Week 13: Markup Language

Today, I am going to talk about the wonderful world of markup languages. It’s the behind the scenes process that most people don’t really think about when they do something such as go to a webpage. It’s like eating veal without thinking about a baby cow being slaughtered. You just eat it unless you are a vegetarian, pescatarian, or vegan.

Why do we even have mark-up languages? Something about computers and the internet? These languages made it possible for us to create web pages that can be understood not only by other web designers but also by most web browsers and whatever other applications need to be involved.

What are markup languages? Markup languages are designed for the processing, definition and presentation of text. The term markup gets its root from editors making revisions to writer’s manuscripts back when people looked at a printed book and didn’t think about the annilation of the environment. Three common markup languages are XML, HTMl, and SGML.

You can think of these like a family. SGML, or Standard Generalized Markup Language is the parent. SGML passes structure and format rules to markup languages.

Then you have the child, html or HyperText Markup Language, which is the application of SGML. It is used to design webpages. What images do I want on the webpage, what type of font do I want my text to be in. Things like that.

Then you have the cousin to HTML and the nephew to SGML, XML, Extensible markup language. This is a subset of SGML, in which it can be used to create markup languages while html is a markup language.

Tags are key components in markup languages (no, not the size medium, made in china tags, on your jeans). They indicate what should be displayed on screen. With markup language you usually have an opening tag and a closing tag and the content displayed is everything in between. Ah, but tags can get messy so there is Markdown to the rescue. Markdown is a lightweight markup language. It was created in the early 2000s as a way to make our lives easier and has been improved upon since.

Although markup languages can seem depressing for some. They are very beneficial in these digital times that we just can not escape. Knowledge of markup languages can be used to produce a manuscript, edit a manuscript, and/or digitize a printed publication.

But the mere digitization of text is too simple for today’s times. It’s like digging up an archaeological site just to see what’s there. Although it is nice to provide people with access to materials that maybe were previously inaccessible, we can transcend this to include supplementary information which enhances the readers experience with the material.

So this takes me to O’Briens phrase regarding Kenneth Price’s Scholarly Electronic Editions “gateway into a new world of textual experience”. I would not mind having an interactive map to Edgar Allen Poe’s childhood home while I am reading Annabel Lee. Or to be able to see his process from start to finish and not just the final product of genius and madness combined. The use of markup language is one way to accomplish this with future works. For this reason, it is necessary to have some working knowledge of markup language and design if you want to produce something like Price’s Scholarly Editions or otherwise. But as we saw in our readings for the week, markup language can have its own issues. How can one electronically display poetry without the appropriate markup language?

This is just one thing to add to the already full plate of embarking on a large digital project. Another includes the need to collaborate with various types of individuals. This includes librarians, archivists, graduate students, undergraduate students, academic administrators, funding agencies, and private donors, just to name a few.

But the benefits of having printed books turned digital are numerous. One of which being preservation. What if the last copy of dante’s inferno was burned and lost forever? Digital materials allows for the preservation of great works and not so great works for an eternity. Or at least until some other technology comes out which makes the project obsolete.

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