Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 483. Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London Hosted by King's Digital Lab www.dhhumanist.org Submit to: email@example.com Date: 2019-02-22 06:07:50+00:00 From: "C. M. Sperberg-McQueen"
Subject: SGML and the taint of printers ink (or: what technologies are whispering to us) > In Humanist 32.478, Desmond Schmidt writes: > >> What this seems to imply for me is that print editions are *best*, >> and that seeking for an archetype using a scientific method is the >> hallmark of what makes a great digital edition also. > > I'll let Hugh Cayless speak for himself, but it may be worth pointing > out that print has been used for many different kinds of editions, and > not solely for editions which seek to restore the authorial or at > least the archetypal text. > > Printed scholarly editions may or may not be best kind of scholarly > editions, but they have occupied the attention of a good many fairly > smart people for going on for five hundred years. Some of what has > been said about them has indeed (as Desmond Schmidt correctly > observes) been unduly colored by characteristics of the print medium > -- or of particular book production practices. My favorite antagonist > in this regard is Thomas Tanselle's long essay on critical apparatus, > which conflates the particular book production techniques he knows > best with the intrinsic nature of scholarly editions and critical > apparatus. Desmond Schmidt is right that we should not take guidance > uncritically from print editions. But I think we *should* learn what > we can from them, and I think we can learn a lot. > >> I actually think the digital medium calls into question the whole >> idea of "rigour". > > Here I part ways with DS, though it's not clear whether we have a > substantive difference of opinion or only a difference of opinion > about the denotation of the word "rigor". > >> The requirement that only one version of a text could be represented >> drove the whole design and method of print. The immense changes >> brought about by digital media: from stable->ephemeral, >> immutable->flexible, expensive->cheap, lifeless->interactive must >> have a profound effect on what makes a good digital edition. > > The first sentence is *almost* true. That is, it's true that a lot of > what one reads about what a scholarly edition "must" or "should" do is > actually based on the assumption that such an edition "must" present > only one text (or so it has always seemed to me -- again, Tanselle on > apparatus is a good example). Of course, that assumption was false in > print as well as being false in electronic editions -- there are > plenty of print editions which print multiple texts of the same work > -- but digital editions seem to make the point clearer to people, > since in digital editions the cost of paper, ink, and binding is no > longer the limiting factor. (Alas, it then turns out that the cost of > editorial work often takes its place.) > > I think the second sentence is likely to be true, and that we > currently have only the dimmest understanding of what those changes > mean or how to use them for purposes of learning. We live in an > incunabular age -- not just in the sense that we are at the beginning > of what we may expect to be a long history of electronic editions (if > humanity lives long enough) but in the sense that a few hundred years > from now our electronic editions and their presentation software > (assuming they are still accessible to users) are likely to seem as > strange and difficult to use as we find incunabula without title > pages, page numbers, running heads, and the other features we use to > structure pages and books. > >> I don't think it should just be a copy of a print edition that is >> "*better* for being digital". > > I don't take Hugh to have advocated that digital editions copy > anything from print editions but their thoroughness, their careful > construction, and their intellectual seriousness, so if I'm right in > seeing here an implicit suggestion that this sentence is disagreeing > with Hugh, I disagree with that suggestion. But I agree that digital > editions which are "just" copies of print editions, in roughly the > spirit of PDFs made available on the Web, are a bit disappointing. (I > don't want to overstate the case here, or look gift horses in the > mouth. PDF versions of print editions are in fact more convenient > than the print editions in some ways -- I cannot travel with multiple > volumes of the Leibniz edition, but I do have access, when I travel, > to multiple volumes, thanks to the generosity of Leibniz's editors and > their publisher. And it's easier to do string searches in PDF than in > a paper edition. But I hope for more from electronic editions.) > >> And to counterpoint your assertion that this is the strength of TEI, >> I think it is actually its weakness: historically a print system of >> hierarchies, nested headings, chapters, paragraphs, and formats gave >> rise to tagging systems: the elements and attributes are actually >> the old functions and parameters of explicit print instructions >> (e.g. .indent 10) that gradually evolved into "generalised" >> markup. Go back in time step by step and you will see that it is >> so. So print is still embodied in GML->SGML->XML. > > Since DS and I have disagreed earlier in this thread about the history > of SGML, XML, and TEI, I should perhaps say explicitly here that DS is > right to observe here that much (though not, perhaps, all) of the > driving force in the development of descriptive or generic or > generalized markup did indeed come from people involved with > typesetting, either as vendors or as customers. Their attitude toward > print seems to me more complex than some people realize at first -- > perhaps because they did not regard the material properties of a given > print presentation as intrinsic to the text (after all, they might > change the presentation radically in the next release of the system). > But yes, one of the things the creators of SGML and XML wanted to do > with texts was produce attractive print products from them. > > One of the things that distinguishes SGML, however, from ODA (the > Office Document Architecture, a rival ISO spec) or Scribe or TeX or > LaTeX -- let alone from word processors -- was that the developers of > SGML wanted it to be possible to do *more* than produce print from > SGML documents. They made something of a design principle of the idea > that they did not have an exhaustive list of the things people might > want to do with documents, and that the meta-language they were > developing needed to be able to handle things other than print. > > When the TEI project started, Lou Burnard and I were tasked, as > editors, with deciding whether SGML could in fact be used as the basis > for the TEI's scheme of scholarly text encoding. When we started > attending SGML-industry events to learn about SGML, in order to make > that decision, more than one member of the responsible ISO working > group said to us things like "Wow! you really exist! We predicted > you! We were sitting in that godforsaken conference room in [some > city with an international airport] arguing about [some clause or > other in the spec], and [someone] said 'There may be people who want > to do -- I don't know what -- they might want to mark up the text with > linguistic analysis! They have to be able to use this feature.' And > you do really exist, and you want to mark texts up for scholarly work. > Wow." > > Given that the developers of SGML made a conscious effort at > generality, it seems ungracious to dismiss SGML as intrinsically > inappropriate merely because we think it is tainted with the stench of > printers ink and traces of typesetter's lead. > > And quite apart from questions of human interaction, it's an egregious > error to evaluate any technology solely in terms of what we think its > developers wanted to achieve instead of what the technology they built > actually does and does not to. Having some idea of what they were > trying to do can be helpful, but whether they succeeded or failed, the > product of their work may (or may not) be useful for other things as > well. > > It is possible, for example -- I have not asked those who were there > -- that empty elements were introduced in SGML solely for the purpose > of marking things like the point of insertion of images or tables or > figures stored externally. But once the syntax supports the notion of > empty elements, those empty elements can be used to mark any kind of > point we choose, including the start and end of regions that we choose > not to tag as single SGML elements, or which we cannot tag as single > elements because they don't nest. The intention of the designer is no > longer relevant here -- the intentional fallacy is fallacious not only > in the interpretation of literary texts but also in the interpretation > of technology. > > The TEI defines a number of special-purpose empty elements to mark > boundaries in alternative hierarchies, as well as a generic > 'milestone' element. The Open Scripture Information System spec > generalizes the idea of such elements and uses them to provide > convenient solutions for nesting problems that arise in the encoding > of Biblical texts. A manuscript project I was involved in generalized > the idea a bit further and uses mixtures of empty elements and > conventional content elements to encode three intertwined hierarchical > structures in manuscript transcriptions (full account in my Balisage > 2018 paper). We are not bound by or limited to the motivating use > cases of empty elements. We are bound by what made it into the > specification. > > The same argument applies to the concurrent-markup feature of SGML. A > member of the WG once told me (the exchange is probably still findable > in the archives of comp.text.sgml) that CONCUR was intended to be used > for things like recording both a 'logical' structure and a 'physical' > structure for documents, so that a single SGML document could be used > both as a 'revisable-text' document (which would have internal > representations of things like sections, paragraphs, and headings) and > a 'final-form' document (which would have page and line breaks). But > CONCUR is not defined in terms of a logical and a physical hierarchy > (it could have been -- ODA was, for example), or even in terms of > allowing either one or two hierarchies. CONCUR was designed with what > I have always thought of as a blind devotion to generality -- it > allows the user to select or specify which hierarchical structures to > use, and how many, even though the WG apparently really saw no reason > for more than two. So CONCUR can in principle be used for things like > marking both the metrical hierarchy and the dramaturgical hierarchy of > verse drama. (That was the example I used that got Charles Goldfarb's > interest -- he was convinced that hypertext was the right way to > handle problems like that, though I never fully comprehended how he > thought that should work.) > > [I will note in passing that CONCUR turns out to have its own > challenges, ably enumerated twenty-odd years ago by Murata Makoto in > an article whose citation I do not have to hand. My point is not that > CONCUR is perfect but that any technology may be usable in ways that > go beyond, or contradict, the intentions of its creators.] > >> If we truly want to make *digital* editions we have to get off the >> train and hire a scooter, and go where we want, not to where the old >> technology tells us we must keep going. > > I agree with this in principle, though it's clear that DS and I hear > different messages when we attempt to make out what any given > technology is telling us. > > ******************************************** > C. M. Sperberg-McQueen > Black Mesa Technologies LLC > firstname.lastname@example.org > http://www.blackmesatech.com > ******************************************** > _______________________________________________ Unsubscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted List posts to: email@example.com List info and archives at at: http://dhhumanist.org Listmember interface at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted/ Subscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/membership_form.php
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