Jan 23, 2015

Information architecture: Texts as buildings

Vennesla Library, Norway. Image: NAPLE library buildings database.
The concept of information architecture is not new, although the modern use of the term, and the profession associated with it, dates from the 1970s. It is most often applied today to website design; the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as a computing term: ‘the manner in which information is stored, organized, or disseminated, (now) esp. online or on a web site’  (s.v. information, C2, information architecture).

Information architecture is, of course, a metaphor; one does not build websites in the same way in which one constructs buildings. In this case, the metaphor is a model: it suggests certain ways of thinking about the abstraction that we call ‘information’. The modern phrase was coined to convey the idea that, just as buildings are designed for storage, movement, and functionality, so analogous design principles apply to the ways we might store, navigate, and use information.

Jan 9, 2015

Don't blame the Vikings

Ruins of Lindisfarne Priory. Image: English Heritage.
In the year 793, Vikings raided the monastic community at Lindisfarne, in the Northumbrian kingdom of Bernicia. It was the ominous beginning to a series of assaults on England; the following year, Vikings pillaged the monastery at Jarrow. It is unlikely that the Vikings were making deliberate attacks on Anglo-Saxon scholarship by targeting these places of learning; monasteries were known to be full of valuable objects, and monks were probably not expected to be formidable opponents. The raiders were interested in loot and, later, in land; over the next hundred years, the once-powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria, East Anglia, and Mercia crumbled before increasingly extensive Viking incursions. The Scandinavian takeover of England was not significantly halted until the West Saxon king Alfred, driven into a hideout in the marshes of Somerset, somehow managed to organise the remnants of the local Anglo-Saxon militia and to defeat the Danish forces at the battle of Edington in 878.