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Pathfinders: Documenting the Experience of Early Digital Literature

Pathfinders is a multimedia, open source Scalar book that documents the experience of early digital literature, specifically pre-web hypertext fiction and poetry, from 1986-1995. Written by Dene Grigar, associate professor and director of the Creative Media and Digital Culture Program at Washington State University Vancouver, and Stuart Moulthrop, professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the book focuses on four specific works of born digital literature: Judy Malloy’s Uncle Roger, John McDaid’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse, Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, and Bill Bly’s We Descend. The book is ultimately an effort to extend access to literary works produced on platforms and software programs no longer available and threatened with obsolescence.

The method of documentation used in the book is unique: each author and two additional readers were videotaped interacting with a work on its original computer platform––a methodology they call “traversal.” “We see our work with documentation as a form of digital preservation,” the authors state in their introduction, “one that builds on the method of ‘collection,’ as opposed to the other two more common methods, ‘migration’ and ‘emulation,’ by providing scholars wanting to experience the work in its original format access to video documentation of the works in performance on a computer with which the work would have been originally experienced.”

Alongside videos of traversals, Pathfinders also includes videos of interviews with the artists and readers of the four main works; photos of physical artifacts such as floppies, folio covers or boxes containing floppies and other media; sound files from traversals and interviews; and commentary about the works and media.

FemTechNet Critical Race & Ethnic Studies Pedagogy Workbook

The Ethnic Studies Committee of FemTechNet recently launched a collaborative workbook on critical race and ethnic studies pedagogy. Written in Scalar, the workbook includes, among other items, an extensive collection of syllabi, learning activities, suggested readings, and an archive of “video dialogs” on relevant topics. Workbook materials are meant to be shared by, and open to, instructors who teach race, gender, and technology –topics often taught by feminist scholars and scholars of color, who according to the Committee, “are frequently the most precarious in the academy.” “Acknowledging the challenges of teaching these sensitive and contentious topics in a time of economic retrenchment and increasing institutional precarity for departments of ethnic, gender, and humanistic studies,” they state in the introduction, “this workbook is an ongoing project to build resources for faculty members who are often overburdened at their home institutions, but are willing to take on the difficult task of teaching about gender and racial inequity in our information culture.”

The Committee’s aim was to create a workbook that could evolve over time, with ongoing contributions expanding, updating, and potentially, shifting the contours and content of the document. As such, they wanted a platform that could scale content flexibly. “We chose Scalar, because ultimately, we wanted the book to be … easy to develop over time,” the Ethnic Studies Committee has said, “it is our hope that this workbook will not be a static text, but one that evolves with our contexts and our experiences. The nonlinearity of Scalar allows for juxtaposition and interaction among various paths, itself a form of knowledge creation.” The collaborative nature of the project too, found them turning to Scalar. Many members of FemTechNet have previously used the platform in the classroom, and have, according to the Committee, “found it valuable for collaborative projects that require multiple authors. [It] allows for a networked organization such as FemTechNet to work across geography and time zones.”

FemTechNet invites contributions for all types of teaching materials from syllabi to in-class activities to readings. Readers can send submissions, questions, and comments to FemTechNetCRES@gmail.com.


FemTechNet is an activated network of hundreds of scholars, students, and artists who work on, with, and at the borders of technology, science, and feminism in a variety of fields. One of FemTechNet’s projects is the creation of an alternative MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) called a DOCC (Distributed Open Collaborative Course). The FemTechNet Ethnic Studies Committee is comprised of volunteer teacher/scholars, graduate students, post-docs, and alt-ac professionals who are primarily women of color junior scholars. We support the work of the DOCC instructors by teaching the DOCC in our own institutional contexts; speaking about the work of the network at conferences; publishing about FemTechNet; and producing teaching resources to support the teaching of race and gender in DOCC nodal courses, such as bibliographies, readings, and now this workbook.

Scalar Up Close: Working with Video Annotations

Scalar’s core feature-set includes a built-in video annotator which allows authors to mark up clips with commentary or analysis. In Scalar, video annotations act as a way for authors to draw readers’ attention to a particular segment of a video clip; the annotations themselves appear to readers as pop up dialog boxes containing the author’s commentary or analysis as the clip plays (see above).

One of the more effective uses of video annotations is to create multiple, that is sequential, annotations for a given video clip—to write out commentary or analysis about multiple sections in the same video, creating annotations for each. When viewers play a clip annotated in this manner, each annotation created by the author pops up when the playhead gets to the point in the clip designated for that annotation. The effect is a running textual analysis of the clip as action unfolds. Those interested in seeing a set of video annotations functioning in just this way should take a look at Steve Anderson’s introductory clip, “Computational kitsch in mainframe era title design,” in his essay “Chaos and Control: The Critique of Computation in American Commercial Media (1950-1980)” (shown below) for which Anderson has created twenty separate annotations, each describing a particular segment of the three and a half minute clip.

Creating a video annotation in Scalar is straightforward. Simply navigate to any video clip in your Scalar book and click the “Edit annotations” button at the bottom of the page. Once inside the annotations editor (see below), click the plus button on the left to create a new annotation; use the two “Set” buttons to set the in and out points of the annotation to the current position of the playhead; enter the title and content for the annotation and click “Save.”

An added benefit of Scalar annotations in general, is that they, like all elements in Scalar project, are pages in their own right. This means that annotations in Scalar can contain not only text, but media as well, making it possible to annotate just about anything in a Scalar project with anything else. Want to annotate a silent film clip with multiple audio commentaries? Or annotate select areas of an image with various video clips? Scalar makes this possible.

For more information, see the section on Annotating Media in our User’s Guide.

Scalar Webinars: Announcing Our Summer Schedule

The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture will be offering a series of free online webinars this summer.

Our “Introduction to Scalar” webinars will cover basic features of the platform: a review of existing Scalar books and a hands-on introduction to paths, tags, annotations and importing media. Our “Intermediate Scalar” webinars will delve into more advanced topics including the effective use of visualizations, annotating with media and a primer on customizing appearances in Scalar.

Our summer schedule will include four dates:

Introduction to Scalar: May 28, 10am-12pm (PST)
Intermediate Scalar: June 18, 10am-12pm (PST)
Introduction to Scalar: July 9, 4pm-6pm (PST)
Intermediate Scalar: July 30, 4pm-6pm (PST)

Hurry, spaces are limited!

Register here.

Scalar User’s Guide

Ever gotten stuck trying to annotate a video in Scalar? Or just plain forgot how to add items to your main menu? Our comprehensive User’s Guide is always there to assist.

If it’s your first time using Scalar, using the Getting Started section is ideal to acquaint yourself with the basics. If you’re in a hurry, you can explore a special section that gathers all of Scalar’s QuickStart documentation in one place. If you’re embarking on a large project, we highly recommend you read through the sections on Working with Media, Working with Content, and Working with Structure to familiarize yourself with all of Scalar’s capabilities as well as some important considerations for using media in your book. The Advanced Topics section dives into some useful features for those who want to dive a bit deeper into the platform. Our Custom Styling section shows you how to tailor basic stylistic features of Scalar projects, like font size and background color. And finally, our section on Third Party Plugins and Platforms shows users how to insert third-party material such as interactive maps and timelines into your Scalar project using iframes.

For users who are logged in, a link to our User’s Guide is always located at the top right-hand corner of your page, next to “Dashboard” and “Index.”

Interactive Storytelling with Scalar

redshift-and-portalmetal-screenshot-2-950x524

 

Micha Cárdenas, Provost Fellow and PhD candidate in Media Arts + Practice (iMAP) at University of Southern California, has found yet another use for Scalar: interactive storytelling. In her latest project, Redshift and Portalmetal, Cárdenas uses Scalar to combine film, performance and poetry into an online interactive game.

Readers (or perhaps, users or players) are prompted at key junctures within the narrative and given the choice to move along diverse paths, to choose the action within the story: leave Earth or stay; prepare for your trip or just flee; go to the Ice Planet or go to the Ocean Moon.

redshift-and-portalmetal-screenshot-2-950x524The story asks readers to confront choices made in the wake of apocalyptic climate change. But ultimately, according to Cárdenas, Redshift and Portalmetal, “uses space travel as a lens through which to understand the experience of migration and settlement for a trans woman of color [and] points to possibilities of post-digital, post-media, and decolonial approaches to communication.”

Each page of the story contains minimal textual narrative; underneath that text, arresting yet calming, sci-fi-scenic footage flows the full width of the browser window. The effect is quite spectacular and quite engaging.

Cárdenas coordinated all the filming for these shots in Los Angeles and Toronto and also wrote the text and performed the movement for the project.

This fall, Cárdenas will join the University of Washington, Bothell as an Assistant Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

See Redshift and Portalmetal here. See Micha Cárdenas here.

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The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture

The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture was created with the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.