TEI 2017 Victoria, British Columbia, Canada November 11 - 15

XML Mon Nov 13, 10:45–12:15

Some Field Strategies for Introducing Markup to Trepid Documentary Editors (paper)

Ondine Le Blanc* Ondine Le Blanc is Ford Editor of Publications at the Massachusetts Historical Society. She holds a B.A. from Mount Holyoke College and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. At the MHS since 1997, Le Blanc has helped to publish a variety of documentary editions, including letters, diaries and journals, notebooks, and memoirs, as well as other kinds of publications. She was project manager for the creation of the Adams Papers Digital Edition, overseeing the conversion of 35 printed volumes into a consolidated TEI-compliant online edition. Le Blanc has served on the faculty of the Institute for the Editing of Historical Documents, hosted by the Association for Documentary Editing, since 2014.

1In the last four summers I have had the good fortune to teach at the Institute for the Editing of Historical Documents (http://www.documentaryediting.org/wordpress/?page_id=79), aka Camp Edit, administered by the Association for Documentary Editing1 and funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. I have also had the privilege-challenge of leading the session that introduces these new-ish editors, ca. 18 each year, to the TEI. Despite some caveats regarding the diversity of backgrounds in this group, I can attest that most of the students do not look forward to this as an exciting opportunity to engage with their content through electronic markup. For them, it is akin to a compulsory language class in college, undertaken because a digital version of their edition is expected by their audience and/or funders. Even for those who are looking forward to immersing themselves in a new editorial praxis, the prospect of all those pointy brackets is daunting. Oh, and I have about an hour—maybe two, depending on the syllabus that year—for this session.
2How does one start this audience on this path—ideally, the path to a long and happy relationship with the TEI—without terrifying them at the outset? How does one create enough time and space in that first critical hour to (1) allow for hands-on practice with markup and (2) demonstrate that this infrastructure will benefit their beloved content, including that it captures the semantics of that content in a system that they, the editors, can best understand and deploy?
3Having experimented with various approaches at the IEHD (and training interns and staff at my home institution), I now prefer to begin teaching the TEI by not teaching the TEI. Instead the initial effort is to establish a solid grasp of a very simplified XML schema. I have developed and continue to refine analogies and tools devised to give newcomers, as quickly as possible, a conceptual grasp of XML—and to demonstrate why an editor needs to know their project’s encoding. Student feedback confirms that my bare-bones explanation of XML and the TEI, which uses the analogy of grammar and vocabulary, has helped many Campers “finally” understand XML. Similarly, my encoding exercises avoid the TEI to start, using instead home-brewed mini-schemas that underscore the structural pieces of typical texts—letters, diaries, legal papers—that documentary editors easily infer. Similarly, DIY CSS for the author view in oXygen spotlights that structure, before we get into the TEI per se.
4At this session, I will share the lesson plans and tools for discussion, sharing, and feedback. I also look forward to feedback as well as further discussion about how to make the TEI as accessible and useful as possible to documentary editors, as well as other transcribers new to using XML.


  1. Gloss re: documentary editing. In modern American parlance, at least as represented by the ADE, the term generally refers to the practice of developing a representation of the content of primary source documents in order to make it accessible to the reader—rather than a practice that prioritizes the condition of the document as an object or the fluctuations of a text as it exists in various documents over time. Current practices, generally traced to the midcentury editions of founders papers led by Julian Boyd (Jefferson Papers) and Lyman Butterfield (Adams Papers), among others, are dedicated to capturing as faithful a transcription from manuscript as typography makes possible, with rigorously verified annotation that presents the context of a document w/o bringing the editor’s opinion of the document, the author, or the surrounding events into play (to the extent that is possible).
    For decades now, an array of established editions in American history have exemplified the field’s best practices in mutivolume sets of casebound books. In more recent years, these projects have realized that the need to distribute their work electronically was possible and, now, imperative. Most of these editors, when asking how to create a digital version of their work, first heard “You have to use TEI.” The extent to which that is true is another topic; for now my goal is to be sure that editors know enough about XML that they can forego it for the right reasons and not simply because it seems too hard.