Digital Library Seminar Series: 2011-12-02


"How Do You Document Real Life": Discovering the Creating Process in Digital Drafts of RENT


Doug Reside


Digital Curator for the Performing Arts at New York Public Library


On February 4, 1992, Jonathan Larson saved a Microsoft Word document that grew, over four years, to become musical RENT. Although Larson saved and resaved the file multiple times through January of 1996, we can reconstruct at least some of the revisions thanks to Larson’s personal archival practices and a feature called “fast save” that was embedded in Microsoft Word 5.1, the word processing software he mostly used. The fast save feature sped the process of saving an entire file to a floppy disk somewhat by replacing the entire file only once every 14 saves or so. In most cases, it simply appended changes to the end of a file with information about where they belonged in the original document. When the file was opened in Word 5.1, the software integrated these changes back into main text; however, by opening this file with a simple text editor (like NotePad), it is possible to see the text of the last full save along with all the emendations made since. This is a skill that scholars of the American musical, and musicologists in general, need to master in order to retrieve digital drafts and sketches previously found through traditional paper chases. Doug’s presentation uses this feature of Larson’s writing tools to demonstrate this technique and its importance to the exploration of digital source materials.






10:00 - 11:30 AM


203 Butler Library, Morningside Heights Campus, Columbia University