PAD: Preservation, Archiving, and Dissemination of Electronic Literature

panel / roundtable
  1. 1. David Durand

    Brown University

  2. 2. Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink

    Irvine Community College

  3. 3. Nick Montfort

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  4. 4. Jessica Pressman

    Electronic Literature Organization

  5. 5. Scott Rettberg

    Richard Stockton College

Work text
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The Electronic Literature Organization is a non-profit organization with the mission of promoting and
facilitating the reading, publishing, and writing of electronic literature. ELO is the only group of its kind,
providing the infrastructure and information for the dispersed community of writers and readers working in
electronic media. In its three years of existence, ELO has presented numerous readings, produced the first
major hypermedia awards (2001), held the first international symposium on the topic of electronic literature
(2002), and created a free online database for housing and exploring electronic literary works (The Directory).
The State of the Arts Symposium, held at UCLA in April of 2002, gathered people interested in
electronic literature from diverse areas of interest and expertise into discussion of the primary issues and
concerns facing this cultural form. The overwhelming area of concern proved to be the threat of obsolescence
due to rapidly “advancing” technical platforms. Out of this event grew the impetus and initiative for ELO’s
PAD (Preservation, Archiving, and Dissemination) Project.
ELO’s drive to fulfill our mission statement has prompted us to initiate a preemptive strike on the
impending obsolescence of electronic literature by the inevitably short life span of its programmable media.
PAD is a multi-leveled and multi-leveled initiative aimed at approaching this problem from technical,
academic, legal, and communal perspectives. PAD is currently in its planning phase, operating through five
committees: Operations, Archiving and Display, Academic Dissemination, Technological and Software
Development, and Copyright and Open Source. PAD is voluntarily managed by scholars and experts from
such ranging fields positions as experts in literature, computer science, and digital archiving to creative
writers, businessmen, and a foundation representative. It is obvious from our committee members that the
issue of preserving, archiving, and disseminating digital art and information is an urgent topic in all fields,
one that unites disciplines and departments. Digital archiving is a subject under exploration and
experimentation by numerous groups from various disciplines, many of which will be represented at the ACH
conference. ELO’s panel will include five PAD committee members, each of whom represent different PAD
committees and will therein present various aspects of the problem of digital obsolescence, the ramifications
and potential solutions as discerned and understood by PAD.
This academic panel will address the need for pre-emptive measures that preserve and archive
endangered works of electronic literature as well as inform about PAD’s current operations and future plans.
The fact that electronic literary works are constantly at risk of fading into technological obsolescence will
inevitably obstruct the ability to teach and study works already in existence as well as impede upon future
artistic creation. As all conference attendants know, the ability to do scholarly or pedagogical work in the humanities is entirely dependent upon the archiving capabilities and technological support available. The fact
that important works of contemporary literature will soon be inaccessible to scholars, editors, librarians, or
students is a major impediment to our cultural and technological future. This panel is therefore a vitally
important one to present at ACH.
Due to the diverse reaches of this project, ELO is submitting proposals for two related sessions to this
year’s ACH conference. The first is the session above, a traditional academic discussion of ELO’s PAD
project, its objectives and implications. The second, presented in a separate proposal, is a creative session of
short readings of electronic literature. This combination of academic and creative panels aims to present
electronic literature to an audience with diverse and divergent exposure to this literary and technological art
form. In so doing, these sessions will jointly present the logical, intellectual, and aesthetic reasons, for
supporting and encouraging the preservation of electronic literature. PAD’s work depends upon and
inevitably affects all people working, either centrally or tangentially, in computing, the humanities, and
moreover, humanities computing. We look forward to the opportunity to share our work, brainstorm for
further ideas, and generate interest and support for this project. We hope that ACH will invite us to participate
in this year’s conference.
David Durand will discuss technical aspects preserving e-texts by means of format conversion, to marked-up
format, and the concomitant need for the development of appropriate re-presentation software. This strategy
contrasts in several distinct ways with a system emulation strategy (as discussed) by Nick Montfort. As a
running example, he will discuss his experience with both conversion and emulation in rescuing data from
Brown University’s FRESS hypertext system from the early 70s.
Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink will examine a selection of endangered and threatened works of
electronic literature. Many of the early examples of hypertext literature exist only on platforms that cannot be
executed by contemporary computers. As part of the Preservation, Archiving, and Dissemination activities,
the committee is compiling a comprehensive list of e-literature works that can no longer be accessed in their
original form. The near-obsolescent works often represent key eras in the development of e-literature and its
supporting technologies. “The ‘O’ Word” will look at the coding practices, literary strategies, and placement
in the evolving history of the field that might argue for preservation of these and other pieces.
Nick Montfort will discuss how the experience of electronic literature works as functioning,
interactive computer programs is often essential to their appreciation. He will describe how
re-implementation, the development of new interpreters, and emulation has been used to keep works such as
Weizenbaum's 1965–66 Eliza/Doctor and several decades of interactive fiction accessible and fully
functional. He will also consider how this approach can be used today as part of a strategy for preserving e-lit
works of many different sorts, works which will be read and studied for many different reasons.
Jessica Pressman will provide an explanation of the position of ELO within the academic and cultural
community of electronic literature, ELO’s resources and its reasons for accepting the responsibility of the
PAD project.
Scott Rettberg will outline some of the challenges particular to the preservation of electronic
literature, identify some of the archiving methodologies that the ELO and other institutions and organizations
are currently applying, and introduce the ELO’s Preservation, Archiving and Dissemination initiative.
Rettberg will summarize the initial findings of PAD’s working group, and its general approach to the
challenge of lessening the impact technological obsolescence on the distribution and study of electronic

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Conference Info

In review

"Web X: A Decade of the World Wide Web"

Hosted at University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia, United States

May 29, 2003 - June 2, 2003

83 works by 132 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double-checked.

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (23), ALLC/EADH (30), ACH/ALLC (15)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None