Introduction to Annotated Bibliographies
At the December 2007 Chicago meeting of the Modern Language Association, Henry Turner and I decided to adjust the Special Session format by having our panelists present 'annotated bibliographies' in our field of research, namely: conjunctions of literature and science. In our discussions with colleagues at the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts, we expressed surprise and some disappointment that the presence of new media had, thus far, little positive effect on the way scholarship is presented at conferences - not to mention that conferences themselves were expanding in number and further fragmenting into specializations. The travel needed to sustain a literary career, palpably, was not easing despite the affordances of new media. The unwillingness of many scholars to present unpublished work and a hesitancy to try out new or controversial ideas at conferences was something, not unprecedented, but never so prevalent at least in my scholarly experience.
With these constraints in mind, Professor Turner and I deliberately proposed an alternative to the 20-minute paper on the one hand, and the bullet pointed Digital Humanities demo on the other. The bibliography is a modest proposal for re-orienting scholarship toward forms that will bring valuable current work more directly into circulation/recognition. We thought this simple, even old fashioned approach, might recover the idea that scholarship can and should be viewed in process and that new media ought to encourage, not shut down, the sharing of information and ideas that constitutes scholarship.
In Chicago, panelists Mark Hansen, Ursula Heise, Megan Massino, Arielle Sabler, and myself each distributed a handout that people in the audience could look over while the panelists discussed how our chosen works might be channeled into our own, and the field's, current scholarship. The eventual article, book chapter, or 12-page paper, would find its eventual place in established publication formats, as appropriate. The conference presentations themselves, however, proved far more ranging within the given constraints on time and human attention. The bibliographies and their annotations, it was decided, would be published online, at the Electronic Book Review. The availability, in one place, of work gathered over just three sessions by some dozen panelists, would be enough to provide a profile of the field at the present moment, and we hope the appearance online of our annotated bibliographies will stimulate activity by emerging scholars who can add their own entries and further annotate the existing ones from our MLA group. Not least, networked media are used at the point where in-depth scholarly work today is done, not in 20-minute presentations at over priced, climate controlled rooms using proprietary technology whose requirements, more often than not, distract from the written and visual concepts being presented.
The majority of annotations contributed by our panelists continue, not surprisingly, to reference books in print. Where websites are referenced, however, these are not just presented as links but, using the database designed by ebr site architect Ewan Branda, they are brought fully into the journal where they can be searched and annotated in turn, as easily as any essay or set of annotations produced for the journal. This is not 'hypertext' as currently practiced on the Internet, where a link takes readers away from one work to a different, only casually related work. The process is closer to what hypertext pioneer Ted Nelson meant by the term transclusion - namely, the transfer of entire works/sites so that they can be included in the scholar's current and developing workspace.