The inadequacy of embedded markup for cultural heritage texts

The inadequacy of embedded markup for cultural heritage texts

Desmond Schmidt
Information Security Institute
Queensland University of Technology, Queensland, Australia

Embedded generalized markup, as applied by digital humanists to the recording and studying of our textual cultural heritage, suffers from a number of serious technical drawbacks. As a result of its evolution from early printer control languages, generalized markup can only express a document’s ‘logical’ structure via a repertoire of permissible printed format structures. In addition to the well-researched overlap problem, the embedding of markup codes into texts that never had them when written leads to a number of further difficulties: the inclusion of potentially obsolescent technical and subjective information into texts that are supposed to be archivable for the long term, the manual encoding of information that could be better computed automatically, and the obscuring of the text by highly complex technical data. Many of these problems can be alleviated by asserting a separation between the versions of which many cultural heritage texts are composed, and their content. In this way the complex interconnections between versions can be handled automatically, leaving only simple markup for individual versions to be handled by the user.