12.0169 The Tagging Challenge: an update

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Thu, 20 Aug 1998 16:08:21 +0100 (BST)

Date: Sun, 19 Jul 1998 16:51:59 +0100 (BST)
From: Stuart Lee <stuart@ermine.ox.ac.uk>

Dear All,

Listening to the various conversations at the recent ALLC conference in
Debrecen, it seemed that there was a fair amount of questioning of the
feasibility of marking-up documents, with particular reference to SGML and
the TEI. It struck me that it might be fun during the long drawn out
summer evenings to issue a challenge (this will undoubtedly bring into
question my idea of 'fun'!).

As some of you may know I, and my colleague Paul Groves, have been working
with the manuscripts of the British poet Wilfred Owen. We are in the
process of delivering these on-line as reasonable quality digital
facsimiles, but, like everyone, are facing the pressures of meeting our
deliverables on-time.

Our initial idea was to transcribe all of the manuscripts and mark them up
using the TEI. However, it did not take us long to realise that this would
have been a ridiculous task to undertake bearing in mind the time/money
constraints we were working under. Furthermore, when we looked at the
manuscripts themselves it became clear that any attempt to mark them up
recording all of the various emendations etc. would have been a
considerable intellectual exercise. So much so that we questioned whether
such a thing was possible, let alone worth it.

After discussing the matter with Lou Burnard we resolved to take the easy
route of simply marking-up the metadata associated with each image.
However, Lou suggested that it might be interesting to see what other
people would have done in our situation.

Hence the challenge.

At http://users.ox.ac.uk/~stuart/challenge/20F53VA.JPG I have put up one
of the extant versions of Owen's poem 'Futility' (an apt title?). A
transcription of the manuscript can be found in Jon Stallworthy's 'Wilfred
Owen: The Complete Poems and Fragments' (Oxford, 1983), vol II. p320. The
image is of British Library, MS 43720 f.53v and is copyrighted to the
Wilfred Owen estate.

The challenge is to find the best way of conveying the information held on
the manuscript page to a scholarly audience, which would accommodate the
forseeable needs of the academic research community. Should we simply put
the image up and have done with it, or is it better (assuming sufficient
time and money) to attempt to mark-up the contents of the page? Can TEI
cope with this or should we look to some other scheme? I would be
interested to hear how others might cope with this, and to see any
attempts at marking up the page (there isn't too much text there, I
promise). I will duly report back to Humanist any feedback I receive.

Prize: Yes there is one (but it's not much). We will send a copy of
Stallworthy's 'Wilfred Owen: The War Poems' to the person who provides the
most comprehensive and/or imaginative response. We'll even get it signed
by the editor for you.

And it is at this point that I think I should put my head below the

Stuart Lee

P.S. The text of the poem is as follows:
[from Stallworthy, 1983]


Move him into the sun -
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds -
Woke once the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
- O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?


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