Thursday, 14 January 2016

Multi-version documents and standoff properties

I have written two new papers for Digital Scholarship in the Humanities on 'standoff properties as an alternative to XML', and a second on 'Automating textual variation with multi-version documents'. Together they form the basis of a model of how I think historical documents should be encoded. The now 25 year old drive for 'standardisation' has led to something of a dead-end: people have begun to realise that it is not in fact possible to standardise the encoding of documents written on analogue media. Instead of reusability, sharability and durability, such 'standards' provide only a fertile ground for embedding private technology and interpretations into texts that cannot then be reused for any other purpose. 'Standard' encoding also fails to propose a usable solution to textual variation, which is the one feature that all historical documents share. Rather than attempting to create a new standard, this model reuses existing formats already in use worldwide: HTML, CSS, RDFa, Unicode. Although the model can be fully expressed in these formats its internal representation predisposes the data into a form that facilitates the things that digital humanists want to do with it, rather than throwing up barriers to its processing and reuse. What is needed is something simple that works. This is my attempt to explain how that can be achieved.

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