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Humanist Archives: Feb. 23, 2019, 8:32 a.m. Humanist 32.486 - editions, in print or in bytes

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 486.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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    [1]    From: Desmond  Schmidt 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.483: Editions, in print or in bytes (126)

    [2]    From: philomousos@gmail.com
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.483: Editions, in print or in bytes (50)

    [3]    From: Patrick Sahle 
           Subject: some trivialising conclusions on technologies? (34)

    [4]    From: Dana Paramskas 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.452: the McGann-Renear debate (25)

        Date: 2019-02-22 18:37:16+00:00
        From: Desmond  Schmidt 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.483: Editions, in print or in bytes


thank you for that wonderful read. Mostly I agree, but then you mostly
agreed with me ;-).
The points of difference though are worth expanding. Of course what I
thought of Hugh's outline of a perfect digital edition was as I said
only an impression. But I saw in Hugh's statement an echo of what the
makers of Ediarum said of the modern web edition: "the printed
edition—especially for veteran edition projects—remains the bar of
what serious results should look like" (Dumont and Fechner 2014). And
I disagree strongly with *that*.

His use of the word "rigorous" I also took to mean scientific, but if
you look at real world digital scholarly editions today - and I have
used Patrick Sahle's index to do this - hardly any can be described as
"rigorous" and I don't think that is their fault, but rather their
nature. I'm not saying they can't be, and in future they probably will
be rigorous in the broader sense, once we have got the hang of what a
digital scholarly edition is.

>>> The requirement that only one version of a text could be represented
>>> drove the whole design and method of print.
>> 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

*Basically* print editions can only represent one version of a work. I
know there are two and three version "editions" like Taylor and
Warren's King Lear etc. but they do waste a lot of paper with white
space that increases with the number of versions. We have 20-version
poems to represent and print just can't handle it. Digital can.

>>> ... 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.

>> 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.

Here I disagree with you again. if you look at modern digital
scholarly editions, and I surveyed 30 of the most complete and
prominent ones, there are patterns and features that keep cropping up.
Just as print critical editions developed a form over time, with their
apparatuses, line-numbers, scholarly notes, indices of words and names
etc. So too in *digital* scholarly editions there are features that
recur that have nothing to do with the underlying technology. Things
like text and facsimile together, a timeline, side by side compare,
table view (variants stacked vertically), searching, a manuscript
viewer and the ability to add or display annotations. So I don't think
the past 30 years has produced nothing. We've got somewhere.

>> 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.

I think you are right to point out that the context matters. GML was
only a print technology. SGML was potentially both print and digital,
but mostly print. XML was primarily digital. In 1980 there was not
much that was true digital text. Digital documents including those in
SGML were mostly used to make printed books, or as an adjunct to print
inserted as CDs in the covers.

>> 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.

But what was in their consciousness when they designed it? Print. The
decision to separate out metadata into elements and attributes was
only part of the legacy of print that was included in SGML. The
deliberate decision to introduce explicit hierarchies was another, as
was the use of processing instructions meant originally to control the
printer. JSON has done away with attributes and even though it is not
a document format, it shows that they were superfluous. No doubt 15th
century bookmakers would be aghast at the accusation that their
creations resembled manuscripts because they generalised books and
made them reproducible. When we look back on XML from the perspective
of the future we will see these seeming innocent design decisions as
the traces of print technology that they are. And they are not
innocent. They influence powerfully what we can do with digital

>> ... 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 problems with attributes being used to link elements across the
native hierarchical structure of marked-up texts is symptomatic of the
fact that the SGML/XML markup language was designed primarily for
print. How do encoders of a text grasp mentally what is going on with
links? For all but the simplest cases it requires a serious mental
effort to follow the structure, and this greatly increases the chance
that someone will "stuff it up". Although you can verify the element
and attribute structure how do you verify these links? Can you even
check that each idref has its id somewhere in the document? Or that
they do not form a directed cycle? Or that the structures thus created
are even computable? Although this looks on the surface to be a useful
way to break out of hierarchies, in practical terms it is not very
useful. The same goes for CONCUR. It is not even available in XML and
does not seem to have been much used in SGML.

So I don't think that SGML/XML is the way forward. If the future holds
for us the unbounded possibilities of digital scholarly editions they
must take another form.

Dumont, Stefan and Fechner, Martin (2014). Bridging the Gap: Greater
Usability for TEI encoding. http://journals.openedition.org/jtei/1242

Desmond Schmidt
Queensland University of Technology

        Date: 2019-02-22 17:16:42+00:00
        From: philomousos@gmail.com
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.483: Editions, in print or in bytes

I'd like to thank Michael for providing us with a well-grounded historical
perspective on the development of markup technologies and for his defense
of learning from work that has been done rather than discarding it. As for
speaking on my own behalf, I have to say I don't think it's worthwhile
debating with someone who argues by imputing to you opinions you don't hold
and then attacking those. So going forward, I'll happily discuss stuff I've
actually said, but I won't bother attempting to refute inferences about my

There are, however, some legitimate concerns here. The relationship between
print and digital editions varies by discipline, obviously, but in my own
corner of the universe we seem to be reaching an interesting juncture where
the economics of edition-making are pushing commercial publishers away from
them, while at the same time digital techniques are stabilizing enough to
make the digital route more attractive to the producers of scholarly
editions. I don't think there is any particular need to rehearse for
readers of Humanist all the many ways a digital edition might be superior
to a print one, and yet, a print edition which (e.g.) takes into account
more recent scholarship than its digital counterpart cannot be ignored.
This sort of thing leads to the case where, while scholars may *use*
digital editions in their research (e.g. in searching for evidence to
support an argument), they only *cite* the print versions, because they are
"better". I just want a world where that divide has been better-bridged.

For all his arguments against the taint of commercial products and
processes in our digital text, Desmond Schmidt likes to deploy the language
of disruptive innovation with regard to the promise of digital publication
(a very late-capitalist concept). The new must overthrow the old; the
producers of digital media need pay no mind to the requirements of print.
Indeed, any association with print is grounds for dismissal. Scooters, not
trains! But the important disruption provided by digital publication is the
admittance of editions we would never have heard from were it not for the
removal of barriers to their publication. Their format (apart from concerns
about accessibility and sustainability) just isn't that relevant. It's
bikeshedding. I do feel that cooperative organizations like the TEI have a
role to play in facilitating the emergence of these disruptive editions
(though doubtless we could do a better job).

Finally, I'll reiterate that the form of an edition must be dictated by the
editor(s)' theory of the text and how they wish to convey that theory. That
might involve an attempt to reconstruct an original, but it might equally
attempt to show how expressions of a work varied over time and space, or
how it developed through a series of revisions, or how it is connected to
its context. This fact alone makes it nontrivial (perhaps futile) to
generalize about editions and their forms, either in a positive or negative

All the best,

        Date: 2019-02-22 09:33:45+00:00
        From: Patrick Sahle 
        Subject: some trivialising conclusions on technologies?

without quoting, I refer to the great discussion thread on
Renear/McGann, text theory, editing, XML and hierarchies, data
structures, analog vs digital, print and online ...

1. what is POSSIBLE to do with certain technologies is a theoretical
question that is mostly interesting for theory (but very interesting for
2. what a certain technology makes EASY or HARD to do is what forms the
reality of its application (and thus the reality of that technology and
thus our understanding of general paradigms the technology stands for)
3. the application of a technology (the practice) may CHANGE according
to other (technical, economic, social) factors and developments (thus
changing its affordances and its paradigmatic impetus on the theory level)

ad 1.) I hereby refer, besides other aspects, to (a) the isomorphism
discussion of alternative data models and (b) the oh so often heard
claim "with [data model X; the preferred model of the speaker]
EVERYTHING can be done"
ad 2.) again, technologies are glasses through which we see (and deal
with) the world and build understanding of the world
ad 3.) I liked the wise words by CMSM (32.483) which illuminate my 1-3
again: in print (as a technology) you can do nearly anything (1),
reality has it that print stimulated the notion of "one (canonical) text
(version)" (2), with recent changes in printing technologies and
economics (cheaper, more image friendly) we may refine our notion of
what text or a critical edition is, not only in the digital sphere but
also in print (3)

Overly simplified. Of course.


        Date: 2019-02-22 06:26:09+00:00
        From: Dana Paramskas 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.452: the McGann-Renear debate

I admit to being fascinated by the discussion, although slogging through an
alphabet soup of acronyms for various codings makes it a wee bit hard to
understand. The core question is (please correct a non-coder if I have
misunderstood):  what is the "real" text?  As someone rightly pointed out, the
question even arises for a single, author-vetted version, which as always must
rely on or conform to the reader's interpretation, short of an extended dialogue
with the author (or even then).  If an author chooses to make available multiple
versions, with additions or corrections and without a final, definitive version,
is she or he not saying simply - up to you all to figure it out, and have fun?

Then there is a jump in logic which I have trouble understanding because, of
course, I am not a coder. Each code -- or whatever it's called -- has its own
structure or hierarchy. While this adds a measure of complexity, does it really
help to identify an "original text"? Could someone in the know explain to a
naive reader just how the various codings do or do not aid in reaching the
"original text" aside from the arguments about the ease or validity of the
different codings?


(whose only digital expertise is in designing *content* online courses for
French language learning, as well as various media applications to the same end.

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