Made possible by a major Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) is a collaboration among the University of Maryland’s College of Arts and Humanities, Libraries, and Office of Information Technology. Since its founding in 1999, MITH has become internationally recognized as one of the leading centers of its kind, distinguished by the cultural diversity so central to its identity. Located in McKeldin Library at the heart of the campus, MITH is the University’s primary intellectual hub for scholars and practitioners of digital humanities, electronic literature, and cyberculture, as well as the home of the Electronic Literature Organization.
During the trial year 2008, the Electronic Literature Organization is collaborating with the Library of Congress in the selection, archiving, and preservation of several hundred web addresses featuring works of electronic literature (www.archive-it.org). The project, under the direction of ELO President Joseph Tabbi, is at once historical and developmental: each address is to be preserved ‘in perpetuity’ through periodic updates. At the same time, the descriptions, tags, and robust sample of works gathered by the ELO should provide, over time, a profile of the e-lit field.
Founded in 1996, Turbulence (http://turbulence.org) has commissioned over 150 networked art projects and, since 2004, has chronicled emerging network practice via its Networked Performance blog (http://turbulence.org/blog). Turbulence co-presented “Re-Writing” with the ELO at the Boston Cyberarts Festival (2005), and supports the ELO community by sponsoring readings, commissioning e-lit, and blogging new projects and current events.
“Literature on the net/Net Literature” (Litnet) is a subproject of the Cultural Studies Research Centre “Media Upheavals” at the University of Siegen, Germany. The Research Centre examines the prerequisites and structures of the media upheavals at the beginning of the 20th century and in the crossover to the 21st century. Litnet aims at analyzing the ongoing changes of literary communication and aesthetics in programmable and networked media, particularly on the Internet. Under a grant from the Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation, Professor Peter Gendolla and his team provide a database of digital/net literature and research literature (academic books, anthologies and articles) at http://www.litnet.uni-siegen.de/. Litnet archived several thousand sites of e-lit criticism that will be incorporated into the ELO Directory during the year 2008.
Combining elements of graphic design, database programming, and scholarly editing, ebr (www.electronicbookreview.com) has been in continuous publication since 1994. A journal of critical writing produced and published by writers for writers, ebr tracks literature’s becoming electronic. In the Spring of 2008, the ELO awarded ebr a commission to review, tag, and describe incoming selections for the Electronic Literature Directory (http://directory.eliterature.org/).
Following their game plan (or walkthrough) for First Person, Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin have brought their anthology Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media to the electronic book review (ebr) to bring the threads of discussion to life. Section One, Computational Fictions, has arrived at ebr and the subsequent sections will soon follow.
Together with Third Person, these two anthologies will form a trilogy of works from scholars, artists, and industry professionals on interactive narrative and drama forms. According to ebr,
The material in these volumes and on ebr represents a new level of dialogue between creators and critics about emerging forms of fictional and playable experience.
The ebr publication of the texts will not only open the book to readers across the Internet, but will also offer a site for continued conversation as readers respond to the texts through ripostes.
The essays previously published in the ebr “First Person” thread evoked (and provoked) responses from such central figures as N. Katherine Hayles, Henry Jenkins, and Stephanie Strickland.
The publication continues ebr‘s long-standing relationship with MIT press, and that press’ continued work toward public online discussion of its texts, as seen in the recent and ongoing vetting of Wardrip-Fruin’s Expressive Processing.
The Table of Contents of the Second Person release follows. Read more “Second Person” on the electronic book review
Check out The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s coverage of ELO board member Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s latest project.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Blog Comments and Peer Review Go Head to Head to See Which Makes a Book Better
By JEFFREY R. YOUNG
What if scholarly books were peer reviewed by anonymous blog comments rather than by traditional, selected peer reviewers?
That’s the question being posed by an unusual experiment that begins today. It involves a scholar studying video games, a popular academic blog with the playful name Grand Text Auto, a nonprofit group designing blog tools for scholars, and MIT Press.
The idea took shape when Noah Wardrip-Fruin, an assistant professor of communication at the University of California at San Diego, was talking with his editor at the press about peer reviewers for the book he was finishing, The book, with the not-so-playful title Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies, examines the importance of using both software design and traditional media-studies methods in the study of video games.
One group of reviewers jumped to his mind: “I immediately thought, you know it’s the people on Grand Text Auto.” The blog, which takes its moniker from the controversial video game Grand Theft Auto, is run by Mr. Wardrip-Fruin and five colleagues. It offers an academic take on interactive fiction and video games.
Inviting More Critics
The blog is read by many of the same scholars he sees at academic conferences, and also attracts readers from the video-game industry and teenagers who are hard-core video-game players. At its peak, the blog has had more than 200,000 visitors per month, he says.
“This is the community whose response I want, not just the small circle of academics,” Mr. Wardrip-Fruin says.
So he called up the folks at the Institute for the Future of the Book, who developed CommentPress, a tool for adding digital margin notes to blogs (The Chronicle, September 28, 2007). Would they help out? He wondered if he could post sections of his book on Grand Text Auto and allow readers, using CommentPress, to add critiques right in the margins.
The idea was to tap the wisdom of his crowd. Visitors to the blog might not read the whole manuscript, as traditional reviewers do, but they might weigh in on a section in which they have some expertise.
The institute, an unusual academic center run by the University of Southern California but based in Brooklyn, N.Y., was game. So was Mr. Wardrip-Fruin’s editor at MIT Press, Doug Sery, but with one important caveat. He insisted on running the manuscript through the traditional peer-review process as well. “We are a peer-review pressÃ¢â‚¬”we’re always going to want to have an honest peer review,” says Mr. Sery, senior editor for new media and game studies. “The reputation of MIT Press, or any good academic press, is based on a peer-review model.”
So the experiment will provide a side-by-side comparison of reviewingÃ¢â‚¬”old school versus new blog. Mr. Wardrip-Fruin calls the new method “blog-based peer review.”
Each day he will post a new chunk of his draft to the blog, and readers will be invited to comment. That should open the floodgates of input, possibly generating thousands of responses by the time all 300-plus pages of the book are posted. “My plan is to respond to everything that seems substantial,” says the author.
The institute is modifying its CommentPress software for the project, with the help of a $10,000 grant from San Diego’s Academic Senate, to create a version that bloggers can more easily add to their existing academic blogs.
A Cautious Look Forward
Mr. Wardrip-Fruin’s friends have warned him that sorting through all those comments will take over his life, or at least take far more time than he expects. “It’s been said to me enough times by people who are not just naysayers that it is in the back of my mind,” he acknowledges. Still, the book’s review process “will pale in comparison to the work of writing it.”
He expects the blog-based review to be more helpful than the traditional peer review because of the variety of voices contributing. “I am dead certain it will make the book better,” he says.
Mr. Sery isn’t so sure. “I don’t know how this general peer review is going to help,” the editor says, except maybe to catch small errors that have slipped through the cracks. Traditional peer review involves carefully chosen experts in the same subject area, who can point to big-picture issues as well as nitpick details. He bets that the blog reviews might merely spark flame wars or other unhelpful arguments about minor points. “I’m curious to see what kind of comments we get back,” he says.
That probably “depends on what you’re writing about,” says Clifford A. Lynch, executive director of the Coalition for Networked Information, a group that supports the use of technology in scholarly communication. “If, God help you, you’re writing about current religious or political issues, you’re going to get a lot of people with agendas who aren’t interested in having a rational discussion. Some of them are just psychos.”
Even without flame wars, Mr. Sery equates the blog review with the kind of informal sharing of drafts that many academics do with close friends. It’s useful, but it’s still not formal peer review, he argues. Carefully choosing reviewers “really allows for the expression of their ideas on the book,” he says. Scholars can say with authority, for instance, that a book just isn’t worth publishing.
Ben Vershbow, editorial director at the Institute for the Future of the Book, concedes that comments on blogs are unlikely to fully replace peer review. But he says academic blogging can play a role in the publishing process.
“The conversational modes of reading and writing on the Web in things like blogs and wikis really chime well with the essential idea of peer review, which is putting out work in development to a peer group and refining the work,” he says. But he hopes that Mr. Wardrip-Fruin’s project demonstrates that the scholarly communities that have formed around many academic blogs “can to a large extent take care of their own review processes.”
Whether it does or does not, Mr. Wardrip-Fruin expects the experience will be interesting enough to write up in an academic essay, or maybe in the preface to the book, when it finally comes out in the old-fashioned printed form.
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