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III. The Web Site: 'Isaac Rosenberg's 'Break of Day in the Trenches'' (1995)

The Rosenberg tutorial is available at a href="">

1. Design

The strength of Rosenberg 1.0, 1.1, and 2.0 (though the latter was never completed) was the circular design of the product. That is to say a user was presented with the poem, then the supporting historical information, and finally the poem again. In many ways this was exploring (at a simple level) some interesting ideas involved with literary theory. How does our knowledge of the contextual information surrounding a piece of literature influence the way we interpret it? It was felt that this design structure should be maintained in the Web site, incorporating the attempts in Rosenberg 2.0 to actually record the reader's comments and make them available to all.

This, however, does have serious implications. To maintain consistency in the comment's by readers one has to do two things: 1) try to insure that all users have the opportunity to access exactly the same amount of material; 2) following on from this once the Web site has been `published' you cannot add any extra material to the historical archive--the site, apart from the addition of user's comments, becomes frozen. Taking 1 and 2 together this also meant that when designing the site it had to made a closed site (i.e. there were, and still are, no links to external sites).

The structure of the site is detailed in Figure 10. The user comes to a welcoming screen offering general advice on the site and how to navigate it, plus a direct link to 'Break of Day in the Trenches' (top left). If they choose the latter they are then taken to a simple version of the poem with no supporting information apart from the fact that it was written by Isaac Rosenberg (top right). Instructions are given for them to read the poem and using the Web form at the bottom of the page they should record their name, e-mail address (optional), and their initial impressions of the poem. A button marked `Archive' allows them to mail the message directly off to the username which is monitored continually.

Once they have completed the form (although there is no mechanism to enforce them to do this) they then move on to the hypermedia edition (centre of screen) and from there to information on the Life of Rosenberg, Other Poets, The First World War, a Map of the Site (bottom left), and an Exit facility (bottom right). If they choose the Exit facility they are taken to a final page where the poem is repeated and they are asked to record their final thoughts using an identical Web form and `Archive' button. At this point they also have the ability to see other reader's initial and final comments. [The Rosenberg tutorial is available at a href=""> - readers of this report are strongly urged to go there to gain a better perspective of the design.

Designing for the Web presents many difficulties which are not encountered when designing for such packages as HyperCard or ToolBook. These include:

1. 1 Graphics.

To begin with, due to the slowness of the networks you have to avoid the over-use of inlaid graphics (if there are too many most users will simply turn off the 'auto-load images' option on their browser). If a large graphic is needed it is best to include a thumbnail image first with an indication of how big (in file size) the full image would be if users were to attempt to download it. It also had to be remembered that many users might be viewing the site with a non-graphical browser (such as LYNX) and thus if an image was to be used as a link there had to be a text alternative included in the mark-up (using the ALT= element in HTML).

1.2 Moving around a page

Many users would be used to hypertext linking in HyperCard or ToolBook whereby when the screen changed they were in fact going to a separate card/stack or ToolBook page/book. This is not always the case in a Web document. Many links in the Rosenberg Web site used the HTML system of NAMES and thus the link was actually to within the same document but at a point further down the page. To try to impress this on users it was decided that throughout the notation `Return to the Top of the Page' would be used with an anchor or link being made to a NAME in the first header.

1.3 Video/Sound

Although it was noted earlier that Rosenberg 1.1 included sound and video files these were not included in the Rosenberg Web site. This is not because the Web does not allow for the inclusion of such multimedia elements--it clearly does--but rather because to put up any useful piece of video would require a reasonably large file which would take far too long to download (particularly in the context of this on-line seminar). It was felt that the place for video and sound files would be in an archive of such material, and not in a quick-stop seminar where it is constantly the aim to maintain the user's attention.

2. Creating the Web Pages

Where possible text files and graphics were extracted from the previous Rosenberg HyperCard stacks and converted (e.g. graphics from HyperCard require changing PICT files to JPEG format). Mark-up of the text documents was done using a standard word-processor (Microsoft Word 5.1) as conversion tools (such as RTF2HTML) were not appropriate, and the existing editing packages (e.g. HTML Assistant) were deemed to be a bit limited. There was still a need for the digitising of more material and this was done using OmniPage Pro for OCR, and Adobe Photoshop for graphics (and graphic conversion). Working on a basis of man-hours this whole process took c.50 hours (spread out over the Spring and Summer of 1995). To maintain the policy of making this site available to as many people as possible no Netscape extensions were used.

The documents were tested on a local hard-drive to begin with. Once it was found that all the links worked they were mounted on Oxford University's UNIX mainframe in a public HTML directory (a facility open to all users of Oxford University Computing Services). Technical help was sought from David Snowling, the Web advisor at the Computing Services, to fine-tune the operation of the Web forms.

3. Copyright

The last time permission to use any of the material had been sought from the copyright holders had been with the dissemination of Rosenberg 1.1 (Rosenberg 2.0 was never issued). This meant that agreement had to be reached on all documents/graphics that were used. A standard letter was sent to all the appropriate bodies once they had been identified as holders of copyright: Permissions Manager
Tower Hamlets Amenities Committee/Library
Bancroft's Library
277 Bancroft's Road
London E1 4DQ
Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to you to ask permission to use some material in a project of mine centred on First World War poetry (in particular Isaac Rosenberg). The project aims to create an international teaching resource on the Internet, and is thus both educational and non-profit making. The material will be mounted on the World-Wide Web and will be accessible by anyone in the world who has an internet connection. Therefore it would be almost impossible for me to limit its distribution. Naturally Tower Hamlets would be given full credit for all its help and I would be more than happy to provide a link to any Web pages you have in existence (I would need to know the address of these however).

I am writing to you therefore to ask for permission to use the following items:

Picture of Isaac Rosenberg in uniform, found on an autographed postcard of 1917. This photo is widely available in printed material but can be found opposite page 157 of J. M. Wilson's Isaac Rosenberg: Poet and Painter (London: Cecil Woolf, 1975). Photocopy enclosed.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Dr Stuart Lee
Humanities IT Support Officer

In most cases this worked very well. However, needless to say this process did not go as smoothly as one would have liked. One author wrote back with much indignation refusing to give permission for his material to be used and threatening to bring in the Society of Authors. In reply a copy of the letter (as above) was sent to the Society of Authors who commented that they felt that the writer was over-reacting. As a consequence the passages in question were not included in the Web site, nor was mention of the author's book in the Bibliography section (thus removing a potential source of advertising his publication to an international audience).

Slightly more annoying was the inconsistency of many of the institutions approached. The National Portrait Gallery refused permission to use paintings of Rosenberg because they felt that the resulting digitised files would be of sufficient quality to be downloaded remotely and used in publications elsewhere. Contrary to this The Imperial War Museum's Art Department would only allow the use of some of their pictures if high-resolution photographs of the paintings were paid for (the ones produced in their educational packs were said to be of insufficient resolution) to ensure that any documents of theirs published on the Internet would be of a high-quality. It was calculated that the cost of using the eight images (covering the Image Licence, Transparency Hire for the eight pictures, and Reproduction fees--colour and for World Rights as they were to go on the Internet), would amount to 1010.46 (pounds sterling). This was far too expensive to be met by the project's limited budget. Ironically, another Department at the Imperial War Museum allowed the use of facsimiles of their documents free of charge recognising that this was an educational project.

Eventually, however, copyright was agreed on all the material used and the testing of the site could go ahead.

4. Beta-Testing

In conjunction with choosing a selection of staff from OUCS, a note was put out on HUMANIST-L (a discussion list for Humanities Computing) asking for beta-testers of the site. A list of a dozen testers was drawn up (several from the US to test speed of access across the Atlantic link), and the site was tested for two weeks.

This process was very useful and is recommended to all Web publishers. Problems of navigation were highlighted, some buttons and links were redesigned, and spelling mistakes were noticed.

5. Going Public

On the 1st July, 1995, the Web site was advertised widely on various discussion lists with a request to cross-post. Notices were also posted to various Web gateways, such as Yahoo (a href=">, the WWW Virtual Libraries (a href="">, and the 'What's New' section under Netscape (a href=""> All of this clearly had a snowball effect and several other Web sites picked up on the address (including the Voice of the Shuttle site maintained by Alan Liu, mirrored at the English Faculty, Oxford--a href=""> concentrates on literary links).

At first the number of accesses was low but this could well have been a reflection of the fact that the launch was in the middle of the Summer vacation (July-August). However, even taking this into account, accesses were around the two hundred mark per month. By September/October this had doubled to 400 a month.

6. Feedback and Media Attention

Feedback on the site took two forms. First, there were the comments themselves on the poem using the Web form at the end of the introductory page and exit page. It was calculated that about 10% of people who accessed the site took the time to complete the first form requesting their initial interpretation of the poem. However, only 2% of people completed the cycle by recording their final impressions of the poem prior to leaving. Below is a selection of some of these which provide interesting indicators to the potential for using such a medium in teaching.

6.1 A Selection of Initial and Final Comments (typos retained)

Reader #1
Initial Comment

Seems to me an adequate poem, no more. The images ofrat and poppy are strong, though less so than once theymust have been. I suppose that one ought to "un-know"later war (and anti-war) poetry, and discount thepoppy's familiarity as symbol, in order to restore its originality to the poem. Hard to do.

Final Comment

The supporting material helps to locate the poem withinthe tradition and, to a lesser extent, helps to anchorthe historical moment. I didn't feel the exegetic passagesdid anything to deepen the emotional impact of the poem,but this may be fin-de-siecle cynicism...

Reader #2
Initial Comment

I had not read the Rosenberg poem before, but it did make connectionsfor me: with the Thomas Hardy poem about the English soldier thinkingof an enemy soldier and how under other circumstances, in differentcontexts, they might have been friends and sat down to drink together.The rat in the Rosenberg poem is a wonderful symbol, perhaps more sobecause of the rats I knew and heard about when i was in Viet Nam, differentwars, the same carriers. What a wonderful image to carry that touch fromone side of no-man's land to the other. And the poppy as symbol, the blooddrop, that made me think of Flander's Field. A fine poem that I'm glad I got to know.

Final Comment

The bio of Rosenberg was especially helpful, but the other Rosenberg poemshelped put "Break of Day in the Trenches" in a broader context of WWI andpoets like Sassoon and Owen. Not, I think Rupert Brooke, a context ofrealistic writing, non-romantic. I would never expect an "If I should die..."statement from Rosenberg. Because of the hypertext possibility of buildinglinks between poems, between writers like Sassoon and Rosenberg, I didn't learnmore about the *particular* poem, but much more about the instance of thepoem (if that makes sense). I don't want to overuse the word context, but thehypertext version does just that, places the poem in the greater scene ofwhat was happening at that time, not just the war scene, but also the poetryscene (the Harriet Monroe material and so on).

Reader #3
Initial Comment

Probably to its first audience this poem rang horribly true. For me, though, it's hard to take some of its rhetoricquite seriously. Why should the "sardonic" rat even carewhat it sees in the doomed soldiers' eyes? What is thefunction of diction like "quaver" and "ever dropping"?Are these not illegitimate consolations of art -- Rosenbergdecking the bottomless real horror with comfortable old poetic devices? A "poppy" in the "ear", in a sense Rprobably didn't intend. Also, the claim at the end isa little too faux-naif -- we know very well that he doesn'tthink a poppy in his ear is "safe" -- to work as irony.This said, the rhythm is very nicely handled: pushed justto the limit of irregularity, in number of feet and in substitutions, that will still allow the unrhymed linesto be heard as "verse".

Final Comment
Since I read Fussell's book long ago, little of the materialwas truly unfamiliar. I did find myself forced to rethinkthe significance of the poppy a little, and grudgingly admittedsome of Silkin's points. But I'm still uncomfortable withthe Georgian cosinesses that infect the poem.

I wonder, though, about the utility of the hypertext medium. A good critic can exert considerable control over theeffect of his auxiliary material on his argument andeven on the poem. (Hugh Kenner is a master in this.)In hypertext, the connections are contingent and easy to miss or resist.This may be especially true for literary thinking, in whichsubtlety, originality and even eccentricity of associationand argument are valued.

Also, hypertext provides no compulsion to read well; theWorld-Wide Web especially encourages skipping on beforemore than a few words have been scanned.I wonder if the reader who found poppies the weakest "concrete object" in the poem stuck around long enoughto find out that they're something a little more thanconcrete.

Reader #4
Initial Comment

Generally well written, of course, and also emotive and imaginative, but not nearly as immediate as the poems of, say Wilfred Owen or Sigfried Sassoon. The image of the poppy behind the ear, and the ironic reference to its safety wasquite effective. Sorry, that's all I can come up with on the spur of the moment.

Final Comment

My initial impressions still stand, although I appreciate the more complete context the accessory information provides, and I feel a hypertext seeting such as this would be of particular value to students who have no familiarity with the military history. And having said all THAT, I must also congratulate you on a fine setting, because having taken the time I find I have been engaged by the work in a way I was not before I stumbled upon your page. The work still has the power to move after all these years. I realize I am writing about your technique instead of the poem, but what thehey -- thank you again, and i will be sure to send students by this page duringthe coming semester.

Reader #5
Initial Comment

Not especially imaginative use of nature (mouse) to contrast with unnatural aspects of war.

Final Comment

I was glad to become acquainted with Rosenberg, although my initial impression of his poem didn't change much. I think it suffered by comparison with thework of Brooke, Owen, and Sassoon, and even with his own "Marching."

Second Posting

When I first read the poem yesterday, it seemed contrived. After reflecting on the contextual information, I knew why. Rosenberg did not, because he could not, tell the truth. He lived in mud. He had forgotten what it was like not to feel tired.He couldn't tell us that. He was too polite, and he knew we didn't want to hear it. And he did not want to hear it himself. He needed to believe there was some nobility, some humanity in what was happening. So he told us a lie.

He took a poem he remembered and turned it inside out. What the rat really told him was: "Rosie, you cow'rin, tim'rous beastie! You already live in a furrow. You've seen the fields laid bare and waste. And you are just waiting for the plow to come back"

Thanks for protecting us, Rosie. But you could have told us the truth. We might not have listened, but you could have tried.

Reader #6
Initial Comment

what strikes me immediately about the poem is the line where the speaker'sasks the rat what it sees in the soldiers eyes? That more than anything else in the poem brings home the impact of the war on those condemned to leave, and die, in the trench.

Final Comment

my impression of the poem hasn't really changed. it's intensified. i think i admire r's achievement more because of the conditions in which he had to live and write. the quiet humour of the poem is thus a remarkable achievement considering what he went through.

Reader #7
Initial Comment

The poem ironically comments on the difference between the "lower" form oflife, the rat, and its ability to remain aloof from the war, able to range fromside to side, from the British to the German, and regard the behavior of the more rational being.

Final Comment

The letters from the trenches and the descriptions of the major battles not only intensify the initial impression of the poem but also illustrate the difference between the reality of the real world and the reality of the poetic world.

Reader #8
Initial Comment

I was struck first of all by the taught complexity of the imagery and the rhythmic schemes of the lines. The imagery of two distant lines, connected by the traveling rat, is powerful, bleak, and vivid;.

Final Comment

After seeing the hyper-media version of Rosenberg, I haveincreased my understanding of the poem. Especially helpful to me were the literary critical comments all easily available to give me insight into the influences on his choices of imagery, etc. Rosenberg's poem becomes even more impressive when you consider the discipline and detachment he had to martial to compose such a poem on the battlefield. That he shouldhave been thinking in this way, drawing on a disciplined intellectualtradition in the midst of such horror, is impressive. The picturesassembled in hyper-media add very much to our understanding of what he wasexperiencing, especially the telegram containing notice of a son's death.(Compare the prose and rhythms of the telegram with his poetry: the twomain texts in this exercise). However, the pictures avoid the reallyawful images of people (or horses) blown to pieces, which is really whatRosenberg was facing. Including these is important. However, I alsoagree with the exit commentator who said that Hyper-media encourages youto read without thoroughness: to jump from one thing to another withoutdepth or rigor. This is a problem because of the playful nature of themedium itself. You have to choose to exercise thoroughness and rigor, andresist the temptation to learn in a shallow, facile way.

Reader #9
Initial Comment

I am unfamiliar with the work of Rosenberg though I am acquainted with thewriting of Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brookes etc.Having read these other poems dealing with similar topics I felt the communality of the concerns such as the fear of imminent death, the futility of the fighting.This particular poem was well-written but I did not find it especially moving.

Final Comment

I have enjoyed and been enlightened by the time spent using this Web site.The navigation is excellent. It is easy to find information and read what one wants to read. I found it particularly interesting to cross-reference this poem with other poemsDespite this I cannot say that I like the poem any better nor am I more moved by it than on first reading.

Reader #10
Initial Comment

The first part of the time has an intense impact upon me with the grotesque encounter with the rat.Yet the rat provides a means for the speaker to objectify and view ironically the violence of human civilization.The rat's openness to both German and Allie makes it oddly more civilized, morecosmopolitan.I am more puzzled by the more family image of the poppy.I am not sure how to take the final lines. These puzzle me in particular.

Final Comment

The connections of the poem with the metaphysical tradition of Donne were especially helpful to me in encountering the closing of the poem more meaningfully.I have not exhausted the information available in this hypertext setup, but I am impressed with the critical thinking it encourages, especially for young critical readers.

Reader #11
Initial Comment

The beginning and end seem well-written the middle less so.The images are emotive and imaginative.

Final Comment

Having read the poem again after working reading though other poems in the tutorial I find the poem `writen', that is the poet as said "I will write a poem on this theme in this style" other poem including ones from the same poet seem to have flowed.The tutorial layout and content was very good but I found that the actual poem one was studying was lost and the tutorial become one about the First World War and its poets in general.

Reader #12
Initial Comment

The poem is very interesting in the impression of war that it gives.I am not familiar with the poetry of this time, thus I have no means of comparison, but the manner in which impressions are give is intriguing.I want to know more about the poppy and what it symbolizes, and how all the images fit together.The images in the poem are virbrant, and strong.I find it strange to try and read what is on the computer screen.I want to hold the poem in my hand, in order to read it.This whole experience I find interesting, and would be interested in knowing theresults of this study.

Final Comment

My impression of the poem have changed, now that I have gained a context for it.I can understand more fully what image were being captured in this poem.In this day of smart bombs, and enemies that we can not see, the idea of trenchwarfare is far removed from my mind.The ability to get more information, and in so many different topics was wonderful, it made the poem come alive for me.I was able to gain a better understand what was being said, and compare it to other writing of the time. What an interesting experience this has been.

6.2 Evaluating the Site and Media Attention

In addition to the actual comments on the poem (some of which contained notes on how appropriate the Web was for teaching) there were also other postings (via e-mail messages) which provided evaluation. Alan Liu, the editor of the literary site 'Voice of the Shuttle' described it as 'innovative' in its design. Some institutions noted that they would be using it in their teaching (e.g. Royal Holloway and Bedford New College; University of Alabama; Piam County Community College; and the Houston College of Continuing Education).

In addition, the site was mentioned in the on-line section of The Guardian (21/9/95), the Interface section of The Times (27/9/95), and the magazine The Web (November/December, 1995). It was noted that soon after these appeared (particularly with refernce to the newspapers), accesses to the site increased by 50% for the subsequent week.

The site is still on-line and can be accessed be anyone with a World-Wide Web browser. It is used as a role model by the CTI Centre for Textual Studies on their visits to Higher Education Institutions within the UK to illustrate how academics could mount their own on-line teaching resources.

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