The Digital Humanities Nerd: A Love Letter to XML

Here’s a little blog that might be way too nerdy for most – but I wanted to share it here, because XML makes me happy. 😀

Crossposted from here.

I’ll admit, when I took a look at the title for one of our readings for this week, “A Gentle Introduction to XML”, I scoffed a little. I’ve done work with XML, quite a bit of it. Heck, I’m even teaching two workshops in XML this semester. But knowing how to assemble the code and knowing the history and the specifics behind it are two different things – something I’m realizing after reading through the XML readings for this week.

My first introduction to XML was tagged onto the end of an Advanced Web Development class in my Educational Technology Specialist masters program. The professor described it as “make your own tags”, and showed us how he used it to assemble a database of Scooby Doo characters. I was intrigued, and fascinated. I wanted to learn more about this mysterious language that could be used in conjunction with HTML – but didn’t really have the opportunity until I ended up here in the Information Science program. I took some classes that had large XML components. I fell in love with the language. I’m a detail oriented person, and I love being able to add attributes to XML elements to describe the heck out of things. And in A Gentle Guide to XML, it’s said that XML is more interested in the meaning of the data than in how it’s presented. And that struck a note with me – XML doesn’t focus on how the information’s arranged on a page or in a file, it focuses on how you can pick apart that information, put it to work for you.

And I think that’s where XML shows its strength in the field of digital humanities. You can make an XML element for anything your research focuses on, customize it to your field and your studies. Are youorking on analyzing Stephen King’s works, and want to make a note of all the various places in his numerous books where he ties them into his Dark Tower series? And how he ties them in? You can make XML elements that point those out, that highlight them, that make it so you can pull each individual reference out and scrutinize it. You can add an attribute to a book title, for example, that notes what series a book is from, what other books it might reference. You can define all sorts of relationships between different bits of books. It’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful.

Another thing that the Gentle Introduction to XML points out is that XML data is independent – you have your data, you have it tagged the way you want it, and if you need to move it somewhere else, if you need to read it with different software or your server gets upgraded, as long as you’ve got your XML file with all its data, and the associated schema that goes with it, you’re good to go. You can go back to analyzing all the data same as before, looking at it in different ways, adding more elements to meet different needs.

I could go on, rambling about the insights I’ve had about going beyond the code of XML and focusing on its uses in Digital Humanities, but I think I’ll end up doing just that – rambling – so I’ll cut myself off here. XML is definitely one of my favorite markup languages, that’s for sure.

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