Electronic text markup languages are the systems used by web designers for annotating texts in terms of form and syntax. Markup gives instructions for how to display electronic text and/or how to carry out certain actions. This distinction is what separates HTML from XML. HTML is a procedural markup language which invokes formatting procedures and commands in electronic text and has predefined semantics. XML on the other hand is a descriptive markup language which identifies editorial parts of an electronic text is not already predefined. Instead, encoders must define their code language using a DTD, or document type definition.
Here Allen Renear speaks about text encoding in A Companion to Digital Humanities. He explains that scholars usually prefer to use XML because it allows them to define in their own terms what things about a text should be described. XML gives the encoder the ability to interpret a text to a computer directly.
The instruction for our last mini-project was to bring an object or text with us to class to make an electronic edition of by “encoding” our object/text through using the DTD-XML framework. I decided to make an electronic version of my pocket FSU academic planner. The challenge of creating a XML document was thinking about my document in terms of organization and grouping, rather than in terms of looks and appearance (such as in creating a HTML document).
In this blog post and this blog post written by Sarah Werner, Werner explores the pros and cons of digitization. She explains, using digitization can make us miss out on identifying the history of a book/text and discovering how a text/book was made (watermarks, inscriptions, marginalia, etc.). The problem with digitizing books is that if we leave access to only one digital copy of a text to represent all copies of that text, we have already let someone make a decision for us about what we may discover from a text, as well as what the text means and how it can be used.
In the case of my mini-project however, and in cases of translating uniform documents that do not require interpretation, I have found that there are probably more positives than negatives associated with digital conversion. One of the only cons I could find during execution of my mini-project was a lack of simplicity. For example, in its original form, a planner is straightforward and simple to use and a second item isn’t needed to read it. However, in digital form, you must access the document through a computer, a smart phone, or some other electronic device first. This means you must know how to use this electronic device as well. In this way, digitization complicates the process by incorporating an additional step. However, in document form, pros include being able to be transferred to different places/people in no time (via e-mail or document sharing), items can easily be edited without becoming messy, and if I wanted to, I could easily incorporate additional tags to make the document multi-functional (i.e. include a notes section or a list of important phone numbers). Furthermore, the meaning of text in XML has a greater function than in plain text form. Tag classification and word placement are intended to function as not only meaning in English language but also as meaning in mark-up language.