, national, global – and of how the ethics of preservation and rescue can be addressed in the face of climatic and ideological threats. Includes lunch and a drinks reception.

John Barber (WSUV), Kate Pullinger (Bath Spa) and I are presenting in a panel entitled, “Challenges to Archiving and Documenting Born Digital Literature: What Scholars, Archivists, and Librarians Need to Know.”

Early born digital literature was published on floppy disks, CDs, and DVDs, but the advent of the web made sharing it online with a global audience popular from 1995 onward. The introduction of smart mobile devices in the mid-2000s drove artists to innovate their art for the app environment. To remain accessible to a reading audience, many works have been updated to newer platforms and software iterations––sometimes many times––resulting in numerous versions of a work. In cases of literary art produced as apps, it is not possible to study versions of a work saved on a single device because upgrading to a new version of a work overwrites the previous version completely. Contributing to the challenge of archiving born digital literature is that many of these works are published as a combination of digital files, accompanying documentation websites, and ephemera. Some, like John McDaid’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse (1993) include audio cassettes that are part of the narrative. Others like Judy Malloy’s Uncle Roger Version 3 (1987-8) were packaged in containers that themselves are works of visual art. Kate Pullinger, Stefan Schemat and Chris Joseph’s The Breathing Wall (2004), a digital narrative produced with Flash, unfolded through the reader’s breathing registered by special software and hardware that today requires older versions of Windows to experience. Sound-based literary works offers a double challenge in that both the art form and the artifact are ephemeral and confound long-term access. In a word, born digital literature differs widely from traditional digital texts and yet, to date, there are no specific methods used for handling this form of literary art. This panel, generating from archival research by artists and scholars from the Electronic Literature Organization, provides a starting point for discussion.

Presentation #1: Dene Grigar, Washington State University Vancouver, “The Electronic Literature Lab and the Pathfinders Project”
This presentation recounts efforts to document works of early digital literature, circa 1986-1997 undertaken in the Electronic Literature Lab (ELL) and for the Pathfinders projectfocusing primarily on the collection found at ELL and the method developed for documenting born digital literature. She argues that while migration and its close cousin, emulation, which aims to deliver a completely seamless re-creation of an original system’s function on a newer platform, have value even to researchers interested in other means of preservation, experience with Pathfinders fed an emerging sense of a larger project. This thinking was further advanced by discussions with colleagues working on other methods of preservation, archiving, and dissemination of digital texts, notably Matthew Kirschenbaum and Lori Emerson. These contacts inspired her to think about combined and coordinated approaches across multiple sites, underscoring the value of expanded collaboration and application to other forms of digital media and leading her to frame four essential questions regarding digital preservation that she will raise in her talk:

  1. For what kinds of digital objects is one approach more desirable than another?
  2. How can differing approaches be combined or coordinated to best serve the interests of future scholars?
  3. What can researchers working on one sort of digital production (electronic literature, for instance) learn from those concerned with different but related areas (e.g., video games, digital writing more broadly conceived, or social-network discourse)?
  4. How, in other words, can researchers approaching the posterity of digital texts from diverse directions benefit from exchange of perspectives and results?

Presentation #2: John Barber, Washington State University Vancouver, “Sound: A Literary Memory Media Art Experience”
This presentation considers sound-based literary archives: recordings of spoken voice and/or sound-based art, narrative, storytelling. Sound is ephemeral, disappearing soon after its production. Sound recordings, meant as archival sources are also, over time, ephemeral. Traditionally, archival practices have focused on preserving the original, but rapidly changing information technology makes it impractical/impossible to hear the original. Questions include:

  1. Is the literary experience lost?
  2. What does this mean to our knowledge of history, culture, human experience?
  3. Can a balance between archival values, preservation, rescue, and democratic utilization be realized?
  4. Once available, how can literary sound artifacts promote a multidisciplinary dialogue between artistic practices and technological affordances?
  5. Might such artifacts contribute to the creation of spaces for collective critical thought, as well as engagement with past literary events through the act of listening?
  6. To archive, curate, and exhibit sound, we can consider new forms of museology, including repurposing existing mediums for memory transmission.

This presentation speaks to the author’s practice-based research as grounded in interactive installation / performance works regarding sound as a means for communication and consumption.

Presentation #3: Kate Pullinger, Bath SPA University, “Letters and Penguins: A Writer’s View of the Archive”
As well as working as a novelist, Kate Pullinger has been collaborating on works of multimedia and multimodal fiction since 2001. Within her own practice her primary goal as an author is the next creative challenge and the next new work while issues around preservation and obsolescence are of secondary importance. In this presentation Pullinger will discuss two large participatory media projects on which she worked: ‘A Million Penguins’ (2007) and ‘Letter to an Unknown Soldier’ (2014); the former (1500 participants), commissioned by Penguin UK, now only exists as a few pages accessible via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine; the latter was a publicly funded digital war memorial marking the centenary of the outbreak of WW1 with 22,000 participants and had archival concerns embedded in it from the project’s inception. Pullinger will also discuss her on-going project ‘Inanimate Alice’ which began life with using the now outmoded software Flash in 2005; episode six, creating using Unity, will be released in 2016: this project, with its unusually long creative life, both exemplifies and undercuts the problems around preservation of digital works. Pullinger will consider a range of questions:

  1. Should literary artists consider the archive more carefully when making work?
  2. Can obsolescence itself become a creative force?

M.D. Coverley to Give a Traversal of Califia


On Monday, March 14 and Tuesday, March 15, pioneer electronic literature artist, M.D. Coverley (aka Margie Luesebrink) is giving a traversal of her hypertext novel, Califia (2000) at the Electronic Literature Lab as part of Pathfinders, Volume 2, which we plan to release next fall.

As is noted in Califia’ entry in ELMCIP:

Spanning five generations of swashbuckling Californians, Califia is the story of Augusta Summerland’s epic search for a lost cache of gold. Join Augusta, and her friends Kaye and Calvin, on their adventures in modern Los Angeles, where they unearth mysteriously incomplete documents in local archives, discover old California myths and legends, and connive to outwit an edgy businessman with his own designs on the elusive Treasure of Califia.

I was first introduced to the work in 2001 at Kate Hayles’ NEH Summer Institute  (named “Literature in Transition”) when the author spoke to our group about her work. The work was published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. and has become one of the best-known works developed for CD-ROM technology.