September 13, 2004

Materiality and Digitality at Penn

by Nick Montfort · , 8:13 pm

The first meeting this year of the History of Material Texts Workshop at Penn featured the presentation “The Materiality of the Digital Text” by Rebecca Bushnell, English professor and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. (The textual status of digital documents is one of three themes for the workshop this year.) Bushnell quoted Alberto Manguel, Roger Chartier, Robert Coover, and Sven Birkerts in investigating how to approach the material nature of digital facsimiles, and showed the on-line Furness Shakespeare Library from Penn’s Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image. The digital text is clearly different than an original edition or printed facsimile, but neither Bushnell nor others in the seminar were stuck on thinking of it as immaterial, or as some simple confounding of the order of the codex. We even discussed a bit how the nature “born-digital” works differs from that of digital facsimiles of print texts. Classicist Shane Butler made clear how the methods of the seminar could be brought to bear on digital or other sorts of non-printed texts, stating that “the material text” can be thought of as any practice — oral, written, printed, or digital — that separates the author from expression of an idea and allows that expression to exist independently.