The implications of e-text resource development for Southern African literary studies in terms of analysis and methodology.
Stewart, Graham Douglas James.
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This study was aimed at investigating established electronic text and information projects and resources to inform the design and implementation of a South African electronic text resource. Literature was surveyed on a wide variety of electronic text projects and virtual libraries in the humanities, bibliographic databases, electronic encyclopaedias, literature webs, on-line learning, corcordancing and textual analysis, and computer application programs for searching and displaying electronic texts .The SALIT Web CD-ROM which is a supplementary outcome of the research - including the database, relational table structure, keyword search criteria, search screens, and hypertext linking of title entries to the electronic full-texts in the virtual library section - was based on this research. Other outcomes of the project include encoded electronic texts and an Internet web site. The research was undertaken to investigate the benefits of designing and developing an etext database (hypertext web) that could be used effectively as a learning/teaching and research resource in South African literary studies. The backbone of the resource would be an indexed ''virtual library" containing electronic texts (books and other documents in digital form), conforming to international standards for interchange and for sharing with others. Working on the assumption that hypertext is an essentially democratic and anti canonical environment where the learner/users are free to construct meaning for themselves, it seemed an ideal medium in which to conduct learning, teaching and research in South African literature. By undertaking this project I hoped to start a process, based on international standards, that would provide a framework for a virtual library of South African literature, especially those works considered "marginal" or which had gone out of print, or were difficult to access for a variety of reasons. Internationally, the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) and other, literature based hypertext projects, promised the emergence of networked information resources that could absorb and then share texts essential for contemporary South African literary research. Investigation of the current status of on-line reference sources revealed that the digital frameworks underlying bibliographic databases, electronic encyclopaedias and literature webs are now very similar. Specially designed displays allow the SALIT Web to be used as a digital library, providing an opportunity to read books that may not be available from any other library. The on-line learning potential of the SALIT Web is extensive. Asynchronous Learning Network (ALN) programmes in use were assessed and found to offer a high degree of learner-tutor and learner-learner interaction. The Text Analysis Computing Tools (TACT) program was used to investigate the possibility of detailed text analysis of the full texts included in the SALIT library on the CDROM. Features such as Keyword-in-context and word-frequency generators, offer valuable methods to automate the more time-consuming aspects of both thematic and formal text analysis. In the light of current hypertext theory that emphasises hypertext's lack of fixity and closure, the SALIT Web can be seen to transfer authority from the author/teacher/librarian, to the user, by offering free access to information and so weakening the established power relations of education and access to education. The resource has the capacity to allow the user to examine previously unnoticed, but significant contradictions, inconsistencies and patterns and construct meaning from them. Yet the resource may still also contain interventions by the author/teacher consisting of pathways to promote the construction of meaning, but not dictate it. A hypertext web resource harnesses the cheap and powerful benefits of Information Technology for the purpose of literary research, especially in the under-resourced area of South African literary studies. By making a large amount of information readily available and easily accessible, it saves time and reduces frustration for both learners and teachers. An electronic text resource provides users with a virtual library at their fingertips. Its resources can be standardised so that others can add to it, thus compounding the benefits over time. It can place scarce works (books, articles and papers) within easy access for student use. Students may then be able to use its resources for independent discovery, or via guided sets of exercises or assignments. Electronic texts break the tyranny of inadequate library resources, restricted access to rare documents and the unavailability of comprehensive bibliographical information in the area of South African literary studies. The publication of the CD-ROM enables the launch of new, related projects, with the emphasis on building a collection of South African texts in all languages and in translation. Training in electronic text preparation, and Internet access to the resource will also be addressed to take these projects forward.