Matthew G. Kirschenbaum

University of Maryland

Archive for Uncategorized

Two New Books this Spring



Very excited for two new books coming out this spring: Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing, due out from Harvard/Belknap in early May 2016 (approx. 340 pages with over 20 photographs), and Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming, an 800-page (!) anthology with almost 70 contributors and over 100 illustrations co-edited with the incomparable Pat Harrigan, due out from the MIT Press in late April (and part of the exciting new Game Histories series at the Press). Both are currently available for pre-order.

Cluster of Recent Work on Software Preservation


Those who follow my work will know that I’ve been focused for a while on issues around the preservation and scholarly investigation of a variety of different kinds of born-digital materials, from electronic manuscripts to video games and virtual worlds. I’ve tried to be a bridge between the professional practitioners in the archives community and conversations ranging from digital forensics to media archaeology and textual scholarship. Recently, I’ve found myself engaged specifically with the problem of software as a class of born-digital materials: executable content. There’s been a rise in the level of community engagement around this topic, and some even more exciting developments are in the works. Here, however, I’ve grouped my contributions to this emerging discussion.

Last May, the Library of Congress sponsored a two-day meeting called Preserving.exe, dedicated to jumpstarting a national strategy around executable content. I reported on the meeting for Slate magazine in a piece called “History.exe“; my editor then asked me if I would be willing to put myself out there with my own “Top 10” pieces of software I thought deserved long-term preservation, which I did: “The 10 Most Influential Software Programs of All Time.” The comments are the best part (really: my list was merely a pretense and catalyst for discussion, and, as expected, there are some awfully good suggestions in there). The official report from the Preserving.exe meeting is now out (PDF), and contains essays by Henry Lowood, Alice Allen, Peter Tueben, and myself. My piece, entitled “An Executable Past: The Case for a National Software Registry” (pages 12-22) offers a rationale for such an effort modeled (albeit with some crucial distinctions) on the well-publicized activities of the National Film Registry.

Back in September, Rhizome hosted a panel discussion at the New Museum on “Born-Digital Conservation in the Computer Age” featuring myself, Lori Emerson, and pioneering video and computer graphics artist Lilian Schwartz. We had a wide-ranging discussion, ably steered by Ben Fino-Radin (video of the event was recorded but is not currently available). Meanwhile, text of my remarks at the Library of Congress’s Electronic Literature Showcase last April is just downstream here: “Confessions of an Incunk.” In them I focus on electronic literature as software and executable content.

Finally, a long essay entitled “The .txtual Condition: Digital Humanities, Born-Digital Archives, and the Future Literary” is now out in Digital Humanities Quarterly. Among other things, the piece offers an intervention in the OAIS reference model by way of Wolfgang Ernst and media archaeology.

Stephen King’s Wang

Update: Audio here.

I will be giving a talk entitled “Stephen King’s Wang: The Literary History of Word Processing” on Dec. 16 at the New York Public Library. Here’s an abstract:

Mark Twain famously prepared the manuscript for Life on the Mississippi with his new Remington typewriter, and today we recognize that typewriting changed the material culture (and the economy) of authorship. But when did literary writers begin using word processors? Who were the early adopters? How did the technology change their relation to their craft? Was the computer just a better typewriter, or was it something more? This talk, drawn from the speaker’s forthcoming book on the subject, will provide some answers, and also address questions related to the challenges of conducting research at the intersection of literary and technological history.

The talk, which is drawn from Track Changes, my new book in progress under contract to Harvard University Press, will be at 12:00 noon in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Wachenheim Trustees Room (that’s the main 42nd St. branch).

Thanks to NYPL Labs for the invite!