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I. Rosenberg: The HyperCard Stacks (1992-1994)

1. Author's Background

In January of 1991 I was appointed Research Officer for the a href="">CTI Centre for Textual Studies. The CTI (or Computers in Teaching Initiative) comprises 23 subject-based centres (twenty-one in 1991) working to encourage the use of learning technologies in UK higher education. CTI Textual Studies was originally established as the Centre for Literature and Linguistic studies and covered all aspects of computing in the teaching of these subjects in all languages. In September 1990 the Centre was reorganised and renamed to cover text-based subjects formerly the province of the Centre for the Humanities. In short this meant that as Research Officer for the Centre I was expected to be able to offer advice on the use of computers in the teaching (at higher education level) of literature (in all languages), linguistics, classics, theology, philosophy, and theatre arts and drama (media studies has been subsequently added).

The duties of a Research Officer in the CTI were quite widespread. One had to keep informed on the latest developments on the Internet (in 1991 this meant predominantly monitoring discussion lists and finding the easiest means to access on-line resources such as library catalogues and FTP sites); collecting together any computer-based learning packages; and disseminating this information through a newsletter (Computers and Texts) and an annual software listing called the Resources Guide (Lee et al, 1991-).

In 1991 most excitement centred around the development of multimedia packages. HyperCard was predominant in the Macintosh market, Office Workstation Ltd's GUIDE had been negotiated as a CHEST site license deal, and numerous other authoring packages were becoming available. Naturally, under the role of the CTI, any new multimedia packages which fell under the subject-categories covered by CTI Textual Studies had to be investigated.

Multimedia seemed to lend itself well to literary studies. Project Perseus (combining CD-ROM and Laserdisk technology) was in its final beta-test stages at Harvard University. Still the most extensive of all multimedia products for literary studies this product combined source texts, maps, archaeological site plans, and an extensive library of graphics to create a vast setting for the teaching of studies relating to Ancient Greece. There was the highly successful Intermedia project by George Landow at Brown University (started in 1984 as a descendant of the original FRES--File Retrieval and Editing System--but now running under Storyspace). In the United Kingdom work had been going for a couple of years at the University of Glasgow under the STELLA project (Software for Teaching English Language and Literature and its Assessment); and the University of Nottingham had begun to work with GUIDE to develop a tutorial to teach the Old English poem Wulf and Eadwacer for undergraduate courses (under the title 'Project WULF').

Perhaps it is of interest to ask why multimedia proved so popular to literary studies. One of the main reasons is to do with the intertextuality of literature. A single text depends upon other texts, not just literary, for meaning, and to this can be added other data which might be of a different medium (such as pieces of music, filmed versions of plays, etc.). This is all highly beneficial if one wishes to remove some of the barriers that have developed in the traditional University system limiting interdisciplinary studies. For example, in her thesis on literature in the age of the computer, Kim Ball records the experiences of a history of science student at Brown University who used Landow's Dickens Web (part of the Intermedia project aimed at teaching the works of Charles Dickens). The student used the package to supplement an essay stating that it: 'had never occurred to me to do that kind of thing earlier and it didn't occur to anyone else I knew who was writing those kinds of papers. Science was science, history was history, history of science was both but just something else altogether' (Ball, 1993). Ball goes on to note that: 'A student working with Intermedia [or hypermedia] is exposed to a variety of material she might never see if forced to hunt all the information in a multitude of books and journals in the library. Hypertext does benefit the student in 'laying it all out' in one place and making it conveniently accessible.' (Ball, 1993).

Not only did multimedia offer literary scholars the chance to draw together material from different subject areas to present the end-user with a more complete picture, it also allowed the students to begin to govern their own learning process. As Landow stated in Hypertext: the Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology the roles of the lecturer/student change because the teachers are 'transferring some of their power and authority to students' (Landow, 1992, p. 123).

2. Rosenberg 1.0 (1992)

2.1 The Beowulf Workstation

One of the most popular expressions of multimedia (or hypermedia) in literary studies was the advent of the hypermedia edition. Here the text to be studied was central, but at the same time being annotated with various other pieces of information. In 1991 an excellent example of this was The Beowulf Workstation. This was written in HyperCard (version 1.2) by Professor Patrick Conner of West Virginia University. It presented an edition of Beowulf, complete with glossary, list of paradigms, illustrations, essays, and facsimiles, all of which the student could browse through in their spare time to supplement their study of the poem (see Figures 1 and 2). Matthew Wolfe, a student of Professor Conner's exposed to the program noted that the student could 'organise the secondary criticism in his or her mind...[and] draw on all the basic tools required to translate, understand, and interpret the poem without leaving his or her desk.' He added: 'To the amazement of most observers, little classtime was spent discussing the program, so the poem was never made secondary to lectures on computer science' (Wolfe, 1990). In addition The Beowulf Workstation was an example of a shell or template, i.e. academics could automatically remove Beowulf and put in any poem, not necessarily Old English, to create new hypermedia teaching editions. This idea was also the driving force behind The Poetry Shell, developed as part of Oxford University's ITTI project. Written in Asymetrix's Multimedia ToolBook the Shell allows scholars with very little computing knowledge (basically all that is needed is a grasp of any standard word-processing package) to create their own hypermedia editions with relative ease. The example edition distributed by the ITTI which was created using The Poetry Shell is The Dream of the Rood which teaches the Old English poem of the same name (reviews of these two products can be found in the a href="">SIMA web site).

2.2 Creating Rosenberg 1.0

Using The Beowulf Workstation model, work began on the first of the series of Rosenberg stacks in the first quarter of 1992 (hereafter known as Rosenberg 1.0). The initial idea (and guidance) for concentrating on Rosenberg came from Professor Kathryn Sutherland (then of the English Department, University of Manchester, now at the University of Nottingham). The hypermedia edition structure of The Beowulf Workstation implied the need for a central text and the poem 'Break of Day in the Trenches' was chosen.

The reasons for starting the project stemmed mainly from a wish to see for myself the effectiveness of hypermedia as a teaching tool, but also the problems involved in the design, creation, and evaluation of such material. The success of such projects as Perseus, WULF, and The Beowulf Workstation, owed much to the fact that they were based in historically rich (yet unfamiliar) periods which could be supplemented with art, archaeology, and palaeography. With a wish to design a package based more in the modern age, but not forgetting the successful way hypermedia had allowed literature to be established within its social and historical context, the period of the First World War was chosen because of the ample material that could be attached to the poetry. Furthermore, the subject itself is a very popular one taught widely in literature courses in schools and colleges thus providing a large audience for evaluation and distribution.

The resulting package, as already mentioned, was centred around one of the most accomplished poets of the period, Isaac Rosenberg, who fought in the British Army on the Western Front until his death in April, 1918. Not only was Rosenberg one of the great poets of the period (his reputation, however, was established after his death when his poetry was reassessed), he was also a talented artist, an extensive writer of letters, and a part-time dramatist. All of these allowed the package to expand into other areas beyond that of poetry.

The shell of Professor Patrick Conner's The Beowulf Workstation was used as a starting point thus dictating the use of HyperCard on a Macintosh platform. Beowulf was automatically removed from the shell and replaced with 'Break of Day in the Trenches'. However, it was clear that the study aids provided for the student of Old English were redundant when teaching more modern literature (i.e. there was no need to provide a Glossary for 1916 English). Many of these features were subsequently removed freeing up extra screen space.

The design of the package was as follows. After the opening title screen the first card the user was presented with was the text of the poem complete with buttons to show the history of the amendments made to the text by Rosenberg throughout 1916 (see Figure 3). From here the students could go directly to information concerning Rosenberg (i.e. his life, attitudes, and other works); to a section entitled Analogues (namely the work of contemporary poets both male and female, plus some of the less well-known poetry that survives only in such things as the trench newspaper The Wipers Times); and to a larger area on the First World War itself. To aid navigation there was a background map facility modelled on the one used in Professor Mike Best's Shakespeare's Life & Times (see Figure 4). Finally, although the student was free to browse around the various cards of information using the map facility or the built in hypertext links, they could not exit from the program (unless they forced a quit from HyperCard) without returning to the initial card with the poem 'Break of Day in the Trenches'. This was a deliberate design policy (which has been kept in for the WWW version) so that hopefully on re-reading the poem their perception of the work may have changed.

As this was a package aimed at literature students the historical details on the First World War were kept to a minimum, but poems from the period were inserted appropriately in an attempt to initiate discussion. Music and images supplemented the textual material. Sound was sampled from three songs from the period ('Your King and Country', 'It's a Long Way to Tipperary', and 'Pack up Your Troubles') using SoundEdit and HyperSound (two packages to allow the easy digitisation and post-editing of sound files--HyperSound allowed sound resources to be placed into a stack's resource fork very quickly). Development was done on a Macintosh SE/30, and a Macintosh IIsi. On a basis of a 9.00am-5.00pm working day the product (including the time taken to learn HyperCard and the digitisation procedures) took sixty working days to complete. The package was small enough (even with the sound files) to be distributed on three High Density 3.5" floppy disks. The only charge made was for the cost of the disks plus postage and package.

2.3 Copyright Issues with Rosenberg 1.0

Copyright had to be cleared on all the text, images, and sound used in the package before it could be distributed. Many of the poets who died during the Great War were subsequently out of copyright (under the 75-year rule) but even so a substantial amount of time was involved in writing to various publishers to discover this. The process proved to be a tiresome litany of unanswered letters, ignorance on the part of publishers as to what storing material in electronic form actually implied (i.e. it took some explaining that limiting the distribution of the package to within the UK was almost impossible with the ease of sending software across the Internet), and bargaining to keep any payments down to a minimum.

As a result of this it was clear (at least in 1992) that one could offer two pieces of advice. First, if possible, use national archives such as libraries and museums (the Imperial War Museum's Educational Department allowed the use all the images required as long as the product was for non-commercial purposes). Second, the need to stress to publishers that the product was for the educational market, and (if true) that it was a non-profit making venture.

2.4 Evaluating Rosenberg 1.0

The package was taken to two institutions, a sixth form class (16-17 years old) who were studying English, and a class at the University of North London. In the school the set-up was of two machines with the pupils clustering around in groups of eight and going through it at their own speed. In the University the package was loaded on several machines and users could interact with it on a one-to-one basis. Observation was of particular use to see bad design faults (buttons, problems of navigation, etc.) and how users interacted with it (it was interesting to see how well the sixth-formers used the product as a basis for discussion).

The second form of evaluation was by questionnaires. All the students in the two scenarios above filled one in and the package was subsequently presented to trainee teachers and MA Education students at Sheffield Hallam University. In total over fifty forms were returned and everytime the product was sent out it was done so with the request that anybody using it should return any comments to help in the evaluation process.

The overall reception was very favourable, with comments such as 'interesting', 'enjoyable', and 'useful' being common. Most students found it attractive because it introduced them to areas that they were not familiar with (or indeed had not even considered as being helpful to the study of War poetry), and the teachers felt that lesson plans could be constructed around the package. A fuller discussion of this evaluation is available in Lee (1992).

One point of worry, however, was the perceived power of the product. This was particularly noticeable in several comments made by the A-Level students who implied that their textbooks had now become redundant because the package contained everything they needed to know. This worrying readiness to accept the idea that a) the computer contains all the facts; and b) it contains all the correct facts--is even now of great importance to multimedia developers. Unless one applies the same academic standards to software products that one does to publications, the area will become marginalized and viewed as non-scholarly. In many ways this is perhaps an even greater challenge than our seemingly constant quest to get the machines to do things bigger, quicker, and all at the same time.

3. Rosenberg 1.1 (1993)

3.1 The Advent of Quicktime

With the appearance of Quicktime in 1992-1993 on a widespread basis there was suddenly a quick and easy software solution to creating and running small excerpts of video on a reasonably low-level Macintosh computer. This, in conjunction with the appearance of HyperCard 2.0, meant that at the end of 1992/early 1993 work began on a second version of the Rosenberg stacks (hereafter Rosenberg 1.1) this time including QuickTime movies. Once again the resources of the Imperial War Museum were used (and copyright cleared) and film samples were taken from the Museum's videos War Women of Britain and The Battle of the Somme. All of the these were monochrome and silent. Digitisation was done on a Macintosh Quadra 700 using a VideoSpigot board, ScreenPlay software, and Adobe Premier. Film samples were digitised, edited, and compressed (which meant that a 15-20 second film was about 1MB in size).

Film footage was used in three ways: first, to illustrate some event or detail which was difficult to explain (e.g. the setting up of a machine-gun post, or the actual desolation of no-man's land); second, as an example of film shown to the public at the time (e.g. The Battle of the Somme was publicly released in the latter part of 1916); and finally, it was felt that it would be useful to attach moving images to the poems already stored in the programme. The objective here was to supplement the poem with contextual visual imagery, but, at all times, keeping the literature as the focal point. In order to avoid the probable scenario of the user simply looking at the film without actually reading the piece it was meant to symbolise, it was decided that the movie would appear as an option only after the poem had been called-up. An example from Rosenberg 1.1 relates to the card on Field Marshall Haig. Initially the user is presented with a short biographical description of the British Commander-in-Chief, but they have the further option of viewing the poem 'The General' by Siegfried Sassoon. Once they have done this a second button appears which, when activated, shows a short film compilation of a General inspecting some troops, a file of soldiers marching towards the front-line, and a final image of a corpse sprawled against a trench-wall (see Figures 5 and 6).

There was no formal evaluation of Rosenberg 1.1 although anyone using it was asked to complete the questionnaire distributed with Rosenberg 1.0. The inclusion of film footage, however, meant that the size of the package had increased dramatically to around 19MB. This meant that to distribute it on 3.5" floppy disks would have meant a considerable amount of time spent on disk copying (although Oxford University Computing Services now has a CD-ROM writing facility, it did not have one in 1993). Therefore, anyone who wished to use Rosenberg 1.1 or get their own version had to come to Oxford and make a copy for themselves.

4. Rosenberg 2.0 (1994)

4.1 HyperCard 2.2

Work on the project was relatively quiet over the coming year. About twenty copies of the HyperCard stacks for Rosenberg 1.1 were collected from the machine at Oxford and the product was demonstrated on a number of visits by the CTI Centre around the country. The reception to the design was always favourable although it was generally recognised that the content was somewhat limited.

At the end of 1993/early 1994 Oxford University Computing Services purchased a copy of the new version of HyperCard, namely 2.2. This promised, amongst its many other features, to allow the easy introduction of colour, a singular failing in previous versions of the software. Up until then colour was only available via the display in external windows of PICT files, or by using the add-on 'ColorizeIt' available on most FTP sites.

In the light of this advance in the authoring software work began on a new version of Rosenberg (hereafter Rosenberg 2.0). It was felt that the main strength of the previous versions had been the design of the stacks whereby the user was introduced to the poem, then its historical context, and finally back to the poem again to see if the additional information had in any way altered their perceptions of 'Break of Day in the Trenches'. It was decided that Rosenberg 2.0 should be expanded in two ways:

  1. To try to allow readers to automatically store their comments resulting from their first reading of the poem, and then to archive their final impressions once they had been exposed to the ancillary information.

  2. To have different starting points other than 'Break of Day in the Trenches', i.e. poems by other writers.

Sample screens from Rosenberg 2.0 appear in Figures 7 to 9. The first (Figure 7) shows the new opening screen whereby users could choose from a selection of poems and poets (Isaac Rosenberg's 'Break of Day in the Trenches', Edward Thomas's 'As the Team's Head Brass', Siegfried Sassoon's 'The General' and 'Blighters', Rupert Brooke's 'The Soldier', and Wilfred Owen's 'Futility'). Once a user selected a poem they were then taken to a rather plain screen that presented purely the text of the poem. Figure 8 illustrates how 'Break of Day in the Trenches' appeared in Rosenberg 2.0. The lack of any historical information meant that the user provided comments (in the appropriate box) as a result of an uninfluenced reading of the text. Once they had done this they could then move on to the multimedia version of the poem (Figure 9) complete with links to background information, film footage, etc. Although it is not illustrated opposite, on exiting the package the user was taken to a screen similar to that in Figure 8 and asked to record their comments on the poem after having discovered its historical and social context. They could also look at their initial comments and those of others (all archived as plain text files and automatically loaded into a HyperCard).

However, in many ways, these few screen-shots represent most of the work on Rosenberg 2.0. Extra screens were designed surrounding the topic of the War itself but these were never completed. The stumbling block in the development of the package was HyperCard's very limited ability to handle colour to any decent level. Problems which were continually encountered included the speed of loading in a colour file; failure to clear a screen so that when the user moved to another card the image of the previous card still remained causing an overlap of pictures (this could only be fixed by using the 'Redraw Screen' menu option); or, even worse, images simply failing to load leaving large white gaps on the screen. Numerous messages on the HyperCard discussion list (HYPERCRD-L) indicated that many other people were encountering these problems.

Two options were thus available. First, to look around for another authoring tool that could be used to replace HyperCard. It was widely recognised that ToolBook was outpacing HyperCard and was thus worth considering. However, the problem with ToolBook was that it could only deliver material for a PC. Macromedia Director, though strong on animation, was very weak in its hypertext linking facilities. Authorware was too expensive, and Guide was receiving very little support (at the time SuperCard was not considered but this perhaps is now the best authoring package for the Macintosh).

The second option was to move away from the concept of using a commercial authoring package and to begin to develop a way of making the material available across the Internet. Recent experiences of converting the CTI Centre for Textual Studies' a href="">Resources Guide to HTML (and thus delivering it on the World-Wide Web) had yielded highly favourable results.

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