CECILY HOLDS THE FORT
Josephine M. Bettany
It did look nice! The only thing that would look nicer would be the title page of the printed book. Joey forgot all about history, her form, and everything else. She sat down before that wonderful machine, and when the gong rang out for Abendessen, she had her first chapter typed out.
(Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, Jo Returns to the Chalet School, Chambers, 1936, pp93-4)
When I arrived at the University of Kent at Canterbury
(UKC) in 1992, I discovered that the University placed a very high priority
on information technology (IT); in addition to a dedicated faculty, there
was a computer centre which offered all students email accounts and access
to personal computers. New students were automatically sent introductory
packs, and this meant that I quickly came into contact with faculty members,
including Wilma Strang from the Hypertext Support Unit. One of only two
similar units in the country (the other being at Oxford University), the
Hypertext Support Unit was founded to introduce hypermedia to the academic
community and to develop hypermedia teaching materials. With Wilma Strang's
assistance, I began to read theoretical work on hypermedia, most notably
by Professor George Landow of Brown University, Rhode Island (whose work
I thoroughly recommend to other researchers).
I also benefited from the work being carried out at UKC: for example, one
of the first and most accessible academic hypertext systems, GUIDE, was
developed at UKC by Dr Peter Brown. By 1993, I had therefore become familiar
with the concepts of hypermedia and electronic publishing. (A full introduction
to and discussion of this can be found in The E-Book & the Future
I had written my MA thesis using an Amstrad wordprocessor,
so the final, bound version had essentially been a computer print-out.
In order to meet the criteria for examination, I had printed the thesis
on A4 paper using double-spaced text with wide margins, and the Amstrad's
meant that the type was grey and not clearly defined. As a journalist,
I knew that visually the MA thesis was much harder to read than a book
or magazine. Equally, as a professional researcher and writer, and having
already produced a traditional 50,000 word thesis, I did not feel that
producing another traditional thesis provided much of a challenge for three
or four years of study. I knew that, whatever I did, I would write
my thesis using a computer. What would happen, then, if I designed it to
be read on a computer? I was already intending to record my oral
research on video, and I knew that I would have a large number of images
to include as appendices. On the computer, I could integrate all of these
with the text, creating a hypermedia thesis or hyperthesis.
Hypermedia is characterised by its non-linear, open-ended
structure, and conversely by its linked nature.
Presenting my research electronically would therefore allow for a greater
breadth of research to be presented than in a traditional linear thesis.
Feminist research is characterised by crossing borders between traditional
academic disciplines, and Communication & Image Studies is in itself
a multi-disciplinary area of study, so this seemed to be particularly appropriate
to my research field. The nature of my research, too, had already made
it inevitable that traditional academic boundaries would be broken. And
as the subject of my research was books and reading, and I was looking
in detail at the part which books played in girls' and women's lives during
the twentieth century, it seemed highly appropriate that the form and presentation
of my work should explore the future of books and reading in the twenty-first
In developing a hyperthesis, I could also realise the
theory which had been developed around hypermedia within my academic field
of Communication & Image Studies. As Landow points out: "hypertext
has the potential to serve as a laboratory for theory while theory illuminates
the design, use and cultural effects of the new electronic technologies."
At the time, the majority of non-fiction hypertexts which were available
were based on the encyclopaedia or "database" model,
while the leading-edge work being carried out at Brown University and others
was based on the "web" model.
In both these cases, the concerns and interests of the reader were paramount
in deciding reading paths, reflecting theories about reader-empowerment
and non-linear narratives. In contrast, I felt that it was possible to
combine the best of both linear and non-linear structures.
A hypermedia thesis would not, of course, have the single
controlling line of argument which typifies the traditional, printed thesis,
but I did feel it was possible to keep sight of the fact that my research
was aimed at finding a fundamental schema of analysis. My work would therefore
represent the first attempt at creating the electronic social sciences/humanities
"textbook". The hyperthesis would then demonstrate hypermedia to readers
who had not encountered it before, and within it I would explain the design
process so that other researchers would be assisted in producing new hypermedia
Since the form would be new to most "readers",
I decided to include a separate, but linked, hypertext, which discussed
the impact of hypermedia on the book and the future of reading.
While this writing would be appropriate to my academic discipline of Communication
& Image Studies, it would also have a direct connection with my research
into the part which books play in their readers' lives. In general, the
decision to present my thesis as a hyperthesis allowed me to present other
texts alongside the core thesis on girls' school stories, underlining the
fact that a hypertext is a collection of related texts rather than a single
narrative. Whereas in a traditional thesis these other texts might have
been given the status of appendices, in the hyperthesis they "gained an
importance" which they would not have had before, since "in hypertext,
the main text is that which one is presently reading".
However, since the "appendices" all had separate narrative focuses to the
main thesis, I decided that it was more appropriate to describe the work
as a "hypertext cluster" rather than a single hypertext. While the "main"
thesis represented the culmination of my research findings, the "appendices"
represented work which I had carried out during the period of my research.
One important element which the structure of the hyperthesis allowed me to include was autobiographical. First, I could introduce my personal history of reading within the Foreword. Reinharz points out that:
I also decided to include a collection of texts within an autobiographical lexia, About the Author. Liz Stanley and Sue Wise define two principles of feminist research as being situated "in emotion as a research experience" and "in the intellectual autobiography of researchers". They add that:
Similarly, Reinharz points out that feminist research
is characterised by the belief that it is important to provide information
about the background and experiences of the researcher. "Some feminist
social researchers have written full autobiographies, or have written full
reports about their experiences as researchers of women . . . more commonly
the researcher adds a preface or postscript that contains an explanation
of her relation to the subject matter at hand."
Including an autobiographical lexia would also encourage readers to speculate
on the place of their own autobiography in structuring their responses
to popular culture.
I decided to provide brief details about my professional background in the shape of a CV. I also decided to include a much longer piece of writing about my own experiences at a girls' selective state school in the 1970s, which became the linked hypertext My Own Schooldays. I wrote this partly in order to provide further autobiographical evidence, and partly because no published accounts existed of similar experiences, and I believed that it would be important to consider the differences between real and fictional school experiences elsewhere in the hyperthesis. Maggie Humm points out that: "One hallmark of contemporary feminist research in any field is the investigator's continual testing of the plausibility of the work against her own experience", while Reinharz states that:
Later, I also decided to include a separate, but linked hypertext which discussed my experiences as a disabled researcher. Although this was not directly relevant to my research topic, it was directly relevant to my experience of carrying out the research, and therefore as a feminist researcher I felt that it was important to include it. Reinharz points out that: "Many feminist ethnographers have eliminated the distinction between the researcher and the researched and have studied their own experience.". She adds that:
Another reason for including my experiences as a disabled researcher was the fact that it allowed me to address ongoing debates about the body within my academic field of Communication & Image Studies which were not directly relevant to girls' school stories. And the fact that disability has had such a low profile within the academy in the past provided further justification from a feminist research perspective. As Reinharz points out:
(Discussing my personal experience of the research was an approach which I would also adopt throughout the hyperthesis where relevant. Reinharz points out that:
. . . the feminist researcher is likely to describe the actual research process as a lived experience, and she is likely to reflect on what she learned in the process. I believe in the value of this approach . . .
I also decided to include part of the text of my
within the hypertext cluster, since the MA represented the first stage
of my research and only five bound copies exist. (Initially there were
four, but I had an additional copy produced when it became obvious that
many collectors wished to borrow and read it.)
As the presentation of my findings in a hyperthesis marked
a new stage in the development of the book and in the presentation of academic
research, and as research had not been previously carried out into reading
experiences associated with girls' school stories, I had to develop new
ways of working and to use new research techniques. This included the use
of digital video editing, desk-top publishing and multimedia authoring
software. After completing this research, I decided to include a separate,
but linked hypertext containing the information which I had discovered
about health and safety practices when working with new technology.
I decided to include it first because of its relevance to the practice
of reading Virtual Worlds of Girls, and second because of the widespread
ignorance which currently exists about the safe use of computers. This
hypertext has already been published in print form by Skillset, the training
body for the film and television industry, as Health and Safety in the
Non-Linear Environment (1995).
Other linked texts within the hypertext cluster include the "notes" to the "main" texts. While some are simply references or short quotes or notes, as with traditional foot- or endnotes, others include extended quotes or detailed discussions of lateral issues. Landow points out that, in printed books:
. . . One experiences hypertext annotation of a text very differently.
One aspect of research which hypermedia makes explicit
is the fact that no piece of research exists in a vacuum; it is all inter-connected.
In an electronic medium, these connections can potentially be made explicit
by creating links between texts. Many of the "notes" within the hyperthesis
are in fact potential links, whether they simply supply a reference or
include an extended quote. Conversely, when texts can be linked, there
is no need to summarise another piece of research unless it is directly
relevant to the topic under discussion.
Ultimately, I also wanted to include the presentation
of my video material, The Chalet School Revisited, as a separate
lexia, having discussed the making of it within Exploring the World
of Girls' School Stories.
In addition to this being an integral part of the hyperthesis, when viewed
on computer, readers/viewers could selectively view individual scenes or
tracks and decide the order in which they were played.
I could, of course, have also included my research notes
and records within the hyperthesis, but I decided that this was inappropriate.
However, I did resolve to archive all of the material, and in the future
to make it available to scholars on request where possible. I also finally
decided against including sections which merely provided a historical record
- for example, excerpts from fanzines; details of ephemera which had been
produced by the fans; and fanclub histories - and which should in any case
be kept separate from interpretation of these phenomena. This was not because
these records were irrelevant, but because by 1996 the fans themselves
were now capable of producing and publishing their own records, both in
print and electronically.
Developing the hypertext cluster meant that I was now
effectively presenting two theses: one which presented research on girls'
school stories and their readers, including the memoir of my own schooldays
which could be compared to the educational experiences represented within
the genre; and one which was concerned with the research process itself,
including Exploring the World of Girls School Stories, The Ebook
& the Future of Reading, autobiographical details, My Experiences
as a Disabled Researcher, and Health & Safety in the Non-Linear
Environment. In the first thesis, my research into the genre of girls'
school stories was the subject; in the second, my research was the example
which illustrated the process itself, including the development of a new
means of presenting research.
Structurally, I found that there were two challenges when
writing the hyperthesis. First, while it would be quite possible to divide
the text into virtual "pages" which could be turned, there was no point,
since it would hamper the reading process, and in any case, pages generally
create artificial divisions in the text which were not intended by the
author (an exception to this are spreads of illustrated pages). I also
considered it better to create one larger file size which contained a chapter
or lexia than a group of smaller ones which each contained a page, given
that on the World Wide Web the reader is forced to wait each time they
access a new file. However, the use of paragraphs marks divisions in the
text which are intended by the author, so explicitly dividing the
text into paragraphs rather than pages seemed to be a more "writerly" way
of doing things. In order for the reader to be able to reference the work,
I included a reference number at the end of each paragraph to replace the
traditional page-numbering system.
The second challenge which I encountered when writing
up the research was that the ability to break down text into small self-contained
chunks meant the text as a whole lacked coherence at first draft stage.
At second draft stage, I therefore reassembled many of these chunks into
longer, more linear pieces of writing. I am, however, convinced that with
a complex piece of work such as this, with non-linear reading paths, the
author does benefit from going through this process and examining the many
different relationships which exist between chunks, before deciding how
to structure the final work.
Equally, at the time of writing (1997), most readers had
only encountered hypermedia in the form of World Wide Web pages where text
chunks are designed to be as brief as possible, so it was important to
consider how best to reconcile the expectations of experienced Web users
and those of print readers. At the same time it was important to bear in
mind that the Web is an experimental means of communication which had far
exceeded the expectations of its designers, and to see current developments
in hypermedia as representing a transitory rather than final stage in the
(multi) medium. I therefore gave greater weight to theoretical considerations
than to contemporary examples when designing the final structure.
At the point when I developed the idea of creating the
hyperthesis (1993), I decided that I would not concern myself too greatly
with how I would produce or "author" it. If I made initial choices
about which software
I would use, my design would be constrained by its limitations. It would
be better to decide on the design now, and then to choose the most suitable
software available when I came to author it, modifying the design at this
point to take account of the chosen software's characteristics and limitations.
In any case, with new software constantly being developed, it was likely
that the software which I would eventually choose had not at this point
been released to the public. Landow later described this to me as "designing
ahead of the curve", which he personally recommends.
At this point, too, the World Wide Web was in the process
and writers were using a variety of programmes, such as Guide and StorySpace,
to author their hypertexts. These programmes produced hypertexts which
were, on the whole, inaccessible to people who were not already familiar
with computing conventions, and which could only be used by people using
the same software and system as the writer. And while copies of these hypertexts
could often be obtained via the Internet, they could not be read online.
I therefore conceived the hyperthesis originally as a standalone programme
- one which did not require the authoring software to read it - and with
a custom-designed interface.
At the time when I began writing up my research, I had
already created the Bettany Press
publications in QuarkXPress 3.31.
I was also aware that a multimedia XTension to the forthcoming QuarkXPress
3.32, Orion (since retitled Immedia), was in development. Corporate literature
distributed at the 1995 Apple Expo (held in December at the Olympia exhibition
centre in West London) promised that Immedia would combine sound, still
images and moving images with text, be "easy to use", be a "multiplatform
solution" (since the products created could be viewed either on an Apple
Mac or a IBM PC running Windows) and that products created with it could
be viewed over the Internet. I therefore decided to use QuarkXPress 3.32
to write up my research, since the documents could always be translated
into another format if I changed my plans.
In the event, by 1996 the success of the World Wide Web
meant that my aims would be better fulfilled by presenting the hyperthesis
as a web site, which could be read in whatever browser (Netscape, Internet
Explorer etc) the reader was familiar with. I therefore translated the
documents back into Microsoft Word and then saved them in RTF (Rich Text
Format) before translating them into HTML using the shareware programme
TextToHTML 1.3.4. I then began to author the hyperthesis using Netscape
Navigator Gold as the main editing programme, with Microsoft Word for editing
the code where necessary.
Bob Cotton and Richard Oliver set out four main principles for creating hypermedia products:
Returning to Cotton and Oliver's first point, the utilisation
of different media to do what it does best, I wanted to use images to "show"
rather than simply to "tell" the reader where this was relevant. This seemed
to me to be more in keeping with the empowering and open nature of hypermedia
than using a description which the reader has no choice but to accept;
it also seemed more in keeping with feminist research methodology. I had
of course, used video to record the Elinor M. Brent-Dyer centenary events,
and had edited this into the 60-minute film The Chalet School Revisited
(I discuss the presentation of the video material elsewhere).
I had structured the film so that, like the printed text, it could be broken
down into chunks, in this case scenes. When viewed on computer, readers/viewers
could selectively view individual scenes or tracks, and decide the order
in which they were played. However, in 1997 the majority of computer users
did not have access to the necessary equipment to play full-screen video,
so for the time being I had to present the film separately on tape, with
links within the hyperthesis made instead to the script.
However, I was aware that the facility to compress and
store large files of moving images would soon be available, and that this
would raise ethical as well as structural questions for future researchers.
Theoretically, with enough storage space, I could have made my original
footage (the "raw" footage) available alongside my own edited presentation
of the material. Readers/viewers could then have chosen what to view and
in what order, and to see footage which I had excluded during the editing
process. They could also - if I desired - have the ability to edit their
own presentations of the material. This would have shifted the balance
of power almost completely from myself as an author/editor to the reader/viewer/editor,
although I would still, as the photographer, have determined what material
existed in the first place. But while the described potential loss of power
from the author/editor to the reader/viewer/editor is to be welcomed, what
effect would this have on the research subjects?
To some extent, those being filmed for my research were
aware of the final form in which this footage would result; they were aware
of my motives for filming them and agreed to be filmed on this basis. Although
they had little power over the final result, they could make their initial
decision to participate by making judgements about the author/editor/researcher
and could continue to participate on this basis. But if I included the
raw footage, the subjects would lose even more power over the destination
of their images. I would therefore have decided against including it even
if it had been technically possible. Nonetheless, I could use still images
from the video material to illustrate the text, along with relevant photographs.
Throughout my research, I had taken photographs using a 35mm SLR camera,
in this case a 1987 Nikon F-401, generally shooting on 400 ASA transparency
(In fact, a compact 35mm camera would have sufficed in
most situations. I would not, however, recommend using a digital camera
at the time of writing, although transferring images to a digital medium
is obviously a much simpler process than with conventional film. But while
digital cameras are extremely light and easy-to-use, the majority can store
less than a hundred images at a time, leading to over-selection at the
point of photographing. In addition, the image quality is often only suitable
for viewing onscreen, and even when this is the primary purpose of the
pictures, it may well be that further, print uses are also found for them.)
Cotton and Oliver point out that:
In terms of colour, I decided to retain the traditional
black of printed text for the body of the text, partly for ease of reading,
and partly to continue the association with print book design. For the
same reason, I decided to keep the background to the text or "page" white,
although I selected a "chalk" pattern to give it more texture as well as
creating an association with the traditional school blackboard. I then
decided to use blue (1919FF) for the headings and sub-headings, and red
(FF1C1E) for the paragraph numbers. These were colours which were already
associated with the research, as I had designed the associated Bettany
Press print publications using red for the background of the cover of The
Chalet School Revisited and gentian blue for Visitors for the Chalet
School. I had chosen these because red and blue were used on the "boards"
of pre-War first editions of the early Chalet School books, while gentian
blue was also the colour of the uniforms in the "Swiss" part of the series.
Blue was also reminiscent of school ink, and red of the ink which teachers
use to mark work.
Type sizes are only relative in HTML, so I used -2 for the paragraph numbers, +1 for the body type, +2 for the sub-headings and +3 for section headings. However, I decided to create the main headings as image files, in order to be able to select the typeface which was used for them. Bob Cotton and Richard Oliver point out that:
Clearly it was important that readers could easily understand how to read the hyperthesis, and this meant that the interface design was crucial. Cotton and Oliver explain interfacing as "being able to control machines by communicating with them, and receiving feedback from them. Watching the speedo on a car dashboard and easing up on the throttle, or choosing the correct washing machine programme, are good examples". They go on to point out that:
In terms of structure, Cotton and Oliver warn that:
However, Cotton and Oliver also point out that:
I decided against including the index itself permanently
onscreen in a "frame", though, as so many Web users seem to dislike this
design feature, and also against using "buttons" as links, since these
are slow to load and add nothing to the reader's understanding. Instead
I decided to include links back to the sub- and main indexes at the end
of each lexia after a link to the next lexia in the recommended reading
path. In terms of the appearance of the links, I decided against using
the traditional underlined blue "hotwords", partly because they are visually
so distracting, and partly because I wanted the reader to be able to distinguish
between different types of links when deciding whether or not to follow
them. I therefore chose to use images instead, in the form of differently
coloured and directional arrows. I decided not to include textual alternatives
to these, thus preventing readers from using text-only browsers, because
I felt that the design was integral to the presentation. I would, however,
include this feature in an adapted version for disabled readers, which
would also be suitable for a touch-sensitive screen.
I decided to use a black arrow
pointing right (in design terms, this means "next" in cultures which read
from left to right) to indicate a link to another part of the same lexia;
a red arrow pointing
right to indicate a link to another lexia in the Virtual Worlds of Girls
hypertext cluster; and a blue arrow
pointing right to indicate a link to a reference, used smaller than the
actual size to underline the fact that in a true hypertext, the reader
would be able to move instead to the actual text. I then used a purple
arrow pointing downwards
(to show that another "level" of information was available "below" the
lexia being read) to indicate that a linked note/further information on
the topic was available, with a green arrow
pointing downwards to indicate that a linked picture was available. I chose
these colours because they were the Suffragette colours, as well as having
queer connotations, and are also two of my personal favourites.
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