trAce Online Writing Centre Archival Site

Scholar's Notes about the Archives

The trAce Online Writing Centre’s archives were donated by its founder, Sue Thomas, to Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) in 2016 by a special request from Dene Grigar, President of ELO. It includes both digital material from the virtual server that hosted trAce’s site as well as physical artifacts preserved by Thomas during the years she directed the community. The first stage of our project involves the reconstitution of the six issues of frAme, the online journal published from 1999 to 2001 by trAce. Other items will also made available as funding is secured or technological challenges can be addressed. Preservation work on behalf of ELO has been undertaken in Grigar’s Electronic Literature Lab at Washington State University Vancouver by a team of faculty, staff, and undergraduate researchers from the Creative Media & Digital Culture program.

About frAme and Our Interventions

We identified frAme as the first stage of the project because, unlike most of trAce’s archives, it was coded in HTML and, so, readily accessible to the public. Even so, preparing frAme for access on contemporary computers and for today’s browsers required some intervention on our part. In making them public, we have striven to keep the works intact, where possible, so as to retain their integrity. In cases of outmoded software, file structures problems, missing or redundant files, and dead external links, we noted our activities clearly, making them distinguishable from the original work.

We have also made this effort to reconstitute frAme because it is an important cultural artifact that speaks to a time in which writers and artists were experimenting with the electronic medium and produced works that challenged traditional publication methods. It also heralded a time in which scholars and artists were transcending space and time to publish freely to the unknown audience of the, then, new World Wide Web, breaking down international borders and defying print conventions. In the short time frAme was published, web-based practices themselves changed rapidly, from how files were named to how information was coded. Besides providing insights into digital literary art and scholarship of the late 20th Century, frAme hints to the changes afoot for publishing, communicating, and connecting to people, things, and ideas. Finally, the journal represents the artistic and scholarly vision of a pioneering community whose influence can be felt beyond its base in Nottingham, UK. The artists and writers found in the archives hail from many countries and reflect a global perspective that the trAce Online Writing Centre sought to nurture and share.

When we received the trAce archives from staff of Nottingham Trent University in 2016, [1] we found a large amount of data for webpages associated with many of the events and activities that trAce hosted. Because the site was originally produced with Cold Fusion 4.5, a software program created in 1995 that made webpages function easily with a database, most of the files were no longer readable. [2] Undeterred, we meticulously searched for any that could be accessed and found some that were indeed produced with HTML. Among those folders and files were the six issues of frAme and the one issue of Freebase. On the hard drive we held in our hands was a veritable treasure trove of early net-based electronic literature and scholarly writing produced by some of the most recognizable names in the field today––Mark Amerika, Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink, Alan Sondheim, Mez Breeze, Talan Memmott, Claire Dinsmore, Patrick Lichty, Belinda Barnet, and others.

Those of us producing webpages in the mid to late 1990s may remember that naming conventions and standard file structures were not yet the norm. Such was the case with the frAme folders and files. In some cases, there were many versions of an index file for a particular issue or work, which meant we had to determine which of them was actually the one used. Some files were saved with both of the extensions .htm and .html. Many of files did not begin with an index.htm(l) file but rather the title of the work numbered by the amount of lexias it entails. frAme 1 posed an interesting problem in that the files for the journal’s main interface were located along with the specific articles and e-lit works published in that particular issue. It took a while to determine the organizational structure for both.

In some cases the work was missing a crucial file, as in Mark Amerika’s “OK Texts.” With assistance from the author, we have reproduced the file and so made it possible for readers to experience the work again, noting this intervention on the page. In other cases, like Melinda Rackham’s “Carrier,” the work can only be read with Macromedia Shockwave 8.0, which is no longer available on contemporary computers. In cases like these, we produced a stub with an image of the original interface and noted the technical problem. Some of the works display pop-up windows, a practice not common today, and so at first glance did not seem to be working. In those cases, we have noted that users should allow for this feature in order to access the work.

The way in which the editors managed the journal changed over time. For the early issues, the editors archived the original works on the trAce server, but later they simply linked to them via the artists’ own sites. This means that many of the external links no longer function today. To solve this problem, we have used the Wayback Machine to display the work and contacted artists when possible for access to a new link. When neither of these approaches worked, we noted the missing content for the reader.

Finally, in the frAme 1 folder, we came across files for a journal called Freebase, edited by Simon Mills and with a work of e-lit by Sue Thomas. We contacted Mills and learned that Freebase had preceded frAme, serving as trAce’s first journal publication. We plan to include it on this archival site though it is not officially a frAme publication. Also found are two e-lit works, one by Scott Rettberg and another by Kate Pullinger and Talan Memmott that were part of the relaunch of frAme. Upon contacting Simon Mills, we learned that there were five issues released from 2003-2004. They are:

  • 25 November/2004
    Three writers and a musician experiment in creating collaborative narrative online

  • 24 March/2004
    Look at Me
    Sensuous and moody multimedia artwork from Flying Puppet creator, Nicolas Clauss

  • 12 August/2003
    Kind of Blue
    Scott Rettberg's serial email novel Kind of Blue takes Rob Wittig's Blue Company off in a surprising new direction

  • 30 May/2003
    Biological Time Clock
    A playful hypermedia contemplation of the biological countdown By Millie Niss

  • 20 March/2003 Branded
    frAme relaunches with Branded, a new collaboration between Kate Pullinger and Talan Memmott

In sum, we have reconstructed the journal so that readers can experience early web-based e-lit and writing. At the heart of our endeavor is the desire to make as much of the journal’s contents available to readers as humanly possible.

Reader Reminders

This journal was produced in the late 1990s and so reflects the coding practices and technological innovations of the time. When reading the works, it is important to remember that:

  1. Webpages were not yet responsive at the time and, so, may not display optimally on mobile media
  2. Works with Flash animation will require readers to enable the software
  3. Some works display pop-up windows and so require this feature to be enabled
  4. Some works require downloads of MIDI sound files
  5. Works displayed on the Wayback Machine have stubs showing them on a computer appropriate for the time period
  6. Scholarly commentary on the pages are displayed as sticky notes so as not to interfere with the original work
  7. The convention of back buttons had not yet been standardized during this period. To return to a previous page, readers will need to rely on the browser


[1] By the time we received the archives, Thomas had taken a position at De Montfort University. She gave permission to Grigar to work directly with Nottingham Trace University to take ownership of the materials on the virtual server on behalf of ELO. As to the physical artifacts, Thomas gave those to Grigar in September 2017 during the “Beyond Grammatron” exhibit at the British Computer Society in London where both she and Grigar were speaking. Other digital and physical artifacts come from Grigar’s own affiliation with the community, beginning in 2002.

[2] Cold Fusion has changed hands three times since its first release and today’s version, Cold Fusion 2018 owned by Adobe, is not compatible with this early version.