Monday, August 08, 2005

Archeology of Knowledge

Blogging has been sparse of late as I've been racing to the finish line of a complete re-write of my Old English grammar book, King Alfred's Grammar. I need to get the book done in the next few days so that I have time to tweak the layout, print, copy and bind the books in time for classes.

[Brief technical discussion in response to comments on previous post: I use MS Word in all its horror for this project because I am trying to keep the html version and the hard copy version the same. This is not to say that I am using Word's terrible auto-generated html, but that I want the ability to cut and paste from the hard copy document to the e-version. If I were to do the layout and changes in InDesign (which is what I used to the design and layout for Tolkien Studies volume 1 , once I poured the Word files into InDesign, I would have a mare's nest of tracking and document control problems. Also, if KAG ever does get published (and to my shock and joy I now may have two publishers who both seem very interested in getting the book), the publisher will want the files in Word. So I use MS Word and try to keep the project small enough to avoid using "Master Document" (necessary for Beowulf and the Critics and How Tradition Works, avoidable with this project, which I'm fighting tooth and nail to keep down to 150 manuscript pages). -- And to Commenters: thank you for the excellent tips. Some of them I'd known and then forgotton, but most were new to me. ]

But on to the Archeology of Knowledge. As I revise this book I see more and more fossilized decisions upon which other structures have been built. For example, the book originally had (the website still has, though that's about to change) about six introductory chapters that were not numbered. Chapter 1 (which actually came seven chapters in) began with the first real Old English, the pronouns, and then progressed smoothly. But why did the book begin being numbered here ? How confusing was that? What was I thinking, I wondered.

And then I remembered one of the many work-arounds we were developing in the King Alfred computer program required sentences to be encoded with a difficulty level. That difficulty level was read back into the grammar book (which began as the interactive help files for the program), and so it made life easier to have Chapter 1 be the first chapter with practice sentences.

Now at this stage in the project, none of that matters or makes sense. But the structure had persisted for so long because so many other things (names of hyperlinks, help files, documentation, etc.) had been built on top of it. So now when I think about the manifest irrationality of the organization of Mitchell and Robinson's Old English grammar, for instance, I now immediately wonder what other structure or organizing principle was the foundation for the weird superstructure that now exists.


Lisa Spangenberg said...

I loathe MS Word; having been forced to use it for several books, and supporting hundreds of faculty writing their books, and students writing papers . . I have good reason to loathe it. I no longer use it unless there's money involved, moving in my direction.

A few things to keep in mind. Turn off Fast Save in the Preferences (Mac) or Tools/Options (Windows). It's evil, and leads to file corruption, as well as other problems. Turn off the automatic back up and saving options; they don't follow Apple's protocol for saving, and frequently cause problems. It's a very good idea to occasionally use Save As and create a "fresh" copy of the file. Avoid, if you can, inserting figures into MS Word files; use place holder text and carefully named external files.

jon said...

text book are so expensive. I agree, We have been looking for text book all night for a new text book class but havent been able to track down used text book that I can afford. Anyway, I enjoyed looking at you text book blog...


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