[Humanist] 23.794 inadequacies of markup

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue May 4 07:58:23 CEST 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 794.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Desmond Schmidt <desmond.schmidt at qut.edu.au>              (32)
        Subject: RE: [Humanist] 23.792 inadequacies of markup

  [2]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (40)
        Subject: markup

        Date: Mon, 3 May 2010 18:02:50 +1000
        From: Desmond Schmidt <desmond.schmidt at qut.edu.au>
        Subject: RE: [Humanist] 23.792 inadequacies of markup
        In-Reply-To: <20100503051446.4628855EC4 at woodward.joyent.us>

  [2]   From:    Patrick Durusau <patrick at durusau.net>                    
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.789 inadequacies of markup

>I am not clear what you mean when you say that markup doesn't allow your
>judgments to be "dynamically, systematically manipulable"?
>Assuming that you have been consistent, XSLT can manipulate your
>judgments about a text.
>Or did you mean something else?
>Such as retaining your judgments and experimenting with the imposition
>of additional judgments? Layering, perhaps even contrasting judgments
>about a text?
>That seems more like a software than a markup question, although markup
>plays an enabling role.

  [3]   From:    maurizio lana <m.lana at lett.unipmn.it>                     (54)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.789 inadequacies of markup

>very good, software the tool
>allowing to make encoded judgments "dynamically
>and systematically manipulable"? that is: i get a
>list of the markup elements which are in a given
>text, and i choose which ones to see/visualize
>and which ones to ignore (e.g. i keep the
>non-interpretative ones and only some of the
>interpretative ones); or even which ones to
>delete (e.g. i delete all the interpretative

Firstly, what kind of manipulations can one make with XSLT? - mathematical ones. What if the manipulations I want to make are subjective, interpretative, or if I want to replace one set of markup with another one, or mix two sets, say a base tag set describing text structure with an interpretative set by someone else? 

Secondly, XSLT is a programming language. Because it's expressed in XML it's also a rather cumbersome one. My concern is why should a humanist have to write a stylesheet to manipulate his judgements. Well, maybe he/she should learn, but it's not happening in any significant numbers, and I don't see how it ever will. The digital humanists can do it - probably. But the ordinary humanists don't even want to get involved at that level, and why should they? Is it the role of 'very good, software' to force the user to write a program? In my view it's the goal of very good software to make the interface disappear, so that each task of the user is performed by the machine automatically with the least effort.

Once markup is embedded in a text it's not easy (I don't say impossible) to take it out and repurpose the text. The example I gave in response to Wendell's post demonstrates that. The text is, even when markup is embedded in it, different from the markup. So why can't they just be separate?
Desmond Schmidt
Information Security Institute
Faculty of Information Technology
Queensland University of Technology

        Date: Tue, 04 May 2010 06:56:59 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: markup
        In-Reply-To: <20100503051446.4628855EC4 at woodward.joyent.us>

In Humanist 23.792 Patrick Durusau asks,

> I am not clear what you mean when you say that markup doesn't allow your 
> judgments to be "dynamically, systematically manipulable"?
> Assuming that you have been consistent, XSLT can manipulate your 
> judgments about a text.
> Or did you mean something else?

What I meant was something like this:

If I mark up a text such as this,

Joseph is <metaphor type=1>a fruitful bough</metaphor>

I can certainly find and alter or eliminate all tags <metaphor type=1>; 
I could decide all such tags including "bough" are really a type 2 &c. 
But the decisions to tag this particular passage, to include the words 
I've included and not to tag "fruitful" separately are all unique to 
this passage and not algorithmic. If, as is the case with this biblical 
quotation, the passage is part of a large text, let us say reasonably 
with tens of thousands of tags in it, then it is out of reach, an 
effectively permanent feature of the text except by direct intervention.

And so the problem. My edition of this text as far as interpretations of 
this sort are concerned might as well be printed on paper. (Some here 
will know that it took me many years of tagging to reach this 

Unfair but real. I cannot even imagine what it is that might get through 
this brick wall. I guess what I want from this is recognition that 
tagging a text is a *very* limited instrument and that we need to deploy 
loads of thought-power to reach the point at which interpretative 
reading begins to benefit from computer-power. Publishing has gained and 
will continue to gain much from our sophisticated metatextual 
instruments. But can we do something for interpretative readers in real 

Am I missing something big and obvious here?



Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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