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For centuries, marginalia have served as instantiations of a rich reader engagement with a text, often providing hints to interpretations from different times, languages, and cultures thus forming critical insights into texts that would otherwise be lost. With more and more texts being digitized or already born digital texts available online or on electronic readers, the notion of marginalia in a digital space poses a number of interesting questions. How can we preserve, enhance, and expand this critical interaction especially with literary texts, particularly when we consider the social dimension offered through digital media? How can we make use of large digital text, image, video, and audio repositories to can help us represent a text as a “multi- dimensional space”, as a “tissue of quotations drawn from innumerable centers of culture“ (Roland Barthes)1? What if we had digital tools that allowed us to visualize how readers experience a text by following their interactions, for example by graphically representing the path of their annotations across the whole text? How do readers discover connections within a text, across different texts, to source texts, to adaptations in other media, or derivative texts? What if we could finally visualize the “act of reading“ (Wolfgang Iser2) and analyze a literary text from both the perspective of the author and the readers? Could we even go beyond the single text and graphically represent reading paths across multiple texts?
A multidisciplinary research team at HyperStudio, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology‘s Digital Humanities Lab within Comparative Media Studies has been exploring these questions and experimenting with visualization tools that allow for layered visual representations of reader interactions with texts, drawing on thousands of fine-grained reader-generated annotations. At the same time, these visualizations can serve as novel navigational mechanisms through texts and annotations, on both a macro and micro level. This lightning talk will present some of HyperStudio’s recent visualization experiments.
1 Ronald Barthes: “The Death of the Author”, in: Image, music, text, New York 1997
2 Wolfgang Iser: The Implied Reader; Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett, Baltimore 1974