XML/HTML5 and Perpetual Learning in Public

This will be a short post with origins in humility and a sense of the value of an attitude of openness to realizing and acknowledging that there is always more to learn.

I have to admit that I had a momentary meltdown when I read the text of Melissa Terras’s inaugural lecture, “A Decade in Digital Humanities,” last week.  The provocation about text encoding and over-attachment to XML hit a nerve, especially since I’m counting down days to my departure for the first of several summer efforts to feed my brain.  On Sunday, I head to Nashville, where I will spend two weeks in an NEH-sponsored Institute on Advanced Topics in Digital Humanities focused on XML and XQUERY.

Having chosen to attend the institute is one of the kinds of activities in which I continue to engage as I consider the ways that the technologies of the present change our practice of the discipline(s) in which we study the past.  So this morning I was more pleased than I can say to come across an announcement for another learning opportunity of which I plan to take advantage this summer.

This year, the Balisage Markup Conference includes a pre-conference symposium focused on “mending fences” between XML and HTML5.  I’m particularly interested in the presentation of Alex Milowski of the University of Edinburgh; I quote the abstract here:

In the beginning, many presumed we would move to a world where XML documents and the applications that processed them would proliferate across the Web. The Web looked like a bright place for markup; technologies like XSLT made their way into the browser and linking standards were on their way. Yet, it didn’t happen. As browsers strengthened their ability to process information, render HTML documents, display media assets, and deliver applications, the role of XML was either pushed to the other side or used as a way to deliver data to applications within the browser via AJAX. The potential mismatches between the wants of the Web developer and the generic, impoverished nature of the DOM led to the development of JSON. In places where they might once have used XML, web developers have moved in droves to using JSON and HTML. XML has been removed from its role to convey data to applications, shunted to the server, and labeled legacy by many. With an uphill, generational challenge to bring it back within favor, the fundamental question is: Do we really want XML on the Web?

I’ve never gone to Balisage because the idea of “extreme markup” intimidates me more than a little.  Okay, maybe not as much as it used to now that I have sat in rooms where people have been teaching the uses of the R statistical programming language or what’s “under the hood” in Omeka.  But I think I can manage one little day of listening to people talking about the relationship between XML, the beloved tool of the text encoding community, and HTML.

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