English/BKS 341 First Writing Assignment: Digital Texts and Archives

        There is no minimum page length.  I would prefer that students' writing would take up no more than five to ten pages when printed, though they may also add include images etc. that would make it more sensible to read it as a digital text.  I want to emphasize concentrated, sophisticated thinking in their writing, rather than length or sheer accumulation of ideas.  The topics below are intended to simulate, not limit, your creative engagement with the issues we have been discussing.  Students may well find that you have more to say than they can fit into eight to fifteen (virtual) pages.  Remember that you can return to these topics in the final research projects, though I hope most of you will want to work with books from Goucher's Special Collections.  Remember to document your use of both primary and secondary sources using MLA in-text citations and a properly formatted Works Cited section.

1)  Digital texts have changed a great deal since the earliest ASCII messages and text files.  Pick one of the following innovations and explore how its use in modern digital texts has changed writers' and readers' use of the texts:  variable fonts with true italics and bold-face; embedded digital images; embedded sound files; embedded full-motion video.  Take care to consider the innovation's positive and negative potentials.  When were these innovations introduced and by whom?  (Usually this will be a corporate "whom.")  What did experts and critics at the time think would result, and what might they think now?  I would expect students to use at least some secondary scholarly sources to provide context for their original research.  As always, I advise students to let me advise them regarding their sources' quality and their approach to the topic.

2)  The production of texts has increased so much since the widespread international adoption of the Internet that scholars of the future will have an enormous problem finding, reading, and understanding the provenance of it all.  What might contemporary authors, publishers, libraries, and other organizations and persons do to enable our era's texts to be used by future generations.  Students can take for granted that the physical preservation and access problems described by Joel Rothenberg will be solved at some point in the future.  Writers have to make a plausible case for their theses and that will require them to research technological advances currently being explored in scholarly or well-qualified business information sources.  As always, I advise students to let me advise them regarding sources' quality and approach to the topic.

3)  Children growing up today will relate differently to literacy than we do, especially as they encounter fewer and fewer books, and do more of their reading and writing online, including texting using cell-phone-like devices with small screens and limited keyboard input capacity.  Using younger siblings, and networks of friends with younger siblings, interview some of these children and gather information about how they learned to read and write, how they typically use their literacy skills today, and what they expect to be using literacy for in the future.  Unless writers have reasons you can clear with me before completing the paper for not doing so, I would expect you to gather information from at least five informants for a short exploratory paper like this.  I would expect writers to use at least some secondary scholarly sources to provide context for original research.  As always, I advise writers to let me advise them regarding sources' quality and approach to the topic.

4)  People older than we are are typically have much less homogenous experiences of entering into the world of digital texts and archives.  Some still refuse to use certain kinds of digital text (e.g., texting), and some make surprisingly limited use of this technology.  Using parents, Goucher faculty (other than me!), and other informants over thirty, gather information about how and when they were introduced to "word processing" documents, Internet access, online library catalogs, and other technologies now considered essential to scholarly information literacy.   Unless you have reasons writers can clear with me before completing the paper for not doing so, I would expect them to gather information from at least five informants for a short exploratory paper like this.   I would expect you to use at least some secondary scholarly sources to provide context for  original research.  As always, I advise writers to let me advise them regarding sources' quality and approach to the topic.

5)  Research the available archives of digital text, sound, and images that are available to scholars on a specific issue or topic relevant to current or future scholarly work in your major.  Narrow the focus sufficiently to enable qualitative judgments about the relative value of these digital archives.  Evaulate what is stored there in terms of its availability in other formats (e.g., can we get it in print, DVD, etc.?) as well as the appropriateness of digital archiving to this particular kind of information.  Evaluate the quality of its search interface, taking care to make it has been thoroughly explored and tested.  The resulting document would take the form of a "finding aid" for scholars doing work on that issue or topic, including URLs of the sites the paper is evaluating.  Unless writers have reasons they can clear with me before completing the paper for not doing so, I would expect them to gather information from at least three sites of significant complexity and size.  One some topics, single sites exist that would take far more than five (virtual) pages to analyze--we can negotiate ways to focus such research.  I would expect writers to use at least some secondary scholarly sources to provide context for  original research.  As always, I advise writers to let me advise them regarding sources' quality and approach to the topic.

6)  How will the wide-spread dissemination of digital texts affect the concept of "copyright" in coming years?  Consult recent scholarly discussions of copyright and its alternatives.  What consequences might result from the disappearance of textual copyright, in particular.  Consider different genres of texts that are currently produced and distributed under copyright controls.  Which genres of text production might increase in quantity, quality, and/or importance as a result of the end of enforceable copyright protection, and which genres might decrease in quality, quality, and/or importance?  Use evidence from the recent past of the Internet to support the paper's argument.  That is, this is not just an opportunity to speculate wildly.  Writers have to make a plausible case for their theses and that will require them to research technological advances currently being explored in scholarly or well-qualified business information sources.  As always, I advise writers to let me advise them regarding sources' quality and approach to the topic.

7)  Former innovations in text production and distribution, which we will be exploring in the rest of the semester, tended to imitate the previous modes of text production and distribution for decades or even centuries until readers and writers and text manufacturers realized the full potential of the new innovations.  Codex books were not paginated, but rather they followed the use of color and other guides used by the scroll, until decades after printing's introduction.  The earliest decades of printed book type fonts imitated precisely the complicated Gothic handwriting of fifteenth-century scribes, despite the fact that those manuscript hands were deliberately obscure and difficult to learn to read.  Today, digital media routinely are made and used following conventions based on paper text construction, including the notions of the "page" and the "book."  Imagine the text of the next technological generation.  What substrates might it be found upon (vs. parchment or paper "leaves" or CRT or LCD "screens," and how might future readers operate it (vs. "turning pages," "scrolling," or even "opening" or "closing" the text)?  Use evidence from the recent past of the Internet, or other human responses to cultural innovation, to support the paper's argument. That is, this is not just an opportunity to speculate wildly.  Writers have to make a plausible case for their theses and that will require them to research technological advances currently being explored in scholarly or well-qualified business information sources.  As always, I advise writers to let me advise them regarding sources' quality and approach to the topic.

8.  "E-books" (digital versions of print) are always cheaper than print versions of the same text.  Between 2015 and 2017's version of this course, the Goucher Library collection came to have more e-books than print books.  This is a revolutionary development.  Once the rise of digital over print books was only predicted as a future event between the course's first offering in 2007 and the present, but now it can be studied as a reality.  Before about 2016, faculty members were given annual "book budgets" with which to buy print titles for the Main Collection.  For some disciplines, e-book versions became both cheaper and more desirable than print versions of the same title, while other disciplines are more likely to order print copies.  The current book-order form is noticeably biased toward e-texts, which are Library's current default preference.  See the Library's current Web page: http://libraryguides.goucher.edu/faculty/requestpurchase  What factors currently affect whether academic books are purchased in print copies or as digital surrogates for print?  Writers should carefully consider reading practices and the knowledge production/distribution in at least two or three specific fields of knowledge to create a fair comparison.  Are there dangers to reliance on print collections that digital collections avoid?  Are there dangers to reliance on digital collections that print collections avoid?  What are the standard collection management practices at some colleges whose missions and sizes are similar to Goucher's?  Writers also might want to augment standard research in scholarly articles and books (whether digital or print!) with intereviews of Goucher faculty members from the disciplines you are using for your examples.  If writers do interviews, they should try to get at least one junior (untenured) faculty member and one senior (tenured) faculty member so that they cover a range of experience and practices in this important transitional era of academic libraries' collection management.  Conversations with Library staff also might inform a report on this topic.  

9.  When the course awakens from hibernation every two years, some of its sources have "aged" more than others.  Basic research in manuscript and print books has not changed very much since the 20th Century, though in the last five years (before 2017) Linne Mooney may have identified the scribe who wrote both the Ellesmere and Hengwyrt manuscripts of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.  Scholarship on digital texts, libraries, etc. is changing rapidly, however, and the astute student might profitably write a good short paper updating an interesting source's conclusions or predictions about digital text.  For instance, Ralf Schneider's 2005 summary of cognitive studies of how people read "hypertext" (cross-linked non-hierarchical non-linear online documents--see Bolter and Birkerts) is by now rather far out of date for social sciences and coginitive studies research.  Using JSTOR and other Library scholarly databases, it should be possible to see who has cited Schneider since 2005, and to follow the keywords in his research forward in time.  Bolter, Birkerts, and Stephenson made predictions that others might have revisited with scholarly methods.  Manoff and Barker's debate about libraries also might have been revisited.  See me if you are having trouble using scholarly databases!