Narratives of material loss are often attributed to the process of digitising cultural heritage collections. Not being able to physically hold a literary artefact denies the reader an embodied understanding of the text made possible through tangible and contextual cues. What the artefact feels like—the dimensions, weight, volume, and paper quality—and where it is located—the institution, collection, shelf, or archival box—all play a role in the production of textual meaning. Thus, the argument stands that by removing these cues certain ways of knowing a text are diminished.
The process of digitisation, however, is not solely one of loss. Scholars working with digital texts are finding new ways to search, model, analyse, and rearrange written language, and in doing so are benefiting from the interpretive possibilities of textual mutability. While some scholars are taking advantage of digital materiality through computational text analysis, far less attention has been paid to the non-verbal materialities of a text, which also play a role in the production of meaning. To explore the potential of these non-verbal materialities, we take a digitised version of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; or, The Whale and alter graphic features of the page such as line length, type size, leading, white space, and tracking. Through a critical design practice we show how altering these non-verbal elements can reveal textual qualities that are difficult to access by close reading, and, in doing so, create new, hybrid works that are part literary page, part information visualisation.