XML/TEI for Digital Scholarly Editions: Report on DiXiT Camp 2
“The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.”
– Geoffrey Chaucer
As of October 1st, the Digital Scholarly Editions Initial Training (DiXiT) Network is officially six months old. Writing this now, and situating it within the larger scope of the humanities, it seems like no time, at all, has passed. In the scope of a PhD dissertation, however, six months is a truly extensive period. From the beginning of the fellowship until now, I have devoured myriad books and articles and created a reading list that would take even longer to finish than Chaucer’s writing of the Canterbury Tales. I have wandered through interdisciplinary fields spanning from digital materiality to cyberinfrastructure studies to publishing economics, and redrafted my dissertation layout more times than I would like to admit. I say all of this as to come to the point of this blog post – which really is to discuss the second DiXiT camp that was recently held in Austria – because it lays bare an important point of the training, the DiXiT Network, and the field of textual scholarship at large: process as end-product.
all transcription is selective
all transcription is imaginative
After wandering through such diverse fields and ideas for so long, one of the best things about DiXiT Camp 2 was the ability to return to the dedicated field of textual studies. Picking up where the MMSDA left off in May, Camp 2 delved into the more technical aspects of creating a digital scholarly edition and provided an in-depth look at XML/TEI for editors.
The camp began with an introduction to basic concepts for newbie editor attendees (or, in my case, information scientists who dabble a little in editing) that laid out the what and why of digital scholarly editing. We also, as part of each day’s lectures, undertook several activities within oXygen to gain more practical exposure to the topics. The first day involved creating simple documents within the software and tooling around a bit with the TEI header. We finished out with a quick intro to XPath, a query language for XML.
The next few days of the training involved a more detailed look at XML/TEI, from transcription and critical apparatus to the more practical aspects of linking text and images within digital scholarly editions and marking entities within documents, such as persons or places. James Cummings’ Thursday presentation on Manuscript Description also laid out the meta nature of the TEI in action, as we discussed the hows and whys of describing the original object within its new digital surrogate.
The section header (all transcription is selective, all transcription is imaginative) comes from Magdalena Turska’s Monday talk on transcription. This, in addition to Lou Burnard’s inclusion of Magritte’s La Trahison des Images in the discussion of object/surrogate, points to the unique nature of the DSE: like beautifully written code, the intangible quality of ingenuity (both in terms of technical and editorial process) is what defines a great digital scholarly edition from a good one. Just as setting two great artists to work in copying a pipe will produce very different understandings and representations of the object, great editors will also create a different understanding of the original work based on their own knowledge and interpretation.
The Larger Picture
The latter part of the camp made clear the fact that the skill set of a digital scholarly editor must be quite broad, as we gained exposure to tools for managing edition projects and related issues like cataloging and asset management workflow. As part of this, Georg Vogeler introduced the University of Graz Geisteswissenschaftliches (Humanities) Asset Management System and its workflow, as well as a few of the major metadata languages for edition cataloging. While this might not seem totally relevant to editors, as the fellow studying long-term sustainability of DSEs, I was really happy to see that preservation and access/findability were included as part of the week’s training.
The camp also provided great insight into the abilities of XML/TEI through the introduction of several projects at different stages of development, including the Moral Weeklies project at the University of Graz and the Shelley-Godwin Archive from the University of Maryland’s MiTH. These allowed participants to see the issues that editors have run into, as well as the vary divergent ends to which encoding can be employed.
Overall, DiXiT Camp 2 was a great way to gain more hands-on experience with XML/TEI and related tools. However, the greatest lesson gleaned in this process of learning is that there is always more knowledge to absorb – the craft is indeed so long to lerne. With that in mind, roll on the final DiXiT Camp, to be held at the University of Borås in Sweden from February 7-13, 2015.