Matthew G. Kirschenbaum

University of Maryland

Archive for Research

Track Changes

UPDATE: NYT readers, you may wish to have a look at a more recent post in which I’m specifically requesting research assistance on documenting the early history of literary word processing. Thanks.


So, yeah, I’m thrilled, chuffed, and floored to be announcing that I was selected as a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow.

In its eighty-seventh annual competition for the United States and Canada the Foundation has awarded 180 Fellowships to artists, scientists, and scholars. The successful candidates were chosen from a group of some 3,000 applicants.

Congratulations have been coming in from all over. Thank you once again to everyone who has written. The highlight was receiving a text message from my ten-year old niece who saw my name in the New York Times.

The project I will be working on is entitled “Track Changes: Authorship, Archives, and Literary Culture After Word Processing.” Unlike my first book, Mechanisms (2008), where I was primarily interested in experimental instances of electronic literature, here I will be looking at the impact of digital media throughout all sectors of contemporary literary composition, publishing, reception, and archival preservation. I intend to argue that the full parameters of computers as what electronic publishing pioneer Ted Nelson three decades ago called “literary machines” have not yet been fully delineated, and that as a consequence we conceive of print and the digital as rival or successive forms rather than as elements of a process wherein relations between the two media (at the level of both individual and collective practice) are considerably more dynamic and contingent. Ted Striphas’s work in the already-indispensable The Late Age of Print (2009) probably comes closest to the kind of study I am looking to accomplish, but whereas he focuses primarily on the commerce and commodity status of books in the present day, my interests lie in the material conditions of authorship and today’s technologies of the literary. (The “Track Changes” of my title was first introduced as the “Mark Revisions” feature in Word 95, where it was derivative of the Redline functionality in WordPerfect, then Word’s major industry competitor.) The methodology will be a hybrid of software studies and book history. The writing I do will build on the work I’ve done in the projects I’ve taken on since finishing Mechanisms, including “Approaches to Managing and Collecting Born-Digital Literary Materials for Scholarly Use,” Preserving Virtual Worlds, and Digital Forensics and Born-Digital Content in Cultural Heritage Collections.

I will, of course, use this space to share occasional work in progress and otherwise offer updates on progress. In the meantime, I will be at TILTS at UT Austin at the end of May, the Digital Humanities Summer Institute and Digital Humanities 2011 conference in June, SHARP in DC in July, and then teaching once again at Rare Book School in Charlottesville. The fellowship period begins in August.


Watch me and Rachel Donahue present on “Digital Forensics and Cultural Heritage” at the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) Fall 2010 Membership Meeting, December 13-14, 2010 Arlington, Virginia.

Digital Forensics Report Now Out

Forensics ReportI’m very happy to announce the availability of Digital Forensics and Born-Digital Content in Cultural Heritage Collections, a new CLIR report emerging from the Mellon-sponsored workshop on the same topic held last spring here at the University of Maryland. The report (written by myself, Richard Ovenden, and Gabriela Redwine, with research assistance from Rachel Donahue) introduces the field of digital forensics in the cultural heritage sector and explores some points of convergence between the interests of those charged with collecting and maintaining born-digital cultural heritage materials and those charged with collecting and maintaining legal evidence.

Digital Forensics and Born-Digital Content in Cultural Heritage Collections is available electronically at Print copies will be available in January for ordering through CLIR’s Web site, for $25 per copy plus shipping and handling.

Play the Past

I am very pleased to announce that I have signed on as a regular contributor to Play the Past, a new group blog on meaningful play and cultural heritage. For me, Play the Past represents an opportunity to continue to develop the explorations I began in my now dormant Zone of Influence blog on tabletop historical gaming. Only here I get to do it in the company of some truly fabulous collaborators. My beat on Play the Past will consist primarily of tabletop wargames, or conflict simulations as they are sometimes known. My first post, “Conflicting the Past,” explains why all of this interests me.

Preserving Virtual Worlds News

A trifecta of exciting news items from the Preserving Virtual Worlds project, on which I have been a co-PI alongside of researchers here at Maryland, as well as the University of Illinois, Stanford University, and the Rochester Institute of Technology, as well as Linden Lab, creators of Second Life.

First, the project has released its final report, 195 pages detailing two years worth of findings from our research, including such topics as emulation, virtualization, migration, archival description, collections policy, hardware stemmatics, Rosetta computing, and disk image forensics.

PVW has also been shortlisted as one of five finalists for the prestigious 2010 Digital Preservation Award, sponsored by the Digital Preservation Coalition and the Institute for Conservation. The winner will be announced in December.

Finally, we received the very welcome news that the next two-year iteration of the project will be funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Preserving Virtual Worlds II: Methods for Evaluating and Preserving Significant Properties of Educational Games and Complex Interactive Environments (PVW2) will be conducted in partnership with the University of Illinois (lead institution), the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Stanford University. PVW2 plans to help improve the capacity of libraries, museums, and archives to preserve computer games, virtual worlds, and interactive fiction. Full press release here.