Hypertext, Hypermedia and the Bayeux Tapestry: A Study of Remediation

Hypertext, Hypermedia and the Bayeux Tapestry: A Study of Remediation

By John Micheal Crafton

Peregrinations: International Society for the Study of Pilgrimage Art, Vol.2:4 (2009)

Introduction: While browsing recently through some back issues of computer science journals to prepare for a conference talk on hypertext, I anticipated coming across many odd and indecipherable things. What I certainly did not expect to find was humor, so imagine my surprise when I came across this publication: “Hypertext – Does It Reduce Cholesterol, Too?” The humorous title notwithstanding, this turned out to be quite a serious paper delivered by Norman Meyrowitz in 1987 at the first ACM supported conference on hypertext. In the essay the author criticizes the overselling or overuse of hypertext in software development, likening it to oat bran that was being promoted at the time as a miracle cure for lowering cholesterol. So just as every other food product on the market was getting repackaged with oat bran and promising a cholesterol-lowering miracle, so too was hypertext being included where it need not be in order likewise to provide a touch of the miraculous. Thus Meyorwitz’ central question: is hypertext the oat bran of computing?

The coupling of oat bran and hypertext has got to be one of the oddest in contemporary culture, but the promise of the hypertext-induced miracle is reminiscent of the utopian, wide-eyed enthusiasm that accompanied talk of hypertext in literary-theory circles in the 90’s. George Landow’s book Hypertext, first published in 1992 and now in its third edition, still selling well and still one of the best books on the subject, presents hypertext at every turn as the concrete and pragmatic realization or instantiation of everything anticipated by post-structuralist and postmodernist literary theory. In fact, if someone were to produce a greatest hits of literary theory from the 80’s, just about every author and every position could be found referenced somewhere in Landow’s book. The arrival of hypertext for literary theorists, particularly in less judicious books than Landow’s, is described as something like the arrival of the Messiah. With some historical distance now and a slightly reduced fervor for new technology, one cannot help but wonder, with Meyorwitz, just how much hype was in the hypertext? The answers to these questions are not easy, but the industry of exploring the effects of digital media and its accompanying technology on medieval studies is growing quite steadily, and therefore it seems appropriate that for a special edition of Peregrinations (an online journal afterall) on the subject of the Bayeux Tapestry, we should explore the new media version of the Tapestry which arrived in 2003 in the form of CD-ROM created by Martin K. Foys. This essay will examine, then, the question of the status of these new editions and the effects of this new media using the indispensible Bayeux Tapestry Digital Edition as the test case.

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