Judy Malloy: The Electronic Manuscript

In this parallel era of changing approaches to reading and writing, situating the written word in a medieval manuscript context -- whether with a visual use of text or with an integrated use of words and visuals -- certain works of electronic literature respond to the aesthetic context of the "framed" computer screen, as well as to the heightened potential of digital text display. Contingently, the phrase "electronic manuscript" is increasingly apt in describing works -- such as Matt Huynh's vertical scrolling The Boat, (adapted from Nam Le's The Boat) in which a harrowing narrative of Vietnamese "boat people" refugees unfolds amidst animated falling rain, storm-rocking graphics, voiced laments, light and dark, moving text, and floating images.


Detail from Rob Kendall's The Soothcircuit, an electronic forecasting manuscript, created anew by each user. When s/he selects from the components of Battery, Lamp, Sky, Antenna, Resistor, Transistor, Speaker, Capacitor, and Ground, in response, The Soothcircuit builds intricate structures of visual text in an interactive generative structure. In Kendall's words:

"As the text moves down the screen, it emerges from darkness and grows more prominent, paralleling the dynamics of its content. The text in the North (top) position represents something hidden, vague, or obscure -- perhaps a distant source or goal. The text in the East (right) position represents something emergent. The text in the South position represents the element that dominates the reading. The text in the West represents something waning or receding." [1]

Medieval manuscript practice is not a source or inspiration for many of the works presented here, nor does this exploratory content | code | process visual essay intend to definitively categorize medieval manuscript practice or contemporary creative practice; instead, for continuing study, it presents a diverse selection of examples, arranged in ways that suggest contingent approaches.

Rather than clearly fitting one established category (generative literature, hypertext literature, or interactive fiction, for instance), electronic manuscripts explore visual text -- as image or with images -- in ways which do not easily fit established genres, and/or they riff on medieval manuscript practice. For instance, a textual labyrinth converts sound to text-image in Maurice Benayoun, Jean-Pierre Balpe, and Jean-Baptiste Barrière's Labylogue, a simulated three-dimensional computer-mediated environment that uses conversation between participants in different locations to create an e-literary French language manuscript of community discourse. Generative marginalia, that change when the reader so desires, occur in the "Prologue" to From Ireland with Letters. Medieval manuscript-like uses of dense, visual text interspersed with images occur in JR Carpenter's "There he was, gone".

And Fox Harrell's Living Liberia Fabric uses the analogy of a traditional West-African textile to create "a war memorial with characteristics of a peace museum".

"...until the new age and science of composition had been in existence some little time we could hardly expect to find that the contemporary writers possessed a vocabulary of agreed technical terms by which they could explain exactly what they were discussing," Dom Anselm Hughes writes in Early Medieval Music up to 1300.[2] Today, we are in a similar era, where vocabularies are developed and expanded in order to describe works of electronic literary art.

Hughes' suggestion (in Early Medieval Music) to look at the works themselves is a useful approach.

For the September 2017 reweaving of the content | code | practice electronic manuscript pages, four new works were inserted into the whole. Like a bestiary of dragons, in generated phrases, the names of American cars move across the screen in Nick Montfort's Autopia; 17th century and earlier "posies" are emitted from a miniature thermal printer, when the viewer touches rings and other objects in Helen Burgess and Margaret Simon's installation, Intimate Fields; In Jeneen Naji's The Rubayaat, created in the Cave at Brown University, a 3-D digitally mediated environment is composed with multiple translations, and visual/poetic text.

In Deanne Achong and Faith Moosang's Lulu Suite, against a backdrop of the Fraser River, on a river-situated walking tour, the life of Gold Rush actress Lulu Sweet is reimagined in a mobile App.

"The factual information on medieval world maps is a blending of historical events and geographical places, a projection of history onto a geographical framework," [3] David Woodward observes in his chapter in Cartography in Prehistoric, Ancient, and Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean.

The content | code | process The Electronic Manuscript pages were begun in 2011 and have since been updated every few years. September, 2017 additions can be found directly by clicking on the names of the works above, or by perusing this document as a whole.

A comparison of electronic literature with manuscript creation in a medieval past reveals contingent technical practices. For instance, in the opening sections to Introduction to Manuscript Studies, progressions from papyrus making technologies, to paper making technologies, to the preparation of parchment are documented, as are evolving copying technologies. And changes in instructions for the creation of initials are potent ancient echoes of the progression of HTML standards, the emergence of CSS, and evolving image display affordances. [4]

Additionally, medieval manuscript designs suggest rich approaches to web page design. The chapter on "Correction, Glossing and Annotation" [5] in Manuscript Studies, documents the sophisticated ways in which linking glossing to texts was accomplished. The caption for Figure 3-15 reads:

"In this glossed Liber decretalium of Gregory IX, the commentary is more extensive than the text itself. A complex system of lettered references leads the reader from text to commentary; dots link the portion of the commentary occupying the bottom of the left column with its conclusion at the bottom of the right column. Newberry Library Medieval Manuscript, Fragment 58, fol. 2v."

Talking Cures First presented at the 2002 Electronic Literature Organization Conference at UCLA, Talking Cure is a collaborative work by Noah Wardrip-Fruin, with Camille Utterback, Clilly Castiglia, and Nathan Wardrip-Fruin. Central to this interactive installation are intense portraits of the seated-in-a-chair viewer, created with three color-coded layers of text from sources such as Joseph Breuer's case study of Anna O.

As the viewer participates/is immersed in a history of the "talking cure" in psychoanalysis, the hand written texts created during the Middle Ages to be read orally to the laity, [6] are echoed in the interaction of psychiatrist and patient and viewer -- in a contemporary three-dimensional text/image/audio dominated environment.

Talking Cures

Detailed on Noah Wardrip-Fruin's website at, Talking Cure is a starting place for a look at contemporary electronic manuscripts. Information about how it was created is available in Roberto Simanowski's interview with Noah Wardrip-Fruin on at

Helen Burgess and Margaret Simon:
Intimate Fields

Intimate Fields

Intimate Fields In the 17th century and earlier, "posies" inscribed on rings or other sentimental gifts, spoke of love or religious devotion, of memories of family and friendship, or in remembrance of the death of a loved one. They were short, sometimes anthologized poems/phrases, such as the texts now embossed on greeting cards. They were intimate, meant to be worn on the body.

Intimate Fields, Helen Burgess and Margaret Simon write in project documentation,

"is an installation work that brings together 'near field' technologies from markedly different eras to argue that secrecy, absence, and distance are constituting features of human intimacy. By inter-animating today's methods of near field communication and early modern wearables, this project explores how text and code technologies and the languages they carry can create, interrupt, or re-shape interpersonal connection."

Installed at the 2017 Electronic Literature Organization Conference in Porto, Portugal, Intimate Fields consists of a compartmented wooden box containing six ceramic/steel rings on one side. The box also contains an NFC (near field communication) reader connected to an Arduino Flora (wearable electronics platform) microcontroller and a miniature thermal printer, as well as printed scrolls, and notes containing NFC stickers, and silk ephemera. When the user touches any of the objects, the printer generates "brief affectively charged poems remixed from a range of historical and contemporary texts." Accompanying the exhibition, on a Twitter bot, remixed posies appear at regular intervals.

Intimate Fields could be considered in the category of interactive table-top narratives that Noah Wardrip Fruin discusses in his paper "Beyond the Complex Surface"[6]-- such as Ali Mazalek, Alison Wood, and Hiroshi Ishii's geniebottles (MIT Media Lab Tangible Media Group), from which when each bottle is opened a voice emerges. Or, if looked at as an artists book, Intimate Fields could be considered in the Fluxus box tradition, epitomized by the works in the Getty's Jean Brown papers, 1916-1995; or, of course, as an Arduino work, such as Natalie Freed, Jie Qi, and Adam Setapen's Telescrapbooks, book-housed customizable electronic stickers that empower remote communication.

However, we view them, text producing objects, such as Intimate Fields, suggest a welcome dimension to the electronic manuscript genre.

"The story is set
just before the French Revolution
in an alternate, magical universe."

First Draft of the Revolution In Emily Short's First Draft of the Revolution, (prototyped and produced by Liza Daly; final development and visual design: inkle) the narrative unfolds on letters which appear magically to hundreds-of-miles away recipients -- as if they were electronic mail. But immersed in the illusion of the ancient substrate of paper, our perception of the process is altered.

Warning that "It is dangerous to deceive a husband of magic-using rank..." the narrative opens with a letter to her husband from the primary correspondent, Juliette, who in Short's words "has been banished for the summer to a village above Grenoble: a few Alpine houses, a deep lake, blue sky, and no society." As the reader joins Juliette and her correspondents in the letter writing process, the necessity to work with the composition of the letters (they cannot be sent without interactive editing) involves the reader in an increasingly potent exchange of letters, one that parallels ubicomp surveillance in our own world, while, with the illusion of "linking paper", at the same time, it conveys the past.

I n the late middle ages, there are indications that monks carried manuscripts around and read from them in local communities, whose inhabitants could not read. As if they were PowerPoints, manuscripts were held on the laps of prelates or mounted on lecterns. The goal was to convey moral messages, for example bestiaries featured images of animals, whose illustrated lives promoted virtues. [7]

Contingently, the introduction of the written word into a spoken word culture where literature was heard may have influenced an approach to the manuscript as "something revealed visually to the understanding through the written word".[8] Today, the sharing of the output of developing technologies by the carrying of manuscripts from community to community, is echoed in Nick Montfort's carrying his laptop from poetry space to poetry space to poetry space -- projecting code, reading the results aloud, and instructing audiences in coder craft. [9]

Nick Montfort:


Nick Montfort's Autopia is a text generator that continuously outputs sentences made from the singular and plural names of automobiles. For example:


In this American car-name manuscript, a mesmerizing visual text display is generated on a track grid, where combinatory phrases move horizontally, sometimes backwards, sometimes forwards. Web-based text-to-speech conversion -- reminiscent of Radio Londres -- plays in the background of this not-Disney, contemporary dragon bestiary.


Montfort provides the JavaScript code (via "view source"). Python code is also available, and -- allowing for comparison of print and screen-based output -- there is an opportunity to purchase a print book of Autopia output (published by TROLL THREAD, in 2016).

Autopia could be viewed in tandem with Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles, which features British architecture critic Reyner Banham, who first used the word "autopia" to convey Los Angeles. A classic moment occurs in this video when Banham (eating a pineapple sundae in a drive-in) asks a companion, artists book pioneer Ed Ruscha, to suggest the best buildings in Los Angeles, and, not surprisingly, Ruscha reponds "gas stations" -- [10]

Chris Funkhouser - MIDIPoetry Songs

MIDIPoetry song
Chris Funkhouser performing with MIDIPoet at Grant Recital Hall, Brown University, June 4, 2010, photo: Amy Hufnagel
Software: Eugenio Tisselli's MIDIPoet

In a series of works reminiscent of traveling with manuscripts to be read aloud to communities in the Middle Ages, using vast databases of related words and phrases, new media poet Chris Funkhouser composes sound and projection "songs" in different ways and performs them Internationally. At the Electronic Literature Organization conference at Brown, he performed a MIDIPoetry song -- created using as software Mexican/Spanish poet Eugenio Tisselli's MIDIPoet, which enables real-time composition and performance of interactive visual poetry.

"I learned about Tisselli's program in 2008, when he and I participated in a literary arts festival at Brown University," Funkhouser writes on content | code | process. "Tisselli used MIDIPoet to propel a digital poetry performance (featuring graphics, text, and gesture) with a mobile phone -- an approach to presentation he also used at E-Poetry 2009 in Barcelona. Having known about MIDI-based art since the mid-90s, when friends of mine studying with George Lewis at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's iEar program were coordinating sound and video through MIDI, I was intrigued that a digital poet had engineered such a tool. I used MIDI once before, when an audio engineer who produced some recordings of mine at Multimedia University programmed a keyboard to collect samples of my voice reading lines, and I made a sound poem with them (see Tisselli's arrangement at Interrupt, which allowed for the integration of textual components, planted a seed in my mind, a potential direction to explore at a future date."

Visit for more information.
More information about Eugenio Tisselli's MIDIPoet is available at

Jeneen Naji:
The Rubayaat

the Rubayaat in the Cave

Exploring the visual presence of language and the role of translation in an immersive environment -- where the reader simultaneously experiences different translations -- in 2014, during her Fulbright, working in Brown University's Literary Arts-utilized Cave, Jeneen Naji created a digital work based on translations of Omar Khayyam's The Rubayaat.

The Cave (cave automatic virtual environment) is a projection-based room-sized immersive environment invented in the early 1990's (by Carolina Cruz-Neira, Daniel J. Sandin, Dave Pape, Greg Dawe, and Thomas A. DeFanti) at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Electronic Visualization Laboratory.

Jeneen Naji, who is a Lecturer in Media Studies at Maynooth University in Ireland, began by studying the Cave. Then -- with Edward Fitzgerald's English translation; with a lesser-known version by Persian scholar Mrs. H.M. Caldwell; with an Arabic translation by Egyptian poet Ahmed Rami, and with an Irish version intended to represent the research-author's multicultural identity -- she created a digitally mediated work of poetic language art that explored translation, multiculturalism, and the impact of technological affordances on literary expression and reception.

In her chapter in Maria Mencia's #WomenTechLit, she explains how the work is experienced:

"The user steps into the cube that is the Cave and using googles and a remote control navigates the immersive VR environment however they please. The piece uses multilingual kinetic text and audio and the user navigates the virtual reality space through movement and a remote control whilst wearing specific 3-D glasses that the computer uses to track the user's position in the virtual space." [11]

the Rubayaat in the Cave

Maurice Benayoun: Labylogue
sound: Jean-Baptiste Barrière
text generation: Jean-Pierre Balpe

Maurice Benayoun, Jean-Pierre Balpe, and Jean-Baptiste Barrière, Labylogue. (2000)

Labylogue, a tribute to Jorge Luis Borges' The Library of Babel, was a simulated three-dimensional large-scale visual poetry performance. In art spaces and museums in three different French speaking cities -- Brussels, Lyon, and Dakar -- Labylogue developed eight main themes that invited visitors to meet in the labyrinth and, as they conversed, immerse themselves in the accompanying text on the walls.

A textual labyrinth that converts sound to text image in a conversational environment, the seminal computer-mediated installation Labylogue is a simulated three-dimensional electronic manuscript that uses conversation between participants in different locations to create a literature of community discourse.

The project describes itself in this way:

"A mi-chemin entre le livre et la Bibliothèque de Babel de Borgès, les murs se tapissent de phrases générées en temps réel, qui sont autant d'interprétations du dialogue en cours. A son tour le texte fait l'objet d'une interprétation orale qui anime l'espace du labyrinthe tel un choeur de synthèse qui vagabonde sur les rives de la langue en action."

which can be roughly translated as:

"Halfway between the book and the Borges' Library of Babel, the walls are lined with phrases generated in real time, which are many performances of a continuing dialogue. The text then becomes the subject of an oral performance that -- like a synthesized chorus, vagabonding on the banks of the language in action -- animates the labyrinth space."

More information, an image, and credits are available at

Cynthia-Beth Rubin and Bob Gluck: Layered Histories: The Wandering Bible of Marseilles

wandering Bible
Cynthia-Beth Rubin: visuals, narrative
Bob Gluck: music, programming
Layered Histories: The Wandering Bible of Marseilles
installation, Jewish Museum in Prague
Photo by Dana Cabanova from the collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague Photo Archive

Created in Toledo in about 1260, an illuminated Hebrew Bible was taken out of Spain in 1492 during the Expulsion of Jews from Spain. On their website describing the installation, The Jewish Museum in Prague notes that "It traveled to the Ottoman town of Safed in Northern Galilee, where it was amongst religious mystics seeking the means to repair the ills of the world (Tikkun ha-Olam). It subsequently disappeared until around 1894, when, mysteriously, three volumes of the Bible were discovered in the collection of the Bibliotheque Municipale of Marseilles."

In their computer-mediated interactive installation, Layered Histories: The Wandering Bible of Marseilles Cynthia-Beth Rubin and Bob Gluck involve the viewer in the known narrative of the Bible and in its unknown travels as imagined by the artists. As active participants in the narrative, viewers explore an electronic illuminated manuscript. And in the process, not only the user/viewer but also other viewers in the gallery participate in the experience.

To create the work, Bob Gluck did the interactive programming in Max/MSP/Jitter, and he also composed the music.

Cynthia-Beth Rubin created the visuals and narrative. She describes the process in this way: "I made complicated layered images in Photoshop, and then animated them in "Morph" by Gryphon Software. (no longer available, but I am still animating stills using other morphing software) I also used After Effects -- both to plan the changes for the morphs, and then to colorize and crop." She adds that although the animations are six seconds long in real time, "every viewer experience is different every time."

wandering Bible

Cynthia-Beth Rubin: visuals, narrative
Bob Gluck: music, programming
Layered Histories: The Wandering Bible of Marseilles
installation, Jewish Museum in Prague
Photo by Dana Cabanova, from the collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague Photo Archive

More information is available on the website of the
Jewish Museum in Prague
and on Cynthia-Beth Rubin's website

Mark Marino, Marginalia in the Library of Babel


B ut the narrator has made a discovery. Technology that enables him to make his mark upon these pages," Mark Marino writes on content | code | process to introduce his Marginalia in the Library of Babel. "He has discovered social bookmarking and social annotation, which has allowed him to annotate this already written world, and then to share these annotations -- opening up the possibility of not just gaining some power over the infinite (assuming that's possible) and communicating his little missives to others. He is writing his stories by talking to himself while pacing the halls of the Internet."

There are two versions of this story that offer much of the same content but that are essentially different. To follow Mark Marino's adventures in annotating the World Wide Web, begin with Marginalia in the Library of Babel on WRT: Writer Response Theory. This version was created with the social annotation software Diigo.

and then visit

Marginalia in the Library of Babel on The New River Journal. This version uses custom built JavaScript to simulate Diigo annotations.

Marino notes that

"The reason for the second version is one of the constant tropes of New Media: archiving and preservation. While I don't know the future of Diigo or even the web pages I annotated (indeed some of them live in the Internet Archive already, a.k.a the Wayback Machine), I do know that these pages will run on most browsers for the foreseeable future. To publish this story in New River Journal and to assure that the notes would be visible, I had to get some help building a standalone annotation system, one that is, ironically, not social. The pages had to go from living, breathing Web pages to copies."

To find out more about the creation of Marginalia in the Library of Babel, read Mark Marino's complete statement on content | code | process.

Judy Malloy:
As if the memory was a song: From Ireland with Letters

interface design for the Prologue

"The early literature of Ireland is so bound up with the early history, and the history so bound up and associated with tribal names, memorial sites, patronymics, and topographical nomenclature, that it presents a kind of heterogeneous whole, that which is recognised history running into and resting upon suspected or often even evident myth, while tribal patronymics and national genealogies abut upon both, and the whole is propped and supported by legions of place-names still there to testify, as it were, to the truth of all" - Douglas Hyde [12]

I ntertwining Irish history and generations of Irish American family memories in a work of polyphonic literature based on the rhythms of ancient Irish Poetry, the imagined lost Irish Sonata, the madrigal, streams and fountains, and Irish song, As if the memory was a song: From Ireland with Letters is an epic electronic manuscript told in the public space of the Internet. It could also be considered playable text or generative hyperfiction.

The role of displacement and disrupted tradition in the work of contemporary Irish authors is paralleled in this epic Irish American electronic manuscript, which interweaves the stories of Walter Power -- who came to America as an Irish captive on The Goodfellow in 1654, stolen from his family by Cromwell's soldiers and sold in the Massachusetts Bay Colony when he was 14 years old -- and his descendant, 19th century Irish American sculptor Hiram Powers, who grew up on a Vermont farm and moved to Florence, Italy, where his work played a symbolic role in the fight against African American slavery in America.

Weaving through the composition process of From Ireland with Letters is a quixotic search for the mythical lost Irish sonata called up by Grattan Flood, in A History of Irish Music. [13] And in addition to scored polyphonic text, the work is composed with techno-manuscript devices, such as arrays of marginalia that the reader produces at random.

J.R. Carpenter: The Broadside of a Yarn

Broadside of a Yarn C ommissioned by ELMCIP for the 2012 Remediating the Social exhibition in Edinburgh, The Broadside of a Yarn is an innovative, richly detailed 21st century locative broadside, for which J.R. Carpenter created a series of computer-generated narrative dialogues that are accessed via QR codes.

One generator "is composed entirely of dialogue from Joseph Conrad's The Secret Sharer. Another contains lines of dialogue from Shakespeare's The Tempest," she explains in her content | code | process statement. "Details from many a high sea story have been netted by this net-worked work. The combinatorial powers of computer-generated narrative conflate and confabulate characters, facts, and forms of narrative accounts of fantastical islands, impossible pilots, and voyages into the unknown undertaken over the past 2340 years."

Existing not only as a series of gallery mounted "map squares" of dense images found and/or created, in Edinburgh but also as a live many-voiced performance, The Broadside of a Yarn was/is in her words "a pervasive performative wander through a sea of sailors' yarns".

Details about the creation of this work are also available in J.R. Carpenter, "The Broadside of a Yarn. A Situationist Strategy for Spinning Sea Stories Ashore", Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts 18:5, 2013. pages 88-95.

Deanne Achong and Faith Moosang:
Lulu Suite
(Lulu Sweet – A Gold Rush Tale in 8 Acts)

Lulu Suite

"The factual information on medieval world maps is a blending of historical events and geographical places, a projection of history onto a geographical framework." - David Woodward

Deanne Achang and Faith Moosang, who live and work in the Vancouver, BC area, have been collaborating since 2010. Lulu Suite, the overarching name for Lulu Sweet – A Gold Rush Tale in 8 Acts, is a public art project commissioned by the City of Richmond BC. The Lulu Sweet app was created in a collaboration that utilized their shared interests in history, technology, mediated imagery and archives.

The narrative centers on Lulu Sweet, a gold-rush actress, for whom Lulu Island (in the estuary of the Fraser River, located south of Vancouver, British Columbia) was named. The story is that Lulu was a passenger when Colonel Richard Clement Moody, Royal Engineers, who was surveying the area, sailed past the island in 1861. When she asked the name of the Island, he named it in her honor.

Lulu Suite Against a backdrop of the Fraser River, in a river-situated walking tour, Lulu Sweet's life is reimagined with a series of nine GPS activated hot-spots that lead to narratives that took place between 1850 and 1863. With animations, imagery and sound, panoramas, and text from 19th Century newspapers, in their words:

"the artists take viewers on a journey from New York in 1850 through Panama (pre-canal), to the mining towns of California and the outposts of colonial England, ending in the footlights of the Gold Rush stages of San Francisco."

In the Middle Ages, manuscripts such as the Codex Calixtinus, guided travelers on pilgrimages with maps, drawings and narratives. In the 21st century, public history projects seek ways to digitally convey narratives of historic place. Thus, in addition to their value as electronic literature, works such as Lulu Suite explore how local history can be experienced on digital platforms. Other works of locative narrative with historical context that not only create guides but also suggest ways in which electronic public history can be created are Megan Heyward's Notes for Walking, which guided viewers on a narrative journey around an abandoned naval fort overlooking Sydney Harbor, and Danielle Barrios-O'Neill and Alan Hook's alternative reality game [in]Visible Belfast, based on Ciaran Carson's The Star Factory.

Deanne Achong and Faith Moosang's current projects include an interactive website that explores the history of Cantonese opera and theatres in Vancouver’s Chinatown at the turn of the 20th century.

Brian Thomas: The World of an Idea in the Life of Henry David Thoreau
- from If Monks had Macs


The first new media artist to create a comprehensive work based on the idea of a Monastery library is Brian Thomas whose seminal If Monks Had Macs, first created with Philip A. Mohr, in 1988 -- before the advent of the World Wide Web -- has been reissued by rivertext. "Monks was originally written in HyperCard. The current version, which works on the Windows as well as the Macintosh platform was written with Runrev Revolution," Thomas explains. (Note that the "HyperCard descended" Runrev Revolution is now called LiveCode.)

The new If Monks had Macs CD-ROM includes an ebook with interactive notebook features that use literary analysis tools to look at the work of Henry David Thoreau. Like much of Thomas' work, this edition of Thoreau is interesting, complex, detailed, and it provides a gateway to new ways of exploring literary texts. To find out more, visit "The World of an Idea in the Life of Henry David Thoreau"
or visit rivertext's Literary Machines page

To find out more about the ebooks in If Monks Had Macs, visit

For information on the new version of If Monks Had Macs,

Nanette Wylde - The Qi Project


User input screen from The Qi Project

W ith quiet elegance, The Qi Project brings the question of humanity and what means to be human into the realm of electronic manuscripts. And -- eliciting answers from its readers, displaying the responses -- this interactive installation/webwork is a cogent reminder of who we are in an increasingly complex and computer-mediated world.

On content | code | process, Nanette Wylde describes The Qi Project, created with Flash, Final Cut, Perl, and CGI, as "an inquiry into the nature of humanity and what it means to be human at this moment in time."

"Qi is a Chinese word which literally means 'air' or 'breath,'" the artist explains. "It is considered to be the circulating life force."

More information is available on content | code | process, at

Samantha Gorman:
The Book of Kells


Samantha Gorman's Deconstruction of The Book of Kells (detail above) is, in the words of her introduction, "a weaving of historical study, literary theory, travel narrative, meditative prose, mystical contemplation, and academic inquiry." Informed by onsite study of the circa 800 AD manuscript (housed at Trinity College, Dublin) and by her work with hypertext theory and practice, her deconstruction immerses the reader in an exploration of recurring patterns, hypertextual paths, linking, and intuitive linking.

Each page of the website includes images from The Book of Kells; lexias in which various narrators address the content, the design and the creation of the manuscript; and a node-carrying Celtic knot icon, based on the Celtic knots which occur and reoccur in The Book of Kells. Linking strategies emphasize relationships between design elements, creative process, and content -- guiding the reader in a nonsequential exploration of the creative practice that informs The Book of Kells.

British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts

M edieval manuscripts documented in online resources and databases are useful not only to medieval scholars but also to writers and artists who are interested in how text was used visually in the Middle Ages. For instance, the comprehensive British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts can be searched by keyword. Searches return images of the manuscript pages as well as bibliographic information.

A search for "glossing" reveals, among other things, H orace's Odes (French) with decorated initials and handwritten glosses.

A search for "music" reveals, among other things, an example of Medieval multimedia: D avid with his harp and prayer from the beginning of a Dutch Gradual.

And a search for "calendars" produces, among many others

A n English calendar page with illuminated initials

A n English wheel chart with moving parts

A n Austrian astronomical table

A Scottish Calendar page for January

Other manuscript resources on the World Wide Web include:

Q uranic manuscripts - collected by Prof. B. Wheeler

I luminated Islamic Manuscript - Yale University Library

T he John Plummer Database of Medieval Manuscripts, a part of The Index of Christian Art, Princeton University

Regina Pinto, producer: AlphaAlpha

AlphaAlpha: Letter A T o produce the collaborative AlphaAlpha, Brazilian artist Regina Pinto used a variety of graphic art, animation, video, website design, and sound software applications, including Adobe Premiere Elements 7.0, Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.0, Dreamweaver 8.0, Flash 8.0, Photoshop 7.0 and Sound Forge 9.0. AlphaAlpha includes 365 illuminations of the letter "A" -- plus one more for the leap year -- from artists & poets from all around the world, including Brazil, USA, Canada, Chile, France, UK, Argentina, Finland, Croatia, Serbia, Germany, Uruguay, Spain, and Mexico.

Quoting Frederic W. Goudy's The Alphabet and Elements of Lettering, Pinto explains that "The concept of this netbook is the proper "history of writing, which is, in a way, the history of the human race, since in it are bound up, severally and together, the development of thought, of expression, of art, of intercommunication, and of mechanical invention." [14]

For more information, visit her statement about AlphaAlpha on content | code | process.

Gottfried Haider - Hidden in Plain Sight

Hidden in Plain Sight - detail
In an era in which literate code and software as art have become a part of the both the dialogue and the creation of new media art, this game reveals its code in a lush, negotiable environment.

G ottfried Haider's Hidden in Plain Sight is a continually changing, elegant game that creates a code-based literary environment.

"I made the work by modifying the Quake III source code to allow for replacing all the game's textures in real time. Apart from this, there is also a script running outside the game environment which continuously compiles first the compiler and then the Quake III source code. The (textual) output of this process is immediately turned into a texture and displayed in-game," Hader notes to describe the creation of this work. When the compilation of the game is finished, that iteration of the game is ended, and a newly created iteration begins."


Jim Andrews - The Pen

I n The Decorated Letter, J.J.G. Alexander writes about the letters in The Book of Kells in this way:

"The letter shapes stand out from the confused mass of pattern by their purple or orange outline. The repeated circles which are like enameled escutcheons from hanging bowls, seem to revolve before our eyes. The L shaped panel at the bottom right corner also serves as a stabilizing frame, preventing the rioting patterns from exploding out of the page." [15]

detail from The Pen

C anadian-based digital poet Jim Andrews used Adobe Director to create The Pen. The work is difficult to convey in a still image because it relies on the constant motion of letters to make a restless, dense, brilliantly colored series of animated letters that suggest their meaning with a continually shifting visual impact. It can be seen in motion at (shockwave plugin is required to view the interactive version)

With a constant of the letters T I M E, the work is a series of short digital poems with titles such as "Time", "Don't just sit there", "Meant to be", "an unfinished poem", "Pen is as pen would", "all the live long day", "poesy machine", "& what you make of it".

" I n this dazzling new culture, a book was not an isolated object on a dusty shelf: book truly spoke to book, and writer to scribe, and scribe to reader, from one generation to the next. These books were, as we would say in today's jargon, open, interfacing, and intertextual -- glorious literary smorgasbords in which the scribe often tried to include a bit of everything, from every era, language, and style known to him," Thomas Cahill observes. [16]


1. Kendall, Rob, introductory page for The Soothcircuit.

2. Hughes, Dom Anselm "The Birth of Polyphony" in Early Medieval Music up to 1300, Volume II of the New Oxford History of Music. London: Oxford University Press, 1954. p. 270

3. Woodward, David, "Medieval Mappaemundi" in J. B. Harley and David Woodward, eds., Cartography in Prehistoric, Ancient, and Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean. University of Chicago Press, 1987. p. 326 (see note 203 to this quote in Woodward's text for additional information about the source of this quote)

4. Clemens, Raymond and Timothy Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007. pp. 3-34.

5. ibid. pp. 35-48.

6. Fruin, Noah Wardrip, "Beyond the Complex Surface", in Jorgen Schafer and Peter Gendolla, Beyond the Screen: Transformations of Literary Structures, Interfaces and Genres. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2010. pp. 227-248

7. the conjunction of oral literature and reading in the Middle Ages was set forth in a series of panels at Reading The Middle Ages, an International Graduate Student Conference hosted by the UC Berkeley Program in Medieval Studies on March 25, 2011. Several papers were of particular interest in the context of this content | code | process feature:
Hélène Haug, (Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium) "Private or Public Reading? The View of Contemporary Historians", a paper that used textual analysis to reveal what the writers themselves said about their work and in the process presented cogent evidence that in the Middle Ages many written texts were meant to be read aloud;


Amelia Garcia, (Simon Fraser University, Department of English) "United Through Time: The Oral Connection of Vernacular Texts in Arundel 292", in which she looked at how written bestiaries -- that used the lives of animals to teach the living of human lives -- were carried into communities and read aloud.

Other works of interest in the context of content | code | practice, were Deirdre Jackson's (British Library, Department of Manuscripts) work on the "Cantigas de Santa Maria", which include music as well as visuals and text and Matthew Sergi's (UC Berkeley, Department of English) talk on interactive readership in "The Chance of the Dice". In this work, created by a medieval poet, fictional/semi-fictional texts were written and numbered and then produced by a throw of the dice. As each player received a text, their character was defined, and in the whole process, a kind of story was generated.

8. Alexander, J.J.G., The Decorated Letter. New York: George Braziller, 1978. p. 7
Alexander also points out the ambiguity of legible/illegible in medieval manuscripts, observing a scribe's training in regularity while at the same time noting that "On the other hand, ambiguity and variation are vital elements in many forms of medieval decoration. Thus, from the start the decorated letter was an illogical combination of opposed requirements in legibility, and also in so far as it might render the expected form of the letter unrecognizable by distorting or altering it." p.8

9. Nick Montfort's website is available at

10. Ruscha, Ed, Twentysix Gasoline Stations. Los Angeles, CA: National Excelsior Press, 1963

11. Naji, Jeneen, "Digital Poetry Evolution and the Art of Machines," in Maria Mencia, ed, #WomenTechLit, Morgantown, WV/Rochester, NY: University of West Virginia Press, 2017. pp. 115-130,124.

12. Hyde, Douglas, A Literary History of Ireland From Earliest Times to the Present Day. London: Unwin, 1899. p.56.

13. Flood, G., A History of Irish Music. Dublin: Browne and Nolan, 1906. pp. 19-20.

14. Goudy, Frederic W. The Alphabet and Elements of Lettering, Chapter 1: "The Beginnings of the Alphabet". The source was an online version that is no longer available.

15. Alexander, 1978. p. 42

16. Cahill, Thomas, How the Irish Saved Civilization, the Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. NY: Nan A. Talese/Anchor Books, 1995. p. 163

17. Loeffler, Carl, “Telecomputing and the Arts: A Case History,” Art Com Media Distribution Catalog Number One (n.d) 66-71,69

Judy Malloy
last update September 20, 2017
content | code | process

detail: AlphaAlpha


R ob Kendall
The Sooothcircuit

N oah Wardrip Fruin, with Camille Utterback,
Clilly Castiglia, and Nathan Wardrip-Fruin
Talking Cure

H elen Burgess and Margaret Simon
Intimate Fields

E mily Short
First Draft of the Revolution

N ick Montfort

C hris Funkhouser;
Eugenio Tiselli's MIDIPoet

J eneen Naji
The Rubayaat

M aurice Benayoun

C ynthia-Beth Rubin and Bob Gluck
The Wandering Bible of Marseilles

M ark Marino
Marginalia in the Library of Babel

J udy Malloy
From Ireland with Letters

J. R. Carpenter
The Broadside of a Yarn

D eanne Achong and Faith Moosang
Lulu Suite

B rian Thomas
The World of an Idea

N anette Wylde
The Qi Project

S amantha Gorman
Deconstruction: The Book of Kells

B ritish Library Catalogue
of Illuminated Manuscripts

R egina Pinto

G ottfried Haider
Hidden in Plain Sight

J im Andrews
The Pen



D. Fox Harrell and Kenny K. N. Chow
Generative Visual Renku: Poetic Multimedia Semantics with the GRIOT System

M aría Mencía
Birds Singng Other Birds Songs

J. R. Carpenter
Entre Ville

M.D. Coverley
Pyxis Byzantium

J ason Nelson
The Required Field

C hristine Wilks

Orfeo: a Game in Music

Diagrammic works
J im Rosenberg
Diagram Poems

generative text

J udy Malloy
"the whole room like a picture in a dream"

N ick Montfort and Stephanie Strickland
Sea and Spar Between

Chaucerian narrative
D ene Grigar
The 24-Hr. Micro-Elit Project

D eena Larson

feminist narrative

S onya Rapoport and Marie-Jose Sat
Brutal Myths

The decorated letter
in poetry

O ni Buchanon
The Mandrake Vehicles

A na Maria Uribe
Step by Step

T he works displayed here are only a beginning of looking at how contemporary electronic manuscripts refect concerns of a similar time. There are early generative works, such as those by Dick Higgins and by John Cage -- who refered to The First Meeting of the Satie Society as an "illiminated manuscript" [17] -- that will eventually be included, and there are also many "portfolio" pages by artists and arts organizations -- such as William Wiley's home page -- that utlize manuscript-like vibrant imagery in combination with text and/or the idea of repositories of information.

D ale Chihuly

J oseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination

T he Dickens Web

T ranscriptions

T he Chicano Movement- Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project

H - Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

J une Jordan