I’m finding an interesting hyperlinking experience without any hyperlinks, from all things, a printed book. The idea of linking ideas is not limited by stuff you can wrap in an <a href="....">...</a> tag.

The book I am just starting is Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman.

I was somewhat clued to the book via Audrey Watters write up of her Davidson talk The Golden Lasso of Educational Technology and magnified by conversations with Gardner Campbell on his plan to have this as the topic for the VCU Common Book program. In typical Gardner fashion, he has taken the traditional concept of having incoming freshman read a common book and expand it to something the whole university can partake in (check out the excellent online exhibit from the VCU Library, which is also home to one of the biggest comic book archives).

So I ordered a copy from Amazon.

Hard copy.

Without wandering too far from the intended topic, it is an amazing book, and I am only in about 50 pages. It’s dense with history that does not feel like dense history. I’ll stop because otherwise I will slip into gushing book review mode, just let me say that I find myself grabbing it several times a day to slip in a quick chapter read.

But something fascinating has happened as I have been reading. There are a fair amount of footnotes, because Lepore did so much research, and there is a whole back back story about how all of that funnels into a book. I admit I often do not read footnotes, they usually are just citations. I’d say a good 30% of Lepore’s footnotes are extra interesting information, that end up as small readings in themselves. I should read more of them.

But I am not writing about footnotes.

Twice I have gotten curious about a reference or a person mentioned, and went off to look them up online, and found utterly amazing resources. It’s that standing on the edge of the internet, and seeing it is only about an infinity times bigger than the Grand Canyon.

It was just on page 6, the first chapter, Lepore is describing the book’s subject William Molton Marsten’s experience at Harvard in 1911. Like many freshman (like me) Marsten struggled with finding his way:

“During my Freshman year,” he wrote, “I decided that the time had come to die.” English A had crushed him. But the course that convinced him to kill himself was History 1: Medieval History, taught by Charles Homer Haskins. Haskins, who wore a waxed, handlebar mustache, was dean of the graduate school. His interest was medieval scholasticism, the subject of his monograph The Rise of the Universities.

This is scene setting, and maybe not too tightly relevant to the story (which one might say of the description of Haskins’ mustache) (but who am I to offer literary criticism). It was that book title that set off a Nugget Alarm (I draw with ink in my books):

The book title in the book caught my eye...

The book title in the book caught my eye…

The Rise of the Universities written by a medieval historian in the early 20th century. There night be something interesting there relevant to the way people are talking these days about higher education. It was not difficult to find a copy. Published in 1923, The Rise of the Universities was written from a series of Colver Lectures (could be another thing to explore) Haskin gave at Brown University.

Universities are so medieval, so wonder they are ripe for disruption.

UNIVERSITIES, like cathedrals and parliaments, are a product of the Middle Ages. The Greeks and the Romans, strange as it may seem, had no universities in the sense in which the word has been used for the past seven or eight centuries. They had higher education, but the terms are not synonymous. Much of their instruction in law, rhetoric, and philosophy it would be hard to surpass, but it was not organized into the form of permanent institutions of learning. A great teacher like Socrates gave no diplomas; if a modern student sat at his feet for three months, he would demand a certificate, something tangible and eternal to show for it — an excellent theme, by the way, for a Socratic dialogue. Only in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries do there emerge in the world those features of organized education with which we are most familiar, all that machinery of instruction represented by faculties and colleges and courses of study, examinations and commencements and academic degrees. In all these matters we are the heirs and successors, not of Athens and Alexandria, but of Paris and Bologna…

… the fact remains that the university of the twentieth century is the lineal descendant of mediaeval Paris and Bologna. They are the rock whence we were hewn, the hole of the pit whence we were digged. The fundamental organization is the same, the historic continuity is unbroken.

First, the very name university, as an association of masters and scholars leading the common life of learning. Characteristic of the 35 Middle Ages as such a corporation is, the individualistic modern world has found nothing to take its place. Next, the notion of a curriculum of study, definitely laid down as regards time and subjects, tested by an examination and leading to a degree, as well as many of the degrees themselves — bachelor, as a stage toward the mastership, master, doctor, in arts, law, medicine, and theology. Then the faculties, four or more, with their deans, and the higher officers such as chancellors and rectors, not to mention the college, wherever the residential college still survives. The essentials of university organization are clear and unmistakable, and they have been handed down in unbroken continuity. They have lasted more than seven hundred years — what form of government has lasted so long? … The glory of the mediaeval university, says Rashdall, was “the consecration of Learning,” and the glory and the vision have not yet perished from the earth. “The mediaeval university,” it has been said, “was the school of the modern spirit.” How the early universities performed this task will be the theme of the next lecture.

I bet there is good fodder here for a month of posts by David Kernohan.

And URLs make me curious. What is www.elfinspell.com ?? It is an “Open Source Publisher and Patron of the Arts, Literature and Invention” presented in lovely 1990s brightly colored, most likely hand coded, HTML:


Austin may aspire to be kept weird; the internet should strive to be kept weirdly unique. Look at the long roster of texts available at Elfinspell.

This is free and open (and not trademarked) content. There is no creative commons license, but terms stated pretty clearly for those who find the content of use listed under BORING DETAILS:

About Permission (or not) to Use the Content of this site:

The texts new and old are newly prepared and adapted for the Internet. They have been typed not scanned. Some texts are in the public domain, any others are used with permission granted by the copyright holders. In the process, gentle emendations have been done and so noted in the source code. (There can never be too many proofreaders!). While emending the older works, there is always the chance that we might have added our own typos, although the texts are checked line by line with the original (of the older works). Therefore, these are not exact reproductions of the public domain texts, although changes are very slight (a different footnote system, obvious typos fixed, etc.) Occasionally, new notes and new pictures are also included (with a note signifying that it is new). The author of these portions of the text, etc. is the copyright holder. Therefore, please ask permission before using any of the content of the site. It is okay to use small portions (a few lines, a paragraph, etc.) with a reference to the page, as is usual and the honest thing to do. We do like to share and it is easy to get our okay. Copies of any the texts, etc., may be freely copied for classroom (real ones!) purposes. You don’t have to tell us then but we would truly love knowing any of our stuff is useful. Hearing from you makes learning what a psili or dasia is and what href means all worthwhile.

Bag o’ Gold, achieved.

Back to the book. Just 28 pages later (most of them marked up with my pen), Lepore describes Marston’s period at Harvard, where because of a decline of family fortune, he had to make some dough (fortunately, student loans were not an option). Marston and his then lady friend, and future (first) wide, Sadie Holloway loved the cinema. At the time he was starting his Harvard research into lie detection, Lepore writes of Marston’s plan to earn money by writing scripts for movies (p 34):

In the Psychological Laboratory in Emerson Hall, Marston had been experimenting with machines that might tell truth from lies. To write movies, he had to turn lies into truth: he had to learn how to tell a story that wasn’t true but that, on film, would seem to be.

True, the best films are lies.

In that era, dramatic films were silent and called “photoplays” and the script was known as a “scenario”. Lacking a Scenario Writing MOOC, Marston took the logical step of learning from books:

Lepore writes about Marston's learning from a book

Lepore writes about Marston’s learning from a book

The footnote does not lead the curious to read about a reference to Frères but how Lepore noted that the mention of this in an interview with Marston, he did not specifically name the book he learned from. But she cites three possible books available in this era, but two were most likely not available in Cambridge. Research in action here.

But what is this How to Write a Photoplay (avoiding for now my curiosity of who was Herbert Case Hoagland)?

Boom. The Internet Archive has it.


To write a photoplay requires no skill as a writer, but it does require a “constructionist.” It requires the ability to grasp an idea and graft (please use in the botanical sense) a series of causes on the front end of it and a series of consequences on the other end.

Beyond the mechanics of creating film in the early 1900s, Hoagland writes about the creative process for “scenarios”– and I see a line from creating in this limited form medium (more or less early animation, no sound track). This is — how can you tell stories in a series of pictures — something I have been a fan of for a long time.

The first essential to a scenario is an idea—a peg on which to hang the story. Ideas for photoplays are not difficult for an alert brain to evolve. Life—everyday life—as you see it about you is full of good ideas for films and with practice one can soon learn to grasp the central thought in an incident, strip it of its common- places and with this as a nucleus build a story around it. The idea is the main point in a motion picture and in all that goes before or follows it should never be lost sight of by the scenario writer…

Given the idea or feature of the story, the next step is to reason the possible or better still the probable causes which lead up in steps or scenes to this feature and the results which would logically follow such an incident as the creator of the story may have in mind. Every scene should lead into the next scene without a break in the story being developed and subtitles should only be used when it is impossible to explain the action or the lapse of time any other way or to divide two scenes of a widely diversified nature, thus breaking the mental leap of the spectator into two jumps. The perfect motion picture has no sub-titles and needs none.

Let the images, the editing, the sequence tell the story. If you have to explain it with text…

Here is the importance of creating a sense of mystery with suspense, what would become he life’s work of the Great Master.

Whenever possible keep the spec- tator in suspense as to the climax, the unravelling, as long as possible. If the denouement can be withheld until the last scene, so much the better. Suspense is a delightful sensation though we all beg not to be kept in it.

Hoagland points out that we are surrounded by material for our creativity:

Don’t lose sight of the fact that all the world’s a stage and that you can find among your acquaintances nearly every character you need for any story

Not everything he writes is stuff I would use:

Remember that very few stories are of great interest without the rustle of a skirt.

But then again, look at modern movies.

I can find a lot here I might weave into a next iteration of teaching DS106. I have not read Hoagland’s or Haskin’s works in detail, but I am piling them into my subconscious (and my diigo bookmarks). They are fuel for future possible connections.

And the other thing? All of this stuff is not hidden away by paywalls and copyrights. It is public information in that domain. It’s almost worth becoming a historian to work in a field where so much information is not tucked away.

And I would have found none if I expected the book I was reading to provide. Nor if I did not pick up on things that resonated with things I have read, seen elsewhere outside the scope of the book. They are like hyperlinks with out hypertext, like footnotes in the book the author did not write herself. I called them “Hypernotes” for no real reason.

And I left the digital world to do this. I am not relying on existing hyperlinks or re-programmed systems or a memex to do this for me. I sought the out because of a curiosity tickled. I made the links. In my head.

There is a bit of a connection with the work Jon Udell is doing on hypothes.is, the effort to add a shared layer of annotation on web content. I file this too in my head (and bookmarks) of Stuff I Do Not Know Yet What To Do With But Have a High Degree of Interest Because Jon Udell is Interested. This concept reminds me too of the way Ward Cunningham built and described the idea of hypertext to something that does not exist yet, of saying, “this is important, and someday I or someone else will write what it should link to.”

Okay, big deal. I am reading a book and looked some stuff up. People have been doing that for centuries in libraries. I am old enough to remember having to use drawers of cards in a wooden piece of furniture to do this.

But oh, the scale, and variety of what is out there from the device next to my book. My God, it is full of interesting stuff.

The cliché we use (I did twice when I tweeted these finds), is from Alice

We take a break from our regular daily routine, and follow the rabbit into the internet hole of information, and we emerge with a bit of wonder.

But you know what? I really like it down there. It’s magical. A place of wonder. So I am done with talking about falling (which sounds accidental) into a rabbit hole. I’d rather spend more time there, and occasionally pop out into the other world.

See you later, I am going back in….

CC0 image from Pixabay http://pixabay.com/en/prairie-dog-animal-wild-life-puppy-457521/

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so)


  1. Had much the same experience reading Iain MacGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary several years ago, but instead of the Alice cliche I was overcome like Mole and the Water Rat were by Pan piping at the gates of dawn. I had to pull away because my joiurney was becoming obsessive. I finished the book but not the notes. I still hear their siren call. Great post, resonant and ringing.

  2. Well, that was fun! But the guy complaining that Harvard English “crushed him” because he was such a great writer who felt he was above learning how to punctuate his native language just pisses me off. Not gonna get into it–just sayin’!
    Good thing I just finished filing grades this evening!
    I’m at a one week Progoff Intensive Journal Method writing retreat in Seattle where we write from 9-4 in practically monastic silence, which I like. What drives me crazy is when the teacher explains something clearly then asks, “Any questions?” and grown adults ask truly stupid questions that suck up our collective writing time. Grrrr. Somebody is losing patience with the Arisen University!
    Anyway, I love that your rabbity sense of curiosity is intact. You inspire me with your ability to dodge contractual teaching!

  3. Holy Hera! You’re doing my research. Yippeeee! I have a ton of notes of stuff to look up too, but I’ve got it on ice until I have some vacation time. You. Rock.

    Here’s what I have in the fedwiki from the Teaching Machines Happening:

    And what you’re doing makes me want to do back flips. Thanks for all of these links!

    On a serious note: I’ve recommended this book to all my friends who teach American history and/or Womens’ Studies. I learned so much from both her chapters and the footnotes. Some of them were hyperlinked in the eBook version. I couldn’t wait to get it from my public library, so I ordered the eBook. Nice choice with the hardbound. Loved that book so much, and Audrey’s piece just rocked my world.


    1. I remember Fedwiki…. I’m in heaven over how alive her writing makes history feel. I’m so hooked on so many things, plus this history of the struggle for woman’s rights was in school condensed into some Susan B Anthony sized tweet

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