Welcome to the Antique: Curating Archival Hypertext Over the Long Term

3:45 PM, Tuesday 14 Aug 2018 (1 hour 15 minutes)
We Descend: Archives Pertaining to Egderus Scriptor first appeared in electronic form in 1997, published by Eastgate Systems on a floppy disk as a Storyspace Reader for Macintosh computers; as of 2018, the work is available on the internet, encoded in HTML5 and CSS3, the latest in a series of at least a dozen necessary "upgrades" to its software instantiation. Throughout this period, techology for presenting archival material has continued to transform at an increasing rate. At the same time, previously unknown writings have come to light; new methods of processing writings have been developed; and certain assumptions guiding the preparation of previous volumes have had to be updated as well. This paper will focus on some of the most pressing issues facing the primary "minder of gaps" in such an enterprise, the Curator, of which Bill Bly is only the most recent.
Perhaps the largest gap to be bridged in our comprehension of such an enterprise is that between the impression of tidiness and order that any "finished" instantiation — with its neatly labeled apparati, finding aids, annotations, and commentary — presents to the reader, in contrast to the extensive dithering, fussing, and floundering actually required to herd together a collection of writings that have been gathered and transmitted over a span of many generations.
Once brought together, these texts must be arranged, sequenced, and linked to one another in an organization that facilitates their being read, understood (each by itself and as a member of a group), pondered, and then easily located again after being laid aside. The immaterial "space" defined by this "placement" of such "objects" in relation to each other — as if they were furniture and other appurtenances arranged in a room — is useless until its design can be mentally grasped by the reader, and some person must perform this essentially hospitalic function, that of welcoming the reader into the space inhabited by the writings of the Archives. In doing so, this hôtelier (the Curator, whether named or not), leaves a trace that itself can be "read". In We Descend, all such persons are regarded as of equal importance to the original Authors whose work the reader has come here to encounter.
The first Curator was Egderus himself, a scribe who discovered a cache of ancient texts, to which he added writings by his contemporaries as well as his own recorded thoughts and memories, thereby creating the first "holdings" that form the kernel of the Archives now bearing his name. This process of amalgamation was recapitulated some generations later by an unknown Scholar who rediscovered the long-forgotten holdings of Egderus and passed it along, bridging the gap between Egderus and Bill Bly, whose mission has been to render the Archives into hypertext form.