- Crashing the System?: Hypertext and Scholarship on American Culture
Forum on Hypertext Scholarship
AQ as Web-Zine: Responses to AQ’s Experimental Online Issue
These disparate messages offer a good indication of the mixed goals that have motivated this particular project, in which we have tried to bring together something rather old-fashioned and established—the scholarly journal article—with something new and still emerging—the networked and digital space of the World Wide Web. Indeed, the issue of American Quarterly that you hold in your hands is another example of the hybridity of this project—it is a print symposium that also has the goal of getting you to put down this journal and go to your computer to [End Page 237] look at http://chnm.gmu.edu/aq, where these hypertext articles now reside. We could see this combination of print and cyberspace as a contradiction or even a slippery slope that spells the end of academic publishing as we know it. But, I would argue that such combinations and juxtapositions are considerably more likely than some sudden and apocalyptic death of the book (or journal). The future seems likely to be one where scholars take advantage of multiple media and move between them readily.
In imagining the shape of that future, one basic question we need to ask is: how might hypertext and new media change the nature of scholarly argument, communication, and publication? Although there has been much theorizing about hypertext and scholarship, there are very few concrete examples of scholars using hypertext and new media to present the results of sustained inquiry into the subjects that they study. Rather than invite more theoretical statements about the possibilities of on-line publishing, we wanted to see what electronic publication might mean concretely for American studies scholarship.
Despite the promises of cyberspace prophets that the Internet will bring “the death of distance,” it was proximity that was crucial to getting this particular project off the ground. The four people involved—Lucy Maddox and Terry Murphy, the Editor and Associate Editor of American Quarterly; Randy Bass, the head of the ASA Crossroads Project; and myself—all happened to live within five miles of each other and teach at three different Washington-area schools. 1 Ironically, the electronic medium seemed to make in-person meetings more rather than less necessary, because we often needed to look at on-line proposals and prototypes as a group.
We brought different backgrounds to the table (and the computer), but we shared an interest in encouraging unconventional departures in form while also retaining the conventional validation and peer review that characterizes scholarly publication. However, we soon realized that if we asked people to submit hypertext essays for review and then, as would be expected, we rejected many of them, the authors would have no other journals where they could send their work. In other words, if we were the only game in town, then they would not have the option generally open to those whose work is rejected by a scholarly journal—of submitting their work elsewhere. In that context, it seemed unfair to require completed projects from authors.
Our compromise was to invite people to submit proposals for on-line [End Page 238] scholarly “articles.” Despite the short time we gave people to prepare and the limited circulation of the call, we received more than twenty submissions in May...