Technography and the sociology of texts: Reading phenomena in the digital humanities

John Paul Savage, Fordham University


This dissertation explores the intersection between digital and material cultures in electronic texts through the critical lenses of textual criticism and book history. Taking cues from D. F. Mackenzie's "sociology of texts" and Matthew Kirschenbaum's "forensic imagination," I propose the idea of "technography:" roughly, the bibliography of electronic texts. Successful critical discourse relies on understanding textual conditions, but electronic texts have situations and histories very different from those of printed matter and manuscripts. Therefore, I suggest a collection of general methods and techniques that enable discussion of electronic texts as such by examining embedded textual features that enable or prohibit investigations of the creation, transmission, reception, and transformation of electronic texts—an analytic technography and histoire du fichier to complement analytic bibliography and histoire du livre. I focus specifically on two areas. The first is examining electronic transmission and reproduction techniques and technologies in the context of contemporary theories of book history and textual criticism that stress the interpretive importance of physical bibliographic features such as typography. The second is the possibility of constructing historical bibliographies of electronic texts. Taken together these two subjects addressed by technography give a good indication of the implications of electronic texts for textual criticism, critical practice, and scholarly editing. To illustrate this technography I explore several electronic texts, through different textual-critical lenses. I compare the print and electronic versions of N. Katherine Hayles's Writing Machines, a book published simultaneous in print and electronic formats. I examine the impact of technical decisions on editorial policy and production in scholarly archives, specifically The Rossetti Archive and The Walt Whitman Archive. I review the implications of crowdsourcing textual production and the possibilities for historical bibliography in crowdsourced texts such as Wikipedia and the text produced by the Project Gutenberg Distributed Proofreaders. Ultimately I conclude that technographic evidence indicates a radical re-envisioning of the role of the publisher in relation to electronic texts. Where the reader (or "user") has significant control over the presentation of the text, the ability of text producers to mediate meaning through the physical form of a particular textual artifact is greatly diminished.

Subject Area

Modern literature|Information Technology

Recommended Citation

Savage, John Paul, "Technography and the sociology of texts: Reading phenomena in the digital humanities" (2011). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3466717.