Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: June 16, 2021, 6:45 a.m. Humanist 35.88 - obsolescence of markup

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 88.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
                Submit to:

    [1]    From: Dr. Herbert Wender <>
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.86: obsolescence of markup (99)

    [2]    From: Manfred Thaller <>
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.87: obsolescence of markup (83)

    [3]    From: Willard McCarty <>
           Subject: paradigm changes &sim. (30)

        Date: 2021-06-15 14:10:26+00:00
        From: Dr. Herbert Wender <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.86: obsolescence of markup

Dear Willard,

Because Manfred Thaller has reminded me quoting your answer to the counter-
question of Jonah Lynch I would like add two thoughts as comment.

First, for me it is not at all clear what is meant by "meta-text" respectively
if and how there would be distinguished between meta-text(s) and editorial para-
texts as we find them in front or back matters of printed editions. Probably
your example is taken out of a context in which the paragraphing is to be
thought as meaningful intended by the author, isn't it? I would be afraid if it
were common practice in electronic editing to put information about editorial
decisions or assumptions only in the markup itself and not in displayed
editorial para-text too. Given the latter I don't see any problem wirh
obsolescence becaus all markup guaranteeing the skeleton of referencing points
for ediorial comment or explanation per definitionem cannot be qulifyed as
'obsolete' in a strict sense.

Second, leaving the literary sphere where special punctiation problably or
potentially bears some special meaning, would you  speak about obsolescence of
punctation marks when NLP processing were more 'intelligant' ? Or, for the
example of paragraphing, would it not be for many scholarly authors in the
sciences better if an automatic retrieval aware machine would execute the
dividing skill ? I guess if the machines take over the control on behalf of
markup or equivalent information shaping they can care about obsolete markup of
older times too.

Kind regards, Herbert

PS for the friends of modeling: In my yesterday post I falsely wrote "ERS while
I would mention ERM: "An entity–relationship model (or ER model) describes
interrelated things of interest in a specific domain of knowledge." (Wikipedia)

-----Ursprüngliche Mitteilung----
        Date: 2021-06-14 07:11:53+00:00
        From: Manfred Thaller <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.85: obsolescence of markup

Dear Herbert,

Sorry for a delayed answer.

I am afraid, that my original mail to Humanist has been a bit too
elliptical. So I have to ask for your patience for a slightly longer
extrapolation before responding to your remark below.

Willard's original question was:

> Currently (correct me if I am wrong) markup intervenes to embed human
> intelligence about an object where artificial processes of detection and
> analysis fall short. Does this not suggest that some kinds of markup will
> become obsolete at some point? (I do not have in mind scholarly
> commentary!) Has anyone speculated intelligently along these
> lines?
  In response to some reactions, he expanded the question to:
> Jonah Lynch responded to my speculation about the obsolescence of
> markup, asking what I had in mind by the distinction I made between the
> kind I thought would not ever prove obsolescent and the kind that would.
> My overall intention was to draw attention to the impermanence of work
> in computing, and so to raise the question of invasive curation. Of
> course every thing is impermanent, in constant flux &c, but some
> artefacts of scholarship do survive because we care about them. Adding
> to them with highly interpretative metatext would be regarded as a
> different sort of contribution than denoting layout, would it not?
> Thus an example: metatext that says "this is a paragraph" versus
> metatext that comments on the author's likely intention in breaking the
> flow of prose in the particular version in question. I think we can say
> that completely reliable automatic recognition of paragraphs is only a
> matter of time -- except in relatively rare circumstances. No
> hard-and-fast rules, only a doubtlessly annoying observation.
> Is there yet another argument here for standoff markup? For working even
> harder on statistical methods of analysis? Something else?

For me, this can be "operationalized" from two points of view:

A conceptual / epistemic one. An operational / algorithmic one.

The epistemic one is in my opinion the one which lies at the heart of my
own scepticism of the TEI, or, as a wrote in the opening of my "post"
you quote:

> The markup embedded into
> a document shall: (a) represent characters, which do not exist in the
> fonts available or
> which are non-alphabetic like interpunctuation. (b) Allow the
> representation of
> abstract texts resulting from the evaluation of various witnesses in a
> critical edition.
> (c) Annotate a text with interpretations.

As long as these three - at least for me - completely different
epistemic layers are inseparably mixed in <emph>one</emph> markup
system, conceptual chaos ensues. But be that as it may conceptually,
there is also a technical problem, that is behind Willard's question for


        Date: 2021-06-15 10:23:00+00:00
        From: Manfred Thaller <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.87: obsolescence of markup

Dear Herbert,

You asked a question of Willard, let me get a comment in, tangentially,

> As sufficiently old men
> we overview a long series of 'conceptual' 'revolutions' in the sphere of DBS
> DBMS grounded by hierarchical, network, relational/algebraic, object ...
> 'philosophies'. Not to mention the ERS ;-) If we could involve Willard to
> explain the difference between 'paradigm changes' and such conceptual
> revolutions? At the end, I think, the wise wo/man does not trust in one
> conception but is alway ready to migrate in another framework.

Being a sufficiently old man (and wondering, occassionally, whether I
rather qualify as Statler or as Waldorf of the DH - cf. - I am a bit scared to
offer arguments, which for slightly less older readers may lead to
reactions of "oh god, he's up to it again!".

Nevertheless: Somewhere in the archives of Humanist there is a short
post of mine, where I claimed, that one of the reasons why people forced
all sorts of data which were scarcely fit for it into RDBMSs was, that
they had the erroneous idea, that indexing was a function available
(only) within RDBMSs. And they really wanted an effective indexer, not a
DBMS. To which somebody answered, that he had read that mail three years
ago already and just waited to get the repetition of the next step in
the series.

I may point out, that in the meantime Solr exists - not implemented by
anybody related to DH - and somehow the popularity of RDBMSs within DH
has dropped.

I recapitulate that, as I - again - wonder, how wise it really is to
think, that the best way for the long term application of computational
technologies to the Humanities consists in waiting how you best can
apply whatsoever technologies have been created for completely different
purposes by other disciplines. Even if you do try to implement your own
formalizations, obsolescence will arise. But almost certainly quite a
few years (and I could point to examples where it is decades) later.

I raise this point obviously because I've been involved in this
discussion for a long time now. On the other hand, I raise it again NOW,
as I see an interesting development.

Have a look at a recent (very American, but still) textbook of the
"Digital Humanities": Eileen Gardiner and Ronald G. Musto: The Digital
Humanities. A Primer For Students and Scholars, Cambridge University
Press, 2015. Under the index entry "editions, digital" and the heading
"editions and translations" (105-107) you are informed that some
editions of text are digitally available, where the difference between
borne digital ones and mechanically converted printed books is not
recognizable. The heading "Digital Humanities Theory" is covered on
exactly 4 pages (142-145; essentially Moretti, Ramsay,Manovich, Hayles;
yes, NOT Jockers.) On the other hand the "Meta-Issues of the Digital
Humanities" represented by copyright questions fill a whole chapter

If I extrapolate the development I see in the recent publications of our
American friends, their brand of Digital Humanities will soon cease to
handle computational and research questions.

Which may be a big chance, actually. I'm watching with great interest
the increasing visibility of the "Computational Humanities". There may
be a German bias behind it, as I have the suspicion that the term was
invented to indicate the unusually intensive involvement of computer
scientists in the application of computing technologies to the
Humanities, undoubtedly encouraged by the focused funding available for
precisely such an involvement within Germany for a decade now. But
whatsoever the origins and motivations of the term, recent programs of
events under that heading - well beyond the German borders -  look for
me strikingly similar to logical sequels to some pre-big-tent programs
and portfolios.

And that would certainly be a big chance to look again at the
possibility that software for the Humanities would not necessarily be
repurposed commercial or engineering stuff. (No, I have no illusions
about fads, fashions and computer science. The lemming is at least as
prominent in their coat of arms as in that of media theory. And this is
not supposed to be a compliment.)

Kind regards,

        Date: 2021-06-15 05:21:43+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: paradigm changes &sim.

Herbert complements by asking me "to explain the difference between
'paradigm changes' and such conceptual revolutions" as he goes on to
list. All that comes to mind (because it made its way into an essay I am
writing) is Wittgenstein's comment that,

> Man glaubt, wieder und wieder der Natur nachzufahren, und fährt nur
> der Form entlang, durch die wir sie betrachten. (One thinks that one
> is tracing nature over and over again, and one is merely tracing
> round the frame through which we look at it.)
> Philosophische Untersuchungen 114

I certainly wouldn't go so far as to refer to 'books of sand' -- I leave
that to Borges -- but I do wonder about huge investments at the more 
mutable edges of our technology of mutability. Hence the question that 
has stirred the pot and brought up some good discussion. Kuhn wrote a 
great book; his idea of 'paradigm' shifts was, as subsequent adaptations 
have demonstrated, powerful. But the word wouldn't stay still, and so 
now we have so many meanings and uses that it's probably best to leave 
the word alone.

Indeed, even 'nature' is showing its sandy basis!

Willard McCarty,
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

Unsubscribe at:
List posts to:
List info and archives at at:
Listmember interface at:
Subscribe at: