W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-webhistory@w3.org > September 2017

Re: Provenance of the blockquote element

From: Dan Connolly <dckc@madmode.com>
Date: Mon, 11 Sep 2017 13:29:29 -0500
Message-ID: <CAD2YivaA18wyyC44G-Y6gvEm7auz3ct9vX9Jouo2JH6iindt0w@mail.gmail.com>
To: "Ammann, Rudolf" <r.ammann@ucl.ac.uk>
Cc: public-webhistory@w3.org
On Wed, Sep 6, 2017 at 4:39 AM, Ammann, Rudolf <r.ammann@ucl.ac.uk> wrote:
> I hope you will be able to follow up the DocBook discovery with some reflection on what the motivation was for including the blockquote element in HTML. Equivalents of the blockquote element -- usually as an lq element for 'long quotation' -- appear in nearly every general-purpose SGML specification after the sample DTD of Annex E in the SGML standard of 1986 (ISO 8879). DocBook was unconventional in calling it 'blockquote', perhaps as a mnemonic, making it more memorable than 'lq', possibly reflecting the rarity with which the element was used. The inclusion of the element in HTML would still seem unusual, however, since 'long quotations' are a feature of academic work in the humanities rather than a feature of either technical documentation or academic work in science and engineering, the text genres most closely associated with the web during this very early period. But then the humanities did show a very early interest in SGML (TEI) and hypertext theory (George Landow), for instance, so maybe there is a connection?

More likely I was influenced by Usenet news style quoting.

"Interleaving was the predominant reply style in the Usenet discussion
lists, years before the existence of the WWW and the spread of e-mail
 -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posting_style#Interleaved_style

I'm trying to search my archives for when an HTML working group
participant proposed this idiom:

<blockquote cite="mid:20090327031055.GC6152@sideshowbarker" type="cite">

but I'm overwhelmed by _uses_ of the idiom since it was proposed.

In any case, if I recall correctly, the WG member asked if that would
be a good way to do HTML email, and I replied yes, that's what
blockquote was there for.

p.s. jar wrote a wonder blog item on citing

> Here's a wild guess as to why the BLOCKQUOTE element may have been added to HTML for semantic and structural considerations.
> In 1992, as inherited from Andres Berglund's CERN SGML,[1, p.24] HTML still had the XMP element for ‘example’:
> ‘<XMP> ... </XMP> 80-column litteral [sic!] text’[2]
> The HTML specification of June 1993[3] declares it obsolete as it doesn't conform to SGML.
> The document recommends that the PRE element be used instead of XMP. However, this substitution only addresses the 'presentational' aspect, with the obsoletion of the XMP element leaving a gap in the semantics of the tag set.
> Wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that the BLOCKQUOTE tag entered the same June 1993 specification so as to stop the gap created by the obsoletion of XMP?
> Berglund's CERN SGML manual discusses both Example and Blockquote on the same page (p.24), suggesting their close semantics. The BLOCKQUOTE element as 'a block of text quoted from another source' is not the exact semantic equivalent of the XMP element as an 'example section', of course, nor does the former strictly subsume the semantics of the latter, but it might pass as as a rough generalisation. If XMP had to go, couldn't the BLOCKQUOTE element have been brought in as a rough equivalent?
> Best,
> Rudolf
> P.S. I've just built out the Wikipedia article on SGMLguid, the SGML specification used at CERN in the 1986 to 1990 period:
> <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SGMLguid>
> It is likely to contain a number of inaccuracies, but it's a start.
> -----
> [1] Berglund, Anders. ‘CERN SGML User’s Guide’. CERN, 27 October 1986. http://cds.cern.ch/record/997909/files/cer-002659963.pdf.
> [2] Berners-Lee, Tim, Robert Cailliau, J.-F. Groff, and B. Pollermann. World-Wide Web: An Information Infrastructure for High-Energy Physics. W3.org, 1992. https://www.w3.org/History/1992/www-for-hep.ps.gz.
> [3] Berners-Lee, Tim, and Dan Connolly. ‘Hypertext Markup Language (HTML): A Representation of Textual Information and MetaInformation for Retrieval and Interchange’. W3.Org, June 1993. https://www.w3.org/MarkUp/draft-ietf-iiir-html-01.txt.
> -----
> Dr Rudolf Ammann
> Honorary Research Associate
> Department of Information Studies
> University College London, UK

Dan Connolly
Received on Monday, 11 September 2017 18:29:53 UTC

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.1 : Monday, 11 September 2017 18:29:54 UTC