[Humanist] 26.625 XML & what kind of scholarship

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Dec 27 10:52:49 CET 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 625.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 26 Dec 2012 12:33:54 -0500
        From: Jay Savage <jsavage at fordham.edu>
        Subject: Re:  26.609 XML & what kind of scholarship
        In-Reply-To: <20121220093155.44D3839DB at digitalhumanities.org>

As a reader, I appreciate your point that

> In "born-digital" markup is part of what I write. It is a fact. In
> "born-analog-and-transcribed-to-digital", markup is an interpretation.
> It is different every time the "transcription" is redone by someone
> new. In born-digital markup is always the same. Although, as you point
> out, I may use the same tools in processing both born-digital and
> born-analog texts, the kinds of interaction between user and text in
> the two cases will differ significantly. For example, in the
> born-analog case we often request a facsimile side by side with its
> transcription so we can verify its accuracy. In the born digital case
> such a prop would be superfluous.

This seems to me, though, to be mostly a matter of personal (and cultural)
discomfort, and not a useful theoretical distinction. One wants a facsimile
because one does not tust the transcriber or the technology, not because
the technology requires it, and that desire significantly predates the
"digital divide": editors have provided facsimiles of various sorts in
addition to or in lieu of diplomatic transcriptions since the seventeenth
century. That electronic texts increase the types of anxieties facsimiles
help alleviate is not surprising.

>From a theoretical and practical perspective, though, it is difficult to
see what difference is made by the point in the process of digitization at
which encoding happens. All CTO texts are, after all, truly "born human,"
and the information in the human brain has to get into the machine somehow,
whither through keypunch or scanning. Introducing paper into the process at
various points seems irrelevant. If I print hard copy of a "born digital"
text because I find it easier to prof-read on paper and then use the paper
copy as the basis for a subsequent text (perhaps because of file
corruption, or because my laptop was stolen. I suspect we've all be in that
situation occasionally), is the resulting text "born analog and
transcribed?" Why, then, does the introduction of paper earlier in the
process change the supposed nature of the text?

I would argue that this is not a useful distinction, particularly as
it artificially collects a number of disparate reproductive techniques
under the single, unuseful and unspecific category of "analog." Can a
Linofilm-set text from the 1950's really be more usefully compared to a
medieval manuscript than to a troff-processed, CRT phototypesetter-set text
from the 1970's?  Digital texts, like all texts, have textual histories.
Parts of those transmission histories for particular texts may include
manuscript, hand press, machine press, or digital variants of various
kinds. Most texts will shifts between processes many times: manuscript to
galley to written notes to final setting, or MS Word file to printed proof
to emailed corrections to photoset, ebook, or HTML formatting. Those
histories need to be accounted for, and cataloging that metadata is one of
the (arguably few) things XML markup is particularly good at, and the
so-called "analog" features can be cataloged at least as effectively as the
digital ones.

Some types of markup may simply form the core of some "born digital" text
production, but those texts still require additional markup--that would not
normally be considered part of the text proper--to fully integrate them
into any of the various systems we use to manage and explore digital texts.
Adding that data may happen much sooner for "born digital texts"--in some
cases it may even be coincidental with their creation--but that does not
mean the processes are logically different than they are for "analog"
texts. I would not, for instance, approach the kindle editions of Rushdie's
"Midnight's Children" and "Joseph Anton: A Memoir" as appreciably different
electronic artifacts, despite the former being set in print from typed and
handwritten sources, and the latter composed electronically and released
simultaneously in print and ebook formats.

Please note I am not arguing that print and manuscript sources are not
important to digital editions; they are as crucial to digital editions as
they would be to subsequent print editions. Digital editors need to curate
the the transmission histories left to them as carefully as any other
editors, and scholars of digital texts need to be aware of their

It is possible, though, to simply approach an electronic texts as
electronic texts, just as one approaches printed books as printed printed
books.  One's first impulse on encountering a shelf of books is not
normally to sort them according to whether the authors submitted
manuscripts or typescripts to their publishers. Why, then, ask whether the
author of an electronic text used pen and paper, a typewriter, or an
electronic keyboard?

Jay Savage, Ph.D.
Director of Academic Information Technology Services
Yeshiva University ITS

jsavage1 at yu.edu
(646) 592-4092

"You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to
them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new." --Steve

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