On Saturday, November 7, 2015, I taught an introductory TEI/XML workshop for fourteen attendees, including graduate students from several disciplines and staff members at the University of Iowa Libraries. The workshop was primarily dedicated to providing an overview of text encoding or adding code to a text in order to create a machine-readable version. Text encoding involves the use of XML (Extensible Markup Language) and TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) guidelines, which constitute a standard for describing the structure of a text in machine-readable form. In short, XML is the code one uses, and TEI is a set of guidelines for representing texts digitally. Text encoding is used for a range of projects; although, it is especially useful for the creation of digital editions. The Walt Whitman Archive, for example, uses text encoding to make online editions of Whitman’s poetry and fiction available, accessible, and searchable.
My workshop was designed for teams of students and staff to work together toward encoding a particular text. Workshop participants sat at author-themed tables and practiced encoding texts by Metta Fuller Victor, Langston Hughes, and John Steinbeck, among other authors. Each team was given a scenario in which the completion of a sample text encoding was the overall goal. This collaborative environment was designed to give participants the feel of working on a digital project as part of an interdisciplinary team. Each team was responsible for making editorial decisions with respect to their texts. They were encouraged to discuss what structural elements of the text to encode, how that encoding might be best accomplished for the purposes of their assigned project, and how their decisions might impact future uses of the digital texts they aimed to create.
Through these collaborative activities, workshop participants learned how to use TEI/XML to encode the major structural and presentational features of prose, poetry, and letters. At the end of the workshop, they completed a series of challenge activities that required them to use their newly acquired TEI/XML skills to answer questions, encode excerpts of texts, and validate their work to ensure that they were following basic encoding guidelines.
As a result of attending the workshop, I hope participants began to see that text encoding is based on a series of editorial decisions. For each individual project, these editorial decisions are often shaped by the skills and expertise of team members, the funding for a particular project, and the intended audience or use of an online text. Even though text encoding involves the use of XML, it remains a largely interpretive act. Each editorial decision made by a project team results in the creation of a particular kind of text or edition and shapes how these digital resources may be used by instructors, scholars, and readers.