Readings for February 1 (Week 4)

Introduction to TEI and XML

I found these introductions to be very, very gentle indeed–somewhat condescending, actually–but they definitely showed how simple markup languages really are. (One note about the Mueller article: many of the links to examples are broken.) I remember how, in the Unsworth reading, he pointed out how the Web is a really sub-par implementation of hypertext. In the Introduction to TEI, Mueller expands on this, giving the example of the table element being used to jury-rig web page format. This is why HTML “always lives in sin because it constantly violates the cardinal rule of separating information from the mode of its display.”

To me, this was the most interesting point of the reading. The process of learning to write and writing is inherently graphical (cf. “graphein”), and we format parts of text without even being aware of it. To separate these things seems very strange. That’s why it took me a little while to realize that markup itself doesn’t necessarily dictate format–all it does is mark up. That’s it. You can then apply style sheets that will give rules to display the information, based on the indications of the markup.

This also relates to the Owens, Flanders, and Jannidis readings and the idea of “raw data.” Even when we mark things up, we make judgments about what parts should be demarcated into which categories. Can we ever have a data set that is independent from this subjectivity–and should we? We have TEI for some degree of standardization, at least, but as Hawkins notes:

“People sometimes find TEI more frustrating than markup languages used in other domains because it isn’t a finite standard but rather a framework that is designed to be customized for your needs, and because it often provides more than one way to do what appears to be the same thing in order to accommodate the needs of different scholars.”

So, even with TEI, there’s some degree of flexibility–but perhaps that’s as it should be. There are always going to be edge cases and different types of scholarship that need to be accomodated for if we want the field to be inclusive.


04 February 2017