Restorations & Reconstructions
For the last seven years the lab has rebooted numerous work of born-digital media by documenting them via Grigar and Moulthrop’s Pathfinders methodology, which has culminated in a series of electronic open-source books entitled Rebooting Electronic Literature, and by conserving them through various restoration and reconstruction initiatives.
The former, documentation, involves no direct intervention into a work, but the latter, restoration and reconstruction, requires interventions to the code and other aspects of the work that may involve emulation, migration, and/or collection in varying degrees and, so, always results in new versions and, thus, editions of a work. We call the intervention into portions of the code (including changing linking structure) and/or aspects of the functionality of a work to make the work accessible again “restoration.” Such efforts entail low level media translation.  We call the complete rebuild of a work that affects its code and may also impact its functionality and presentation “reconstruction.” Such efforts entail mid to high-level media translation. Thus, digital preservation in these contexts involves unique conservation practices identified for the specific needs of a particular work. Both restoration and reconstruction reflect conservation activities aimed at keeping the work accessible to the public.
Below are the 11 conservation activities the lab has undertaken over the last four years.
- M. D. Coverley. “Fibonacci’s Daughter.” Self-published. 2000. Now at The NEXT: https://the-next.eliterature.org/works/1064/0/0/). The original sound files (MIDI) were converted/migrated into a contemporary program (mp3) and added to the work, thus replacing the outmoded format. The results were tested against the original work on legacy hardware and software.
- All of the hundreds of Flash works restored via Ruffle. The process involved adding code to the server and the work in order to emulate the unsupported Flash Player. None of the original code or media was touched in the process.
- All of the hundreds of Flash works restored via Conifer. The process involved zipping the work into a WARC file so that they can be accessed on an emulated browser. No changes were made to the work’s code but in order for the emulation to be successful, the works’ source code needs to be handled by a different machine code, different interpreters and the container scripts. The URLs for the works were changed to reflect their presentation on Rhizome’s server
- David Kolb. “Caged Texts.” 1994. https://archive.the-next.eliterature.org/kolb/caged-texts/copy-v2/index.html. The philosophical hypertext essay was originally intended for inclusion in Kolb’s larger hypertext, Socrates in the Labyrinth, but never published. To reconstruct it, the Storyspace file was exported to Tinderbox and then to HTML by Bill Bly, author of the We Descend, who then tested it in different versions of Storyspace (vv 2.51b1 thru 3.90) & Tinderbox (vv 4.7.1 thru 9.1.0b542) to get the proper result. He also checked to ensure that its linking structure––the default and text links––was successfully migrated. It also required Bly to tag the guard fields and loops for building the navigation. Using this code and text, the lab is currently designing a contemporary interface for the work that is accessible across all computing devices.
- John McDaid’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse. 1992/93. In progress. https://dtc-wsuv.org/projects/uncle-buddy/archival/. Created by science fiction writer John McDaid, this hypermedia novel and game was originally built on the HyperCard 2.0 platform and published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. in 1992/93. Unlike works of other hypertext literature the company released, Funhouse was distributed in a box containing five 3.5-inch floppy disks, two musical cassette tapes, page proofs of a short story written by Arthur Newkirk entitled “Tree,” and a letter from an editor of Vortex magazine to Buddy Newkirk about the page proofs. Reconstruction was begun in fall 2022 by graduating seniors of the CMDC and is now in the final stages of refinement and bug testing by the Electronic Literature Lab.
 As Mariusz Pisarski and I argue, “the preservation of digital art and expressive writing, such as born-digital literature and net art, through the process of migration and emulation involves the translation potentially between formats, software, platforms, hardware, computer languages, and/or digital qualities in a way that impacts the human experience with such works. As we will show, it may or may not involve linguistic transformation, but always the underlying code is affected and may or may not result in changes to functionality and presentation. As translation of creative media, translation requires the interpretative intervention of the translator and, so, is an act of creation.” This is what we mean by media translation.