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Humanist Archives: Feb. 15, 2019, 6:33 a.m. Humanist 32.457 - the McGann-Renear debate

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 457.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org

    [1]    From: Hugh Cayless 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.452: the McGann-Renear debate (30)

    [2]    From: Paul Eggert 
           Subject: contribution to the thread:  the McGann-Renear debate (64)

    [3]    From: desmond.allan.schmidt@gmail.com
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.452: the McGann-Renear debate (215)

    [4]    From: Michael Falk 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.452: the McGann-Renear debate (15)

        Date: 2019-02-15 02:17:43+00:00
        From: Hugh Cayless 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.452: the McGann-Renear debate

No time for a long answer to the many threads here, and I seem to have had a
transporter accident with Peter Stokes, but briefly:

> On Feb 14, 2019, at 01:04, Humanist  wrote:
>        Date: 2019-02-13 16:50:14+00:00
>        From: Peter Robinson 
>        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.451: the McGann-Renear debate
> 1. All texts are real, in that each and every text is an act of communication
> present in a physical document
> 2. Therefore, every text has at least two aspects: it is an act of
> communication; it has physical properties in terms of the document in which it
> is present
> 3. Each aspect may be represented as a OHCO: an ordered hierarchy of content
> objects, a tree
> 4. The two trees are entirely independent of each other, and of any other tree
> hypothesized as present in the text

I’m slightly uneasy about #4. Maybe “can be treated as entirely independent”?
I’m thinking of examples where two hierarchies are “aware” of each other.
Enjambment comes to mind, but maybe also the paragraphos example I gave earlier,
where the mark at the beginning of a line of text signals that a speaker change
will occur on that line. If there’s a physical structure OHCO and a speech OHCO,
that seems to me to show an awareness in one of the other. So are they really
entirely independent?

Hugh, aka “Peter” Cayless

        Date: 2019-02-15 01:16:49+00:00
        From: Paul Eggert 
        Subject: contribution to the thread:  the McGann-Renear debate

Peter Robinson's definition of text as an act of communication

In 32.452(2) Peter Robinson repeats earlier similar statements of his in the
McGann-Renear debate thread that:

1. All texts are real, in that each and every text is an act of communication
present in a physical document
2. Therefore, every text has at least two aspects: it is an act of
communication; it has physical properties in terms of the document in which it
is present

His items 3 and 4 have to do with the implementation of his definition, or the
paralleling of it, in the presentation of texts in his Textual Communities
project.  I leave others to comment on such implementations as I am not
knowledgeable enough to do so unaided, although like many a person I do know
what I like.

Instead I comment on the definition itself.

Peter's proposition that a text is an act of communication is dependent on or
is in a line from the speech-act theory of J. L. Austin and John Searle, as
further developed by editorial theorist Peter Shillingsburg in the 1990s, for
written texts (_Resisting Texts_, 1997). He portrays text as a "script act"
serving as a communication and in his account he includes the material form of
it as Peter Robinson does, though without taking on Derrida's objection about
texts as having to act in the radical absence of the writer and of any readers
(receivers of the communication).

I like the simplicity and felicity of Peter R's definition but, but --

First But: If a text may be considered as an act of communication, as Peter R.
argues, then Derrida can't be ignored. I don't think Derrida' objections
are insuperable once material document and the uptake of textual meaning are
considered as separable if not separate.

Still, the case has to be made out.

Second But: If a text may be defined as an act of communication which also has a
physical presence then a text is not the same thing as either aspect alone.
What then of oral texts, memorially held texts with no physical trace,
automatically created texts, even the MSS of Emily Dickinson (who shunned

In Peter R's account, text is something that operates in the world (as an
_act_ of communication) and that is indexed or witnessed by a physical
recording. We may have evidence of a text having operated as an "act" in the
past. If a text is not currently operating because no-one is reading the
document that records it  then its existence as something that is nevertheless
"real", as he puts it, could then be considered in an ideal light, as
somehow hovering behind the document or maybe as being in-potential.

The problem with this fallback position is that the text itself is thereby
idealised and, once you go there, you are in a world of trouble making out your
case -- as many editorial theorists of the early 1990s and after did not fail
to point out in commentaries on the ideas of G. Thomas Tanselle and others.

Paul Eggert FAHA  | Professor Emeritus, Loyola University Chicago and University
of New South Wales

        Date: 2019-02-14 12:35:54+00:00
        From: desmond.allan.schmidt@gmail.com
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.452: the McGann-Renear debate


Even in 1997 many people involved in the creation of XML were
interested in a cut-down version of SGML to serve as a lingua franca
for "web applications". This much is clear from Jon Bosak's piece
written in 1997. A similar tale is told by James Clark, who attributes
the early interest in XML as a Web Services language to Microsoft. The
term "Web Services" was coined perhaps by Steve Ballmer in March 2000
or earlier. The SOAP protocol was developed at Microsoft originally in
1998 according to Don Box. But the important point I was trying to
make was that the overwhelming use of XML in its heyday was for Web
Services, not as a document format. The greatest impetus to build XML
tools and maintain them came from that.

As a document format XML has long been in decline. Just do a Google
Trends search 2004-present on XSLT or DocBook. A major advantage of
XML as a document format that could be transformed into multiple other
formats became largely redundant when HTML documents could be
elaborately styled with CSS to suit various needs. This is the point
made in the Liam Quin email from 2013 which documents the abandonment
of XSL-FO 2.0 due to lack of interest.

But the most telling evidence of XML's decline comes from the rise of
JSON and the fall in popularity of XML in Web Services that can be
gleaned from the Programmable Web index, which records the response
format of 17,103 public Web services from 2005 to 2017, showing a
marked decline of pure XML services from over 50% in 2005 to 3.5% by
the end of 2017. Similarly, talk on XML.com and the Slashdot technical
news site of XML has died down to less than 1% of its peak in
2002-2004. The posting by Tim Bray on XML.com on the occasion of XML's
20th birthday is pessimistic about its future.

You raise the point that XML is a format that could be easily
processed without commercial software. I think this is too simplistic.
Even SGML documents are not now accessible to us because they are not
parseable by XML parsers. The same fate awaits XML documents in the
not-too-distant future. The XML language itself is not too complicated
but the data it describes is often customised, and the meaning of
elements, attributes and syntax they express can easily be lost. We
need contingency planning for future change now, but I am seeing very
little evidence of that among digital humanists, who seem to be in

You disagree with the statement that humanists must follow business,
and you argue that we require customisation of business software which
inevitably does not suit our needs precisely. But I think a glance
through the themes of the past decade or so of digital humanities
conferences confirms that we do indeed follow business, as Martin
Mueller says: else why would we talk about Big Data, Ontologies,
Mobile technologies, XML, SGML and even computing itself, which was a
business invention?

Bosak, J. (1997). XML, Java, and the future of the Web [online].
Available at: http://www.ibiblio.org/pub/sun-info/standards/xml/why/xmlapps.htm
Bray, T. (2018)
Clark, J. (2010) James Clark's Random Thoughts: XML vs the Web.
Ballmer, S. (2000)
Box, D. (2001) A Brief History of SOAP.
Quin, L. (2013)
Schmidt, D. (2018)
(for the XML graphs)

On 2/14/19, Humanist  wrote:
>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 452.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                    Hosted by King's Digital Lab
>                        www.dhhumanist.org
>                 Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org
> --[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>         Date: 2019-02-13 21:50:06+00:00
>         From: C. M. Sperberg-McQueen 
>         Subject: some notes on the origins of SGML and XML
> In Humanist 32. 435, Martin Mueller writes:
>     The TEI rules were first expressed in SGML, a technology developed
>     by IBM.
> This is at least half true.
> The TEI was indeed first written as an SGML application; a team at IBM
> did develop a system called GML (generalized markup language); and
> SGML was in some sense a standardized form of GML.
> But what GML contributed to SGML is probably better described as an
> approach or a philosophy of text representation than as 'technology'.
> The ideas of generic markup were also being developed by others outside
> IBM: the book designer Stanley Rice; Bill Tunnicliffe of the Graphic
> Communications Association (a printing-industry trade group) and what
> became the GCA 'GenCode' (generic coding) committee; Brian Reid (whose
> 1980 dissertation described a document processing system called
> Scribe, which used generic markup and later became a commercial
> product and an inspiration for Leslie Lamport's LaTeX).
> Some of the most important ideas in SGML were not present in GML, and
> GML usage looks relatively little like the technological ecosystem
> that eventually developed around SGML and XML.
> In Humanist 32.436, Desmond Schmidt writes:
>     XML was invented by IBM and Microsoft, through the organ of the
>     W3C, to serve the needs of web services. Document processing was
>     very much a sideline.
> This is nowhere close to half true.
> All the members of the Working Group and 'Editorial Review Board’
> responsible for the initial development of XML were document people:
> Jon Bosak, Dave Hollander, Eliot Kimber, and Eve Maler had backgrounds
> in technical documentation; Tim Bray, James Clark, Steve DeRose, Tom
> Magliery, Jean Paoli, and Peter Sharpe had all developed major
> document editing, document processing, and document publication
> applications, and I had spent eight years as editor in chief of the
> Text Encoding Initiative.
> Some of us were convinced that SGML, being a system for the
> representation of structured information, with user control over what
> should be represented and how, had great potential for information of
> all kinds, including the kinds of client server applications that were
> later developed under the rubric "web services", but the charter of
> the WG was "SGML on the Web", and the members of the WG and the ERB
> all used SGML first and foremost (or exclusively) as a language for
> documents.  Some ERB members like Tim Bray and Tom Magliery were
> perhaps interested in the Web first and in SGML as a way to develop
> and improve the Web; the rest of us were by all appearances more
> interested in our documents. Our goal for the Web was only to make it
> capable of delivering our documents without unwanted loss of
> information.
> After the initial draft was published, during the further development
> of the spec, the WG continued to grow. It is possible that some of the
> new members were interested primarily in what later became known as
> web services, but I don't recall any discussion of issues relevant to
> that interest.
> After the XML spec was finished, database vendors and those interested
> in what became web services took an interest because the notation
> could in fact be used (as some of us had thought) for non-document
> information as well, and was superior to the alternatives then on
> hand.  It is possible that Desmond Schmidt and others have mistaken
> the promotional literature and hype of the late 1990s and early 2000s
> for serious documentation on the origins of XML.
> Database vendors, web-services enthusiasts, and programming-language
> type theorists were all involved in the development of some of the
> later XML-related technologies like XSD and XQuery, and the tensions
> between 'data heads' and 'document heads' were palpable in some
> working groups.
> Desmond Schmidt also writes:
>     Humanists must follow business.
> I'm not convinced this is true.  It's certainly convenient when we can
> use off-the-shelf hardware and software, but many of the milestones of
> computer usage in the humanities involve humanists who developed their
> own software (and sometimes hardware) when they judge commercial
> offerings are not suitable.  I will mention only the names Susan
> Hockey, Claus Huitfeldt, Wilhelm Ott, David Packard, and Manfred
> Thaller.
> As Jon Bosak pointed out in a talk at the TEI@10 conference in 1998,
> one reason for digial humanists to care about XML is that even if
> commercial support and development were to disappear, the format
> is simple enough that we can write our own software to process it
> and need not rely on commercial vendors.
> Nor is the opposition between the needs of humanists and the needs of
> commercial applications nearly so clear-cut as the quoted sentence
> suggests: there is no problem in humanistic work with texts that does
> not have an analogue in commercial or bureaucratic applications, and
> vice versa.  And some technologies (e.g. Unicode and XML) were
> developed by representatives of commercial interests and humanists
> working together, attempting to provide results useful to multiple
> user communities.
> Desmond Schmidt is quite right to say that XML is no longer as
> fashionable in non-document quarters as it once was.  Those interested
> in web services have discovered that it has many features like
> validation and mixed content which are of interest to people
> interested in texts and which they regard as not relevant for
> themselves.  It has these features precisely because it was developed
> for documents by people who worked with documents, and not (pace DS)
> for web services.
> Those who choose their computing tools based on their current vogue
> will naturally also choose to migrate away from XML.  Those who care
> about user control of data and suitability of tools for tasks should
> make choices based on careful examination of the relevant tools and
> not based on the winds of current fashion.
> ********************************************
> C. M. Sperberg-McQueen
> Black Mesa Technologies LLC
> cmsmcq@blackmesatech.com
> http://www.blackmesatech.com
> ********************************************

Dr Desmond Schmidt
Mobile: 0481915868 Work: +61-7-31384036

        Date: 2019-02-14 06:12:41+00:00
        From: Michael Falk 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.452: the McGann-Renear debate

My final word: I would like to apologise to Hugh for getting his name
wrong. The perils of typing an email on an iPhone late at night.

Michael Falk
Developer and Research Project Manager
Digital Humanities Research Group
Western Sydney University

Living and Writing in the Blue Mountains

Sent from my phone

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