XML, HTML, and the Web

In the previous module, we looked at XML encoding—in particular, the XML standard TEI—as a tool for digital scholarly editing. The XML/TEI markup language enables us to say things about textual data—how the text on a manuscript page is structured, for example, or how the text of one draft of an author’s work differs from the text of another, or what an author’s marks on a manuscript page might tell us about an author’s revisions to their text.

For this reason, XML/TEI is sometimes referred to as a form of descriptive markup. It enables us to describe textual data (and other types of data, such as images). What it doesn’t do is to tell a browser, such as Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Brave, or Edge, how to display the data as a web page. For that purpose, we need some kind of presentational markup language, such as HTML.

HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language, and it’s the basic language of the web. The fluid-text edition of Walden we looked at earlier uses HTML to display the TEI-encoded information about differences between Thoreau’s draft versions and changes Thoreau made to the manuscript (insertions, cancellations, etc.) in your browser.

It’s time for us to turn away for a bit from XML/TEI to explore HTML. Doing so will give us a chance to think further about how digital technology has transformed writing, publication, and reading. It will also give us a chance to explore some fundamental aspects of computing.

We’ll begin with the internet itself: where it came from, what it is, and how it’s related to the web.