Although with hindsight we can see that the roots of our current electronic text technologies go deep--back to Vannevar Bush in the 1940s, or even to the annotated Bibles and Talmuds, the proto-hypertexts of thousands of years ago-- certain specific developments in the past few years have shaped our current practices and options in electronic scholarly work in a decisive way. Most spectacular of these is the development of the World Wide Web as an international conduit for information of all sorts: a conduit which suddenly made it possible to imagine distributing humanities textual resources electronically in a cheap and practical way. Paired with the Web is the more localized universe exemplified by the CD-ROM, one which substitutes lavish specificity for the simplicity and plenitude of the data available over the Web.

Both forms of delivery emphasize two qualities which are becoming central to our assumptions about electronic resources: interactivity and abundance. These qualities have profound effects on the ways we expect to use texts: our strategies of reading and research, and those we will want to teach our students. We cannot assume, though, that these qualities are certain to be advantages. Abundance when disordered cannot be used; interactivity is only of value when it assists us or teaches us. More and more, the technology we use depends on prior conceptual work of preparing the data so that it is adequate to the uses we imagine for it. Whatever the specific technology of delivery, the crucial factor in the success of an electronic textual resource is encoding which is adequate and systematic, using a powerful system such as Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML).

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