Association for Computers and the Humanities Conference

May 29 – June 2, 2003
The University of Georgia

ELO presented two panels, one academic and one creative.

ACH/ALLC Trip Report

The Association for Computers and the Humanities and The Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing held its joint international conference at the University of Georgia, Athens, GA from May 29-June 2, 2003.

Both the ACH and the ALLC, long-standing organizations with dedicated members, have been involved with the creation of electronic records and archives for years. Many of the projects initiated by ACH and ALLC colleagues represent centerpiece work in the field and have provided the standards and models used by scholars today. At the suggestion of Alan Liu, Kate Hayles, and Matthew Kirschenbaum, the ELO committees began looking at the ways in which the work of ACH would illuminate our efforts to archive, preserve, and disseminate electronic literature. As a result, many of the committee members for PAD are involved with ACH – including John Unsworth, Julia Flanders, David Durand, Matt Kirschenbaum, and Wendell Piez. [In addition, Kate Hayles is on the ACH Planning Board and Alan Liu was a speaker for ACH 2002.]

The considerable overlap in both technical and scholarly challenges that face PAD and AHC, the ELO was invited to submit a panel and a reading to the 2003 Program for AHC/ALLC in Athens.

We arrived at the University of Georgia on Thursday, May 29 – [I didn’t get in from Atlanta until too late for keynote by John Maeda, but the early-arrivers reported that it was very interesting and set the tone for the collaborative interaction that would inform the discussions throughout the Conference.]

On Friday, the parallel sessions began. There were three tracks, so it was impossible to experience all of the fine panels. However, the Conference Abstracts were very complete and helpful in guiding attendees to areas of particular interest. The detailed conference program is online at .

To mention, then, just a few of the fine presentations:
–Marilyn Deegan and Harold Short’s paper “New Technologies, New Strategies for Integrating Information and Knowledge: Forced Migration Online” was notable for the way in which it highlighted the kinds of decisions that need to be made when the medium of presentation alters.

–The ELO panel, “PAD: Preservation, Archiving, and Dissemination of Electronic Literature,” was composed of Scott Rettberg, David Durand, Nick Montfort, and Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink. Immediately following the panel, ELO writers did a short reading – these included Stephanie Strickland, Scott Rettberg, Talan Memmott, and M.D. Coverley.

–Stephen Ramsay and Geoffrey Rockwell’s presentation, “Programming as Writing as Programming,” raised interesting questions about the role of text in programming languages. The concept of “encapsulation” in programming (in both object-oriented softwares and in graphic-based texts) can be seen as a useful concept for working with multimedia hypertext documents.

Talan Memmott’s paper, “Beyond Taxonomy: Digital Poetics and the Problem of Reading,” extended the argument that e-literature and poetry might best be perceived as a system of poetics rather than as part of a print-defined taxonomy or school.

John Unsworth chaired a panel on encoding that included Allen Renear (“Text Markup – Data Structure vs. Data Model”) and Michael Sperberg-McQueen (“XML Schema 1.0: A Language Document for Grammars”). These presentations were especially valuable to ELO/PAD members who were able to see XML Markup practices in detail – how they work with literary print archives and how they might be used to model electronic literature data and features.

In a very fine panel on the closing morning, Wendell Piez (“Scholarly Transgressions”), Julia Flanders (“Ambiguity and Text Encoding”) and John Lavagnino (“Ambiguity, Language, and the Scholarly Economy”) illuminated the relationships between the various functions of coded markups – the negotiation between transparency and visibility, between editorial determination and allowance for ambiguity, between encoded data and literary meaning. Julia Flanders called for a “subtler” textual economy – markup systems that give humanities scholars and teachers a more fluid access to important archived material.

Throughout, the beauty of the U. of Georgia campus – a gracious space of sun-dappled green and sedate brick, surrounded us. Attendees were encouraged to take a tour of a Southern Plantation and the conference Dinner was at the beautiful Botanical Gardens. Others of us took a trip down the Ante-Bellum Trail to Milledgeville, the home of Flannery O’Connor, the ante-bellum capital, and a gemlike reminder of another South, barefoot by the river, even yet. [Can we encode those feet, that lazy river in XML?]

Many thanks to the Program Committee of ACH/ALLC for a wonderful conference and to the members of these organizations for a warm welcome.

Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink
The Electronic Literature Organization
President, Board of Directors

Academic Session: “PAD: Preservation, Archiving, and Dissemination of Electronic Literature

This academic panel will address the need for pre-emptive measures that preserve and archive endangered works of electronic literature as well as inform about PAD’s current operations and future plans. The fact that electronic literary works are constantly at risk of fading into technological obsolescence will inevitably obstruct the ability to teach and study works already in existence as well as impede upon future artistic creation. As all conference attendants know, the ability to do scholarly or pedagogical work in the humanities is entirely dependent upon the archiving capabilities and technological support available. The fact that important works of contemporary literature will soon be inaccessible to scholars, editors, librarians, or students is a major impediment to our cultural and technological future. This panel is therefore a vitally important one to present at ACH.

Due to the diverse reaches of this project, ELO is submitting proposals for two related sessions to this year’s ACH conference. The first is the session above, a traditional academic discussion of ELO’s PAD project, its objectives and implications. The second, presented in a separate proposal, is a creative session of short readings of electronic literature. This combination of academic and creative panels aims to present electronic literature to an audience with diverse and divergent exposure to this literary and technological art form. In so doing, these sessions will jointly present the logical, intellectual, and aesthetic reasons, for supporting and encouraging the preservation of electronic literature.

PAD’s work depends upon and inevitably affects all people working, either centrally or tangentially, in computing, the humanities, and moreover, humanities computing. We look forward to the opportunity to share our work, brainstorm for further ideas, and generate interest and support for this project. We hope that ACH will invite us to participate in this year’s conference.

Panelists and a Brief Description of their Presentation:

David Durand will discuss technical aspects preserving e-texts by means of format conversion, to marked-up format, and the concomitant need for the development of appropriate re-presentation software. This strategy contrasts in several distinct ways with a system emulation strategy (as discussed) by Nick Montfort. As a running example, he will discuss his experience with both conversion and emulation in rescuing data from Brown University’s FRESS hypertext system from the early 70s.

Matthew Kirschenbaum will discuss a range of theoretical issues related to the preservation, archiving, and dissemination of electronic literature, with particular attention to precedents in the fields of textual criticism and bibliography, and the parallel to porting software. Kirschenbaum will address the implications of our thinking about electronic literature from the material and historical standpoint that critical editing (and successful porting) demands, and will also show examples of multiple versions and editions of the “same” work of electronic literature. Kirschenbaum will conclude with a preliminary taxonomy of terms for describing the textual condition of individual works of electronic literature: release, version, layer, object, state, instance, and copy.

Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink will examine a selection of endangered and threatened works of electronic literature. Many of the early examples of hypertext literature exist only on platforms that cannot be executed by contemporary computers. As part of the Preservation, Archiving, and Dissemination activities, the committee is compiling a comprehensive list of e-literature works that can no longer be accessed in their original form. The near-obsolescent works often represent key eras in the development of e-literature and its supporting technologies. “The ‘O’ Word” will look at the coding practices, literary strategies, and placement in the evolving history of the field that might argue for preservation of these and other pieces.

Nick Montfort will discuss how the experience of electronic literature works as functioning, interactive computer programs is often essential to their appreciation. He will describe how re-implementation, the development of new interpreters, and emulation has been used to keep works such as Weizenbaum’s 1965-66 Eliza/Doctor and several decades of interactive fiction accessible and fully functional. He will also consider how this approach can be used today as part of a strategy for preserving e-lit works of many different sorts, works which will be read and studied for many different reasons.

Jessica Pressman will provide a brief explanation of the position of ELO within the academic and cultural community of electronic literature, ELO’s resources and its reasons for accepting the responsibility of the PAD project.

Scott Rettberg will contextualize the problem of archiving digital culture within the overall mission of the Electronic Literature Organization to promote and facilitate the writing, publishing, and reading of electronic literature. He will briefly outline some of the challenges particular to the preservation of electronic literature, identify some of the archiving methodologies that the ELO and other institutions and organizations are currently applying, and introduce the ELO’s Preservation, Archiving and Dissemination initiative. Rettberg will summarize the initial findings of PAD’s working group, and its general approach to the challenge of lessening the impact technological obsolescence on the distribution and study of electronic literature.

Creative Session: “Writers Reading Electronic Literature”

The Reading session herein presented will operate in conjunction with the academic panel that the ELO proposes. This session will be comprised of four accomplished writers of electronic literature: M.D. Coverley, Stephanie Strickland, Talan Memmott, and Scott Rettberg. Each of these artists specializes in a different aspect of electronic literary art. Coverley is widely acknowledged as a pioneer in hypermedia novels; Strickland is an award-winning electronic poet; Memmott is a hypermedia artist and writer; Rettberg is popular hypertext author. The combination of genres and styles of electronic literature and its technical platforms will present the actual characteristics of works that are threatened, as well as those that can be salvaged through preservation actions. This panel is therefore not only relevant to the elaboration and explication of the primary panel on preserving and archiving that we are proposing, but also to the interdisciplinary nature and strivings of the ACH/ALLC conference and all of is participants.

This reading will serve as an important and enjoyable presentation of electronic literature, as well as a visual introduction to the types of works being created and being threatened by issues of digital impermanence. These writers will engage the audience in an exploration of a few threatened works and therein provide a tangible, visual understanding of the nature of electronic literature and the need for its protection. The combination of academic and creative panels will present electronic literature to an audience with diverse and divergent exposure to this literary and technological art form. The two panels will jointly present the logical and intellectual reasons, as well as the aesthetic and creative reasons, for supporting and encouraging the artistic creation and preservation of electronic literature.

Readers and a Description of the Work from Which They Plan to Read:

Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink, MFA, writes electronic hypermedia fiction as M.D. Coverley.Her full-length, interactive novel, Califia, is available on CD-ROM from Eastgate Systems. A selection of Web hypermedia short stories, Fingerprints on Digital Glass, will be published in 2003. She is at work on a hypermedia novella, The Book of Going Forth by Day. Coverley’s Web short stories and essays have appeared in The Iowa Review Web, BeeHive, Artifacts, Cauldron & Net, The Blue Moon Review, Riding the Meridian, Salt Hill, The New River, Currents in Electronic Literacy, Bunk, Poems That Go, Enterzone, The Salt River Review, Aileron, Blast 5 (Alt X Publications), Room Without Walls, and frAme. Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink is an Associate Editor of Word Circuits and Impact, and Hypermedia Editor for The Blue Moon Review. She is Vice President of The Electronic Literature Organization. She will be reading from her forthcoming hypermedia novel The Book of Going Forth By Day.

Scott Rettberg is Assistant Professor of New Media Studies in the Literature Program at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. Rettberg is the cofounder and served as the first executive director of the Electronic Literature Organization from 1999-2001. Rettberg is coauthor of The Unknown, a Hypertext Novel (1998-2001) and The Unknown, an Anthology (2002). Rettberg’s work in electronic literature has been cited in publications including The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Publishers Weekly, Poets and Writers, Realtime Australia, Magazine Littéraire, Chicago Magazine, New City, TechTV, Chicago Public Radio, Technology Review and PC Magazine. He will be reading from his new electronic novel Kind of Blue.

Talan Memmott is a hypermedia artist/writer from San Francisco, California. He is the Creative Director and Editor of the online hypermedia literary journal BeeHive as well as BeeHive’s new ebook project – Microtitles. His own hypermedia work has appeared widely on the Internet. In 2001 he was awarded the trAce/Alt-X New Media Writing Award for his work “Lexia to Perplexia”, which also received honorable mention for the Electronic Literature Organization’s award in fiction. He is a tutor for the trAce Online Writing School, and has been a speaker, panelist, reader and performer at various Conferences and Universities. You may visit Memmott’s website at <>.

Stephanie Strickland will be reading from her newly published and highly acclaimed V. V is the first work of poetry to exist simultaneously in print and on the Web as one work. Penguin published the invertible collection, V: WaveSon.nets / Losing L’una, and V: Vniverse was previewed at The Iowa Review Web and on its own site at <>. V was selected by Brenda Hillman for the Di Castagnola Prize of the Poetry Society of America.