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Keynote

Foot & Schneider will present a keynote address that focuses on their proposal of an “object-oriented” approach to researching and writing Web history. They will consider the various meanings of object entailed within the notion of object-oriented Web historiography in order to advance both the theoretical foundation and methodological rigor of developmental analyses of Web artifacts in their hyperlinked contexts. Developmental analyses of any aspect of the Web, whether engaged in contemporaneously or retrospectively, entail dynamics within and between the (co)producers of Web artifacts, production practices and techniques, and Web artifacts themselves. These dynamics make it difficult but very important for scholars to identify and situate their object(s) of analysis historically and theoretically.

When scholars discuss an “object of analysis”, they typically use term to mean “the thing, person, or matter to which thought or action is directed” (this and subsequent definitions from dictionary.com). Establishing this object is a foundational step in the research process, but the term holds other meanings that are relevant as well. The phrase object-orientation is used in fields as diverse as computer science and museology to refer to an artifact focus in practices such as software programming and art curation/exhibition. This usage reflects another common definition of object as “anything that is visible or tangible and is relatively stable in form”. A third definition of object is “the end toward which effort or action is directed”. This definition is resonant with the German philosophical term gegenstand , which entails the concept of the embeddedness-in-activity of objects-- both material and immaterial-- that serve as motivating but largely unattainable horizons.

This presentation will focus on the importance and utility of clearly specifying all three of these object concepts in object-oriented Web historiography. Cultural-historical activity theory will be used to examine the multiple levels and types of history at play in Web historiography, and to argue that the distinction between Web artifacts and a motivating/orienting horizon of Web practice is activity-context dependent.  Contemporary theories of archiving practices and museology will be drawn on to reflect on the role of Web artifacts -- and the inevitable tensions between curation and scholarship – in the production of Web history.

object . Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1) . Random House, Inc. dictionary.reference.com/browse/object (accessed: November 25, 2007).

Steven Schneider is Professor in Political Science/Communication and Information Design at the State University of New York, Institute of Technology. He is also co-Director of WebArchivist.org and Director at SUNYIT Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

Kirsten A. Foot is Associate Professor at the Department of Communication, University of Washington, and co-Director of WebArchivist.org. Together with Steven Schneider she has written the book Web Campaigning (MIT Press, 2006), as well as a number of articles about Web Sphere Analysis.