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As a happy user of LaTeX for a few years, a recurrent problem has been the sharing of my documents with other persons. In the early days I was a happy latex2rtf user, and I even contributed some minor details to its development. Quite soon it became apparent, however, that the only reasonable solution to exporting my products is something that acts like a TeX-processor.

In the cases I need to export my texts to other formats than PDF for printing, the layout is of secondary importance. Of major importance, however, is that the certain “academic” structure gets through as well as possible:

  • The footnotes have to be footnotes also in the end product
  • The bibliography must come through as produced by jurabib.

Everything other is secondary, as the articles written will be layed out by the journals, anyway, but they want the reference system to work. Ever heard of a journal in the humanities giving out its LaTeX-styles? Me neither. This means, that I have to try to reach a citation format which fills out the requirements of the journals through tweaking the options of jurabib.

This far, the only solution which actually seems to work is TeX4ht. This is a program that works by running a TeX-processor, and it has quite many output formats. Only bad thing, the documentation is quite lousy, and most of the commands are not described at all.

But I get pretty ok OpenOffice output with oolatex, although ooxelatex is better if you want to use other languages that pretty plain English. Classical Greek works fine, though… I had some trouble getting this to function, for a long while, in fact. It seems, that TeX4ht did not like the hyperref package at all; once I dropped that from the preamble, everything went nice and smoothly. The problem seemed to be related to jurabib, somehow. Probably should file a bug report, some day.

A sad thing is, that jurabib is unmaintained. Jens Berger, the guy who developed the package, cannot devote any more time to the package, so the package is frozen until someone volunteers to take it over. I wish I had the time… A replacement pointed to also by Jens is biblatex. It seems to be quite a potent too for the bibliographic needs in the humanities, but it is still beta-level and not officially released, so you can’t find it in any of the TeX distributions, yet. It seems to include many of the good features in jurabib, like fields for gender, original languages and translations — all very necessary for a historian. To the surprise of many, the hegemony of English is not nearly absolute in for example Classical Studies. French, German, Italian, even Spanish are still major languages, and a researcher unable to read any of there is bound to miss major contributions in the field; therefore, support for original language information of publications is important or people working in these fields.

But none of these really help in getting over the main problem in humanities word processing with LaTeX: the incredible backwardness of BibTeX. In a world where almost everything begins to support Unicode, BibTeX is happy only with 7-bit ASCII. As the only decent BibTeX-file editor is Emacs (IMHO), this is a major pain-in-the-ass. Who wants to keep up a bibliography, when you cannot write Köln but you have to type in K\”oln. Not too handy nor readable.

I’ve actually been running BibTeX on unicoded files happily for some time now, you just have to be very, very careful with the entry keys — better to use plain ASCII in those. This is not supposed to work, though, but luckily, it does. There are rumours (about five years old or something) about a new version of BibTeX, which might address some of the problems. Who knows, perhaps in ten or twenty years we’ll see the next version. I just think, that unless it appears soon, there won’t be many who care about it, anymore.

Update (2010-12-20): TeX4HT link