Hypertext and New Media Studies: What's in a Name?

Well, I have my syllabi online and I'm more or less prepared for the first week of classes. I'm a new faculty member teaching in a new track and so didn't expect my courses to fill up, but I was somewhat surprised at the results of registration. My 8:30AM course on hypertext currently only has four students enrolled, while my 12:30PM course “Intro to New Media Studies” is bulging at the seams — full at its cap of thirty students–I'll likely be turning folks away. I'm sure that this disparity can be attributed at least in part to the time of day (when I was an undergraduate, I only enrolled in one 8:30 course, and that one only because it was absolutely required for my writing minor). It may however go deeper than that — maybe “hypertext” sounds forebidding while New Media Studies sounds intruiging. I don't expect one course to be any more or less challenging than the other, and I don't think that the subject matter of one is more or less intruiging than the other. In some ways, this mirrors the activity of writers creating electronic literature: in the past few years, there has certainly been more activity by “new media poets” and “web artists” creating work in flash, quicktime, and a host of other “new media” platforms than there has been in “hypertext” as it's typically understood. Maybe Coover was right, that the golden age of hypertext is past. Or maybe nonlinear/multisequential narrative could have done better with a less caffinated/ADD-sounding epistemology. It makes me think back to the debates that we had a few years back when we were trying to pick a name for the Electronic Literature Organziation. Some argued that “electronic literature” was too general a term: we might have ended up with the Hypertext Coalition or somesuch. I'm glad that we ended up with the big tent term, given the way the winds have shifted.

Anyway, both courses are running, and I'm hoping to pick up a few more students in the hypertext course: wherein we'll excavate the golden age of postprint, which may yet have a future.

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