Monday, August 30, 2010

Numbered Paragraphs in Digital Humanities Quarterly

I can recommend Patrik Svensson's article "The Landscape of Digital Humanities" in Digital Humanities Quarterly as a good read. My comments here are about the internals of handing DHQ's paragraph based citation scheme.

Quick intro to the issue: DHQ is an online journal. It doesn't have pages to provide a physical solution to the need to make references to specific points in an article. So the html version numbers each paragraph. So far so good. As a reader I can note the paragraph number and cite it in a future publication.

But I'm not sure DHQ has quite the right implementation of this good idea. I'm arbitrarily picking the paragraph numbered 118. The one that starts, "Information technology, or more broadly the digital, can be seen as affording objects of analysis for the humanities."

Note that I don't include a link directly to that paragraph. That's because I can't. Looking at the HTML source, I see:
<div class="counter">118</div><div class="ptext">Information technology, or more broadly the digital, can be seen as affording...

That's somewhat unfortunate. It would be great if the '<div class="ptext">' were changed to read '<div id="p118" class="ptext">. Then I could mint a URL of the form:

It would be even cooler if the <div class="counter">118</div> also read:
<div class="counter"><a href="#p118">118</a></div>

I've wrapped the paragraph number in a link to the paragraph. That way a user can right/control-click on the link and copy-and-paste it into an e-mail or other work. Easy self-reference to an internal citation structure.

I'd also like to see the paragraph numbers represented in the XML source. Again, taking a snippet of that, the start of the paragraph numbered as 118 in the html, appears in the xml as:
<p>Information technology, or more broadly the digital, can be seen as affording objects of analysis for the humanities...

Unless I'm missing something, the published citation scheme isn't represented in the archival version. I think it should be. Even if DHQ considers the paragraph number ephemeral, I think there's a valid scholarly need for them to be persistent.

I'm a big fan of DHQ so this is constructive criticism. And I'm sort of hoping that I've mis-understood something and that those paragraph numbers are more meaningful than they seem after one looks under the hood.


Melissa said...

Thanks! this has been passed onto the DHQ team... good point well made I think. We'll put it on the agenda for our up and coming discussions about the journal....

Sebastian Heath said...

Melissa, those should be interesting discussions as DHQ moves from strength to strength. Best, Sebastian.