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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

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.

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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.