My second original concern was to do with the issue of navigation and orientation of the reader in the work. In a hypermedia environment, with 'endless possibilities to travel at speed in all directions at once' (Harvey 2002, 637), it can be difficult to locate and orientate yourself within a long argument, or to gain a sense of the whole (see Fig. 1!). This remains true even if (a) the pages coming up after clicking on hyperlinks are made as predictable as possible, (b) there are certain key menus that can be bookmarked, and (c) web browsers, as they usually do, offer 'back' and 'forward' buttons as well as a reading-'history' that helps backtrack to previously visited pages (the 'go' menu in Netscape) — I note with great concern commercial web design that disables the 'back' button, worrying about the implications this may have for the developing reading habits of Web readers (as discussed in Kathryn Denning's paper in this volume).
Several reviews (Harvey 2002; Karlsson 1999; 2002; Martinón-Torres 2002) and various other comments I received made reference to such issues of orientation. In particular, some complained that the ubiquity of irresistible hyperlinks throughout the text leads to readers being drawn into all sorts of diverging directions. This, they argued, causes readers to lose the thread of a particular point or sentence and in practice made it not only impossible to follow each thought in depth but ultimately also ever to get a sense that the monograph has been read in its entirety, 'cover-to-cover'. On the other hand, a comment from a perhaps more experienced hypermedia reader stated the opposite: she had quickly figured out the structure of the work, gained control of where she was going, and ultimately considered Monumental Past to be 'a system of information retrieval'!
Fortunately, some readers recognised that my way of writing was never meant to be read like a structured argument, where each part needs to be understood in depth before moving on. Trying to read the monograph in its entirety is not only difficult to accomplish but would also miss the point (Harvey 2002, 637). The message lies in the whole. This whole is meant to be always bigger than what the reader will normally discover. My ideas unfold in detail and are elaborated throughout the assemblage of all the pages of the monograph taken together. Coherence in my argument does not follow in a straightforward way from how the work has been written and structured by its author, but emerges only as the result of a committed reading process (see also Storrer 1999). The intellectual rigour of my work lies in the carefully and laboriously crafted assemblage of rich connections, i.e. the meaningful relations between the various themes and topics discussed. The substance of the monograph does not lie in the depth of each page but in the width of the entire argument. That is what I referred to in my invitation to the reader to join the intellectual adventure in which I was involved myself when writing this work.
No doubt, these ambitions challenged well-established reading habits and therefore an important part of current academic discourse. Some people find this emerging, new way of reading liberating, more honest to how we actually read, and maybe think, and ultimately very rewarding. Håkan Karlsson, for example, admitted in his review that he had at first some reservations when reading my work but after a while he overcame them (Karlsson 2002, 261):
'After spending some hours with Holtorf's e-monograph, my initial skepticism faded away. In fact, the thesis seemed much more "alive" than a text found in an ordinary book.'
Similarly, David Harvey (2002, 637) — after having experienced his own share of 'nervously abortive attempts' in navigating my work — argued that
'the problem of handling this new format of publication may prove difficult and confusing for the novice, but the rewards of staying with it and letting yourself go are immense.'
Another reader thanked me even 'for lightening up' her evening: 'I love the [ ] searching, the discovery, the surprises'. And yet another reader described his own reading experience with the following words:
'yesterday evening I was supposed to go out to celebrate the first day of a short Easter break but, instead, I have been sitting here for fourteen hours. No dinner, no drinks, no sleeping. I have inevitably been captured by the cobweb of your connections. One fascinating night awake. I am still shocked by a piece of work that I am not able to describe.'
A few scholars might be horrified by such revelations, and disconcerted by the implications of works such as mine for established academic values like coherence, clarity and conciseness (e.g. Fagan 2002). Under what conditions, if at all, 'letting yourself go' and becoming 'shocked' by a 'cobweb' of connections can be reconciled with the more traditional, scholarly virtues of academia has not been discussed sufficiently among academics, although this does now appear to be of some urgency. Works such as mine may eventually come to add up to 'a revolution' in academia (Martinón-Torres 2002, 132), but the ultimate academic judgement will have to remain open, and the problem unresolved, until more thought has gone into a critical assessment of what precisely is going on.
© Internet Archaeology
Last updated: Wed Jan 28 2004