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4.0 Issues in archaeological hypertext

Here I am attempting to start at first principles, by looking at the things we take for granted as the essential activities in academic labour — writing, reading, teaching — and identifying some pertinent questions. These questions are not new, but none of them have been definitively resolved, and none have been rendered irrelevant by progress.

To begin, let's consider text and hypertext.

Laying aside for the moment the usual definition of 'hypertext' as 'a non-sequential web of nodes of information (including but not limited to text)' (Webopedia, accessed 30 Aug 2001), I'd like to question some possible perceptions about hypertext.

In most usages, the prefix 'hyper' means 'over, beyond, above' or 'exceeding, excessively, above normal' (Oxford English Dictionary). In the case of 'hypertext', then, the connotation is 'augmented text', or text that is somehow better at being text than ordinary text is.

But what is ordinary text supposed to be and do? Presumably, it can perform a number of functions, but the one I am most concerned with, in this context, is the transmission of a body of information in a coherent and comprehensible manner.

Is hypertext always better at this than conventional text? As will be discussed below, no. On occasion, its actual semantic performance is such that hypertext might be better described as 'hypotext': 'below normal' (OED) in its functioning.

Our task is thus to sort out what works, with whom, and when, from what doesn't. To do this, we need data. But first, we need to define some specific questions. And even before that, we need to reconsider our preconceptions about what hypertext does/is, and how it fits into our theoretical agendas in archaeology.

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