Wednesday, May 1, 2013

What I Learned from DH: I Still Love TEI

Perhaps this post should be re-titled "One Thing I Learned from DH: I Still Love TEI," as I definitely learned more than this post will touch on, but I would like to focus on what I have found to be my greatest takeaway from my coursework in the digital humanities.

To give some background, a little over a year ago I was a but wistful first-year graduate student drifting through student-job applications, hoping to land something to give me some more money and experience while in school.  I ended up being very fortunate and landing a job as an assistant to the arts & humanities librarian at IU, under whom one of my duties has been assisting on the Victorian Women Writers Project.  This project is an initiative at IU to create TEI versions of texts written by women from the Victorian period.  I  was quickly grateful for the opportunity to contribute to it, as I found TEI to be a fascinating endeavor.

Of course, I also happened to choose about as difficult a text as possible for my first encoding project.  Not only was it replete with citation after citation and footnote after footnote, not only was it full of a bajillion historical and mythical figures that I would need to include in my prosopography, it also happened to have a bounty of quotations in ancient Greek.  These were not only rendered in the Greek alphabet throughout the text, but with the bajillion diacritics used on ancient Greek.  So a word of advice to those picking their first text to encode: make sure to read more than the title page and table of contents when making your choice.

In my time working on this text, which I would definitely call a labor of love and hate, I also had the opportunity to work as an intern underneath the same librarian, and since I was quite enamored with the TEI I had been doing, I decided to use this as an opportunity to use some of my research as an intern to read further into the background of TEI.  This lead to me being even more interested in the variety of applications TEI has, due to its extensibility and adaptability.  So I decided I needed to sign up for the digital humanities course and try to pursue a project that would give me an even better understanding of TEI.

Thus, throughout the semester, my group and I completed the undertaking of creating guidelines on how to use TEI when encoding nonlinear narratives.  Since this involved gaining an intimate knowledge of all the elements and many of the attributes TEI has to offer, as well as the rules of what can contain what, I am definitely more ready than ever to tackle encoding.  In addition, it provided the opportunity to devise new elements and attributes, which was an exciting challenge of learning how to create elements whose structures within TEI were sensible, and whose definitions were not too limiting.  This was overall a rewarding process on learning how to come to a group consensus when writing such specifications and getting into the grit of making them general enough to be useful for a plethora of nonlinear narratives, instead of just for the texts we focused on.  I can definitely walk away knowing that I have a better grasp of TEI than I did at the beginning of the semester, and hope that wherever I find employment I am able to partake in TEI projects.

And I haven't even gotten to write an actual ODD yet!  So much more to learn, and I have to say it's quite exciting.

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