3.373 encoding old texts (51)

Fri, 18 Aug 89 20:53:15 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 373. Friday, 18 Aug 1989.

Date: Friday, 18 August 1989 0837-EST
Subject: Encoding Old Texts

I was surprised at Steve DeRose's objection to the idea that
we should be paying attention to how to encode as much detail
about the texts with which we deal as technology allows. While
it is true, for the moment, that such attention is not desired
for the majority of texts with which humanists deal, it is also
true that for some texts (remember, I deal with fragmentary
ancient papyri, among other things) virtually everything about
a text and the material on which it is preserved may be a
valuable clue to something else deemed important. (I was
discussing the possibility of DNA analysis of ancient papyrus
with a biologist friend the other day!) That can include coffee
stains, which might indicate something of how the material was
transmitted on the modern market.

Steve's comment to the effect that the idea of digitizing
all this material (or encoding it in similar detail) was somehow
not desirable strikes me as wrongheaded in principle. No, I am
not interested in digitized reproductions of all the King James
Bible versions (someone else might be, for studying printing
technology, for example!). But I surely want as detailed electronic
reproduction as possible of the papyri on which I work, and indeed,
of all non printed material (for paleographical work, checking
decipherment, format, etc.). It seems to me that we need to
establish the "rules and procedures" (what to "code" or digitize
and how to do it) for the most difficult and inclusive cases,
and then to establish the exceptions for the less difficult.
To work the other way and only set up procedures for the easy
stuff (e.g. printed materials) will simply create or increase
what seem to me to be unnecessary divisions between various types
of humanistic interest and specialization. My vote is for as
inclusive procedures as possible, including the idea of
theoretically digitizing it all, even if that may not actually
happen for some time yet (I suspect that it will happen to a
much larger extent than we presently imagine, in the future.
When photography was invented, who would have suspected the
extent to which microform is currently available?).

Bob Kraft (CCAT)