Tag Archives: TEI

Teaching with TEI

This week, I’m in a seminar at Brown University, participating in conversations about how we use TEI in the classroom.  What a wonderful opportunity to think about so many topics: pedagogical goals and how we achieve them, what we know ourselves about the universe in which TEI operates, the importance of collaboration in Digital Humanities. Not to mention important things like what a stylesheet does and suggestions for how to distribute materials to students. The latter, of course, a distillation of years of teaching experience at the Women Writers Project.

As ever, I’m adding layers to my knowledge of and comfort with the vast set of stuff that comes with having taken my scholarship and teaching digital. I’m reminded that for my own learning, one TEI workshop has never been enough.

I’ll distill some of this into a post about plans for the first-year seminar I’m teaching this semester.  The post will appear on Digital Culture Week, which I could be doing a better job of promoting….

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Aptitude

I’ve been thinking lately about the career aptitude test that my classmates and I took in  high school.  I remember the setting well: the high school cafeteria.  I sat at the second or third table down, on the far left side, facing the stage—roughly the place where my friends and I sat at lunch every day.  (How much of this is genuine memory?)

I have always tested well, so I have a generally positive memory of the test itself.  I remember kind of enjoying the variety of questions, though perhaps having been a bit frustrated with ones that required an ability to imagine how two-dimensional images would look once they had been folded into three-dimensional objects.

And I remember the results of the test, a recommendation that I should do work focused on organizing things, like being a file clerk.  Me and Harvey Pekar, right?

What interests me about this memory of the results (I wish I had the actual results, but I think they’re probably long lost) is how it could be read to be connected to the way that my interest in the kind of document markup I can do with TEI tends towards greater granularity.  I tend not to make use of those best practices for libraries that I mentioned last week.

And this reminds me of how I responded to a question Gerda Lerner asked in the first research seminar I took in graduate school.  She asked whether every person who had ever lived belonged in a dictionary of biography, and I said yes.  Which was the wrong answer because she was asking us to think about how, as historians, we would assess significance and apply that assessment to the formation of a research plan.  I didn’t like the idea of making those kinds of choices.

But one of the things I do like about the idea of what we are doing with the Wheaton College Digital History Project is that we are making available (eventually) documents that have not previously been known.  And I understand this activity to some degree as yet another positive answer to Gerda’s question.  In effect, we are saying that the fact these documents have not been used in the past is less a product of their insignificance than of chance.  Which is one of the things historians know about the documents we use as evidence anyway.  Whatever sources we have available to us come to us as a result of decisions that do not actually reflect their significance in some grand scheme so much as their significance to individuals for reasons that often have nothing to do with our research questions.

Sometimes, when my friends reflect on the work that I have come to be doing over the past seven years, they say that I could do this work as a librarian or an archivist.  (I’m not entirely sure whether I agree with them.)  And I wonder how close that means I have come to following the advice that resulted from that career aptitude test I took in the high school cafeteria all those years ago.

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Digital Humanities, Libraries, and Scholarly Communication

For me, the lines between digital humanities, libraries, and scholarly communication are so faint as to be insignificant.  And my perception of the equivalences among these entities that often seem siloed to my colleagues presents a real challenge as I try to help people–both at my own institution and at other campuses–think about possible futures for higher education in our digital culture.

The source of my perception lies in my having begun to learn about how digital innovations are changing libraries and publishing as a result of my first forays into digital humanities.  In 2004, I participated in a series of workshops at Wheaton College that were sponsored by the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  Those workshops focused on two sets of encoding standards that use extensible markup language (XML): the Encoded Archival Description Document Type Definition (EAD DTD) and the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI).  The hands-on workshop sessions focused on TEI, and I attended the workshops out of interest in testing the use of TEI in teaching my undergraduate history students.  But the EAD component of the initial workshops meant that librarians attended too, so perhaps I have found one source of my elision of digital humanities, libraries, and scholarly communication.

Perhaps I have identified also a significant point about how these three often siloed entities are in fact connected.  I don’t mean to claim originality here.  Folks involved in digital humanities have been working on these questions for quite some time, as is clear from the discussion of the development of EAD at the Library of Congress website.  EAD and TEI were both developed in the 1990s.  Both began using Standardized General Markup Language (SGML), and both shifted to use of XML.  And both are used by libraries.

In fact according to the TEI website cited above, “Since 1994, the TEI Guidelines have been widely used by libraries, museums, publishers, and individual scholars to present texts for online research, teaching, and preservation.” A search of the TEI consortium’s website led me to slides from a talk by Susan Hockey of University College London, “Markup, TEI, Digital Libraries.” The talk was presented at the TEI Members Meeting in 2002, and it offers a good overview of issues about the relationships between changes digital innovations were bringing to libraries and digital scholarship at that time.  The TEI has a Libraries special interest group (SIG), and they recently released an update to their recommendations for best practices for use of TEI by libraries.

So TEI–the flavor of digital humanities that I practice–does have clear connections to libraries that can be traced back for at least two decades.  I’m not making that up.  What a relief!

Scholarly communication, the third of my equivalences, belongs in the set as a result of the ways that digital innovations have affected communication in general, that is in the ongoing shift from print to digital formats.  The most obvious example–the one that has received the most public outcry in the past couple of years–is the case of newspapers.  Like many people, I no longer subscribe to print newspapers; I read them online.  And I resented the introduction of a pay wall by my newspaper of choice, the New York Times, as the publisher sought a new way to make the newspaper profitable as a business.  But eventually I gave in, and I pay my fifteen dollars every month.

Like newspaper publishers, university presses have been changing their production practices for at least the past twenty years, as various word processing programs have become the tools of choice for scholars writing articles and books.  I began to hear about changes in scholarly publication when I attended a NITLE meeting on scholarly communication that was held at Pomona College in January 2008.  (I think that’s the right date.)  Like all NITLE meetings, this one gave me plenty to think about, especially the idea of open peer review.  And in the intervening years, I’ve had opportunities to sit in on discussions in which I’ve heard editors talk about workflows and publishing software.  Now, I have an essay in a volume that is undergoing open peer review and that is under contract (the volume, not necessarily my essay) with the Digital Culture series at the University of Michigan Press.

All of this seems perfectly transparent and logical to me, and I understand digital scholarship–which is the term I use to encompass my three equivalences–to be the future of scholarship and higher education.  My greatest challenge lies in parsing out how that is the case for folks who haven’t had the advantages I have had over the past seven years as I’ve learned from my digital humanities colleagues.

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NEH Digital Humanities Project Directors’ Meeting

Almost a week has passed since I attended the Project Directors’ Meeting at the offices of the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington DC, and I’m struggling a bit to recall the joy I was feeling after four days almost straight of spending time with friends and colleagues who are practitioners of digital humanities. A cancelled flight home, post-travel exhaustion, and demanding local responsibilities tend to force even the most immediate and energizing of past experiences into the background.

So I want to take some time to recall the pleasure of having sat in a room filled with digital humanists for a full workday last Tuesday (which was also, by the way, Eliza Baylies Wheaton’s birthday). We began with a session just for us, hearing presentations from various members of the NEH staff. Then at 10:30 the meeting opened to the public, which included such members of the press as the reporter for Inside Higher Education who wrote up the event in a piece entitled “The Promise of Digital Humanities.” The main events in this portion of the day were two sessions of “lightning” presentations–three-slide, two-minute talks in which a total of sixty projects were summarized.

I was utterly delighted to learn about the creativity and technical innovation of classicists, historians, literary critics, and others who are developing mobile applications for subjects from Shakespeare to local history, constructing games to teach students about topics from daily life in 17th-century English villages to 18th-century medical history, and building tools to share local data for large-scale analysis. I can no more summarize the range of the projects than could the reporter from IHE.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that distinguished digital humanist Cathy Davidson would talk about her new book Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. I deeply appreciated her counter to the myriad books focused on scaring us about the implications of our digital culture. And I am pleased to have heard that she is giving this talk to business people and other decision makers. Hers is a powerful voice for the promise of our digital future.

Best of all, after I offered my own “lightning” report in the meeting’s afternoon session–giving the briefest of overviews of our work to date on developing standards for using TEI-conformant XML to mark up transcriptions of historic financial records–I met several people who expressed support for the work. A few of these new colleagues are interested in participating in the next steps of our project, when we are ready to test our nascent guidelines more broadly.

As I read the comments on the IHE article, I agree with historian Crandall Shiflett, Professor Emeritus at Virginia Tech University and one of the innovators who was working in digital history twenty years ago. He gives credit to his colleagues in that work and writes: “The promise and challenge of digital humanities in the new age will be to break down walls of disciplinary separation and forge collaborations among scholars across these borders, if the revolution is to become truly revolutionary. It will require private and public support on a large scale, but the reward will be the creation of new knowledge and knowledge in new ways.” Hear, hear.

*Our project “Encoding Financial Records” has received financial support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this post or other publications related to the project do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Encoding Financial Records

We held our NEH-funded meeting about encoding financial records at Wheaton College on August 18 and 19, and initial responses to our assessment instrument (read Survey Monkey) suggest that participants agree that we had a productive and energizing series of discussions. We will be testing some ideas based on ontological and embedded encoding through the next couple of months, and we will complete our white paper by the end of the year.

I was pleased at the level of enthusiasm for the endeavor over the course of the two days. Participants contributed experience and examples from their own projects. And I learned new things about current ideas around interoperability and making data harvestable.

We have begun to build an exciting community of practice composed of participants with diverse expertise who see significant potential in developing models for digitizing financial records from the early nineteenth century and before.

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User-Friendly XML

As I continue to think through how I do history digitally, I note both that historians have been using computers for a long time and that what I do differs from the statistics-heavy social science computing people were learning when I was in graduate school. Programs like SPSS didn’t seem relevant to my dissertation project, which focused on small communities that would not have yielded statistically significant analysis. I didn’t know about Arc-GIS, and it might be interesting to see what one could learn by imposing census data on Whitney Cross’s maps of the Burned Over District. Might, at some other point.

I’m struck by how easily I accepted the idea that transcribing and marking up journals, diaries, and now financial records could yield interesting results for understanding the nineteenth-century United States. But an analogy that came to me this morning clarifies the process for me.

I’ve noted here before that I came to comfort with code as a result of the coincidence that my post-secondary education began just at the moment that computing was becoming democratized. At Rice, my own experience with mainframes began with learning to use word processors to type papers. In my early post-collegiate jobs, my comfort with learning to use similar applications earned me a position as the WordPerfect expert among the secretarial staff of a department at the UVA Medical School. I bought my first PC in grad school and developed minimal comfort with DOS, but I didn’t become a power user until I bought my first Mac and learned the joy of the Apple interface.

My development as an academic user coincided with the spread of the Internet in the 1990s, though I remained a low-end user focused on email and word processing until my first exposure to TEI and XML in 2004. The utility of statistical data remained relatively opaque to me, and my fondness for Macs and parallel contempt for Windows as a DOS-impaired lesser version of the Apple interface prevented my exploring possibilities. Coupled with my interest in pedagogical uses of technology, the advent of the World-Wide Web led to my involvement in discussions about cross-platform applications, and I became more and more comfortable in conversations about technology. Thus, I had been primed for the next stage–learning about XML through exposure to TEI and therefore becoming a different kind of academic user.

The analogy between the comparative difficulties of DOS/SPSS and Mac/XML has considerable explanatory power for me as I think about how I have come to be convinced that XML/TEI tools for transcription and markup have a place in undergraduate classrooms. I think it goes a long way towards expressing some of the assumptions behind my notion that liberal education should include exposure to computational thinking.

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Intuitively Obvious

The other day, I found myself thinking those doom laden words from the calculus class I dropped my first semester at Rice: It is intuitively obvious that…. These were the words that struck doom in my heart since my high school choices had weakened my preparation for engineering calculus. I chose not to take the pre-calc analysis course, and even though the calculus teacher loved word problems about calculating the pressure points on dams, I really didn’t get it. I did, however, take analytic geometry twice, which kind of helped me get the idea of vectors…. Sort of like the way taking introduction(s) to TEI more than once have worked for me more recently.

The notion of the intuitively obvious seemed to only slightly mathematical me akin to the sleight of hand moment when the prof’s ability to break things down and explain an equation in detail just failed. To him, it probably indicated the moment when complexity fell away and the rest of the equation simply fell into place. But whatever he was seeing was certainly not intuitively obvious to me.

So the conversation I had with a friend this afternoon, a conversation in which she kept prompting me to explain the points about the relationship between digital humanities and undergraduate research that were intuitively obvious to my geek wanna-be self but not to her, that was really helpful.

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