Pathfinders broke new ground this week with Stuart Moulthrop’s “traversal” of Victory Garden. The project, at its core, centers on digital preservation, specifically preservation of early digital works of the late 20th century. This first round of works we are preserving includes four electronic literature novels––two of which were authored in Storyspace (Mouthrop’s Victory Garden, Jackson’s Patchwork Girl), one in Hypercard (McDaid’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse), and one with command line programming (Malloy’s Uncle Roger: The Blue Notebook). These works, for the most part, demand reader interaction in order for them to be fully realized, so preserving them does not simply mean we capture the nodes and lexias of Victory Garden, for example, but rather that we document the experience that readers have with the work. To that end we have videotaped Moulthrop traversing his work on an Apple computer (as seen in the photo to the left) that readers in 1991 would have used when they themselves read the work. This is what is meant by “breaking new ground”––the documentation of the experience of traversing his hypertext novel in the native environment––for even in the interview with Lev Manovich published today in Rhizome Manovich expresses shock in “how little visual documentation of the key systems and software (Sketchpad, Xerox Parc’s Alto, first paint programs from late 1960s and 1970s) exists.” Obviously, we are on the right track with the project.
By “traversal” we mean one passage through a work that is comprised of multiple layers and heaps (e.g. stacks, mounds, mass) of potentially contradictory narrative elements in which the reader is taken back to the beginning. Using talk aloud protocol, Moulthrop traversed his work for 20 minutes for the camera––and for an audience of six people (David Kolb, author of Socrates in the Labyrinth, drove up from Eugene, OR to join faculty and students of the CMDC Program). The following day we invited two people unfamiliar with the work to traverse it: Pat Kutkey a computer science teacher from Frontier Middle School in the Evergreen School District in Vancouver, WA, and Sean Philbrook, a sophomore at WSU Vancouver. We captured both reader’s traversal (also using talk aloud protocol) on video and, then, interviewed each (also videotaped). Not surprising was that both men had little difficulty understanding how to move through the work. Kutkey’s experience with computing environments and Philbook’s with games and gaming systems led to the comfort and relative ease with which they worked through Victory Garden.
Our videographer Aaron Wintersong (a CMDC student who graduated this year) will collaborate with us on the video editing, eventually combining it with the footage from the next three traversals. Ultimately, all of this information will be made available as an AppBook that we are producing with our Scalar consultant Will Luers.
We were fortunate that the Marketing and Communication department on our campus sent photographers to take photos during the two days of traversals. Here is the archive of all of the photos. We were also fortunate to have Morgan Hutchinson, a graduating senior from the CMDC program, liveblogging that day.
Here is a short video of Moulthrop talking about what it is like to go back to Victory Garden after two decades of its creation. This clip comes from the interview that followed his traversal. Grigar is conducting the interview videotaped by Hutchinson for our YouTube channel.