This presentation argues the case for bibliography and book history as disciplines uniquely equipped to recover the signs of human presence in digital artifacts—those humanizing dings, paint scratches, and coffee rings, as it were, that ground new technologies within human timescales and experiential worlds. The past several years have seen remarkable growth in textual scholarship that does not merely apply digital tools to the study of texts, but takes digital textuality itself as the object of study. Matthew Kirschenbaum is the recognized pioneer in applying textual scholarship to born-digital texts (especially works of electronic literature), and several others in the field have begun to do the same with materials such as video games, virtual worlds, e-books, print-on-demand digital books, and even large research databases. This range of ontological exploration might suggest a field dashing off in all directions at once, but I will argue that it represents the natural extension of bibliographical thinking into areas where it’s urgently needed—just as D.F. McKenzie called for in his later work, and as Andrew Prescott has called for more recently within the digital humanities.
That extension of bibliographical thinking to born-digital materials may be natural, but it is by no means straightforward. Fredson Bowers’s metaphorical description of bibliography’s goal—to “strip the veil of print from a text” to understand its history and transmission—may resonate even more with twenty-first century bibliographers faced with a veil of code, yet lacking methods to investigate beneath the surfaces of our screens. What might an artifact like an e-book reveal about the history and social contexts of its making, or the collaborative nature of its construction? How do we locate the significant differences between the surviving versions of a digital text, and what is at stake in their preservation and representation? In a born-digital context, how do form and meaning shape each other? This talk will explore these questions and related examples within the context of my current book project, The Veil of Code, which offers a series of case studies in born-digital bibliography.
Alan Galey is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto, where he also teaches in the collaborative program in Book History and Print Culture. His research focuses on intersections between textual scholarship and digital technologies, especially in the context of theories of the archive and the history of new media prototyping and experimentation (print, digital, and otherwise). He has published on these topics in journals such as Shakespeare Quarterly, Literary and Linguistic Computing, College English and Archival Science, and has co-edited the book collection Shakespeare, the Bible, and the Form of the Book: Contested Scriptures (with Travis DeCook; Routledge, 2011). His article “The Enkindling Reciter: E-Books in the Bibliographical Imagination,” published in Book History in 2012, was awarded the Fredson Bowers Prize by the Society for Textual Scholarship. He was also given the Outstanding Instructor Award by the Master of Information Student Council for 2013-2014. His first monograph book, The Shakespearean Archive: Experiments in New Media from the Renaissance to Postmodernity, was published in 2014 by Cambridge University Press.