12.0178 response to Tagging Challenge

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Sat, 29 Aug 1998 18:01:47 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 178.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Wed, 26 Aug 1998 10:24:57 +0000
From: Hope Greenberg <hope.greenberg@uvm.edu>
Subject: Re: 12.0177 response to The Tagging Challenge

Stuart Lee wrote:
> Many thanks to those who replied to my challenge about tagging
> Owen's 'Futility'....so far!. . . I was particularly struck by
Francoise's recent posting
> which likened the creation of the text on the manuscript to a performance.
> . . .
> However, what is striking from the responses I've received is a reluctance
> to embrace any SGML encoding (to put it politely).

While reluctant to try my hand at encoding the Owen text, thank you for
the challenge because it brings up a problem I've been wrestling with.
I'm searching the literature (various online searches, ACH/ALLC
conference abstracts, and back issues of Computers and the Humanities)
looking for. . .well, let's be honest, looking for things to use in
evangelizing efforts. (will soon be doing a series of talks for our
faculty on electronic texts, TEI, etc. trying to recruit interested
parties to give it a whirl)

Some of the scholarly benefits for encoding texts, particularly in ways
that provide meta data and web-accessibility, are pretty obvious by now.
Accessibility issues like making rare materials available, making
multiple versions available, bringing obscure works to light, making
materials findable and searchable, and standards issues, have all been
treated pretty thoroughly. Contributing to the emerging global brain is
usually seen as a good thing. The benefits of collaboration, both in the
creation of these projects and as a result of their creation, are also
generally accepted as being positive. The jury is still out on how
working with electronic texts impacts things like promotion and tenure,
although the question is at least acknowledged as legitimate.

There are also the teaching reasons: providing texts for your students
to work with, helping your students learn the process involved in
encoding because they'll need to know for the future, etc.

These should probably be enough reasons for a reasonable person.
Sometimes I'm not reasonable.

Most of the text encoding projects I have encountered have been "big
projects" dealing with how to put large collections online, often
undertaken by libraries, humanities computing groups, or specially
funded projects. That is, they have fit well with the accessibility,
collaboration and teaching angles. It seems obvious that libraries and
other groups should be providing these texts. But what of the individual
scholar? and students? Is there a benefit beyond those mentioned in
encoding a text? a "personal" benefit? At lunch the other day, while
trying to convince a computing colleague that we should be pouring more
resources into helping faculty and students learn about creating these
texts, I said something like "there is value in encoding a text because
you engage it in more meaningful ways than other forms of studying it."
I'm glad he didn't ask for clarification because I realized a moment
later I didn't KNOW what I meant by that, and certainly didn't have any
basis for assuming that to be true.

Is there a fundamental and important difference between the close work
you do with a text when you encode it and the close work you do with a
text in other ways? Or is it that encoding a text is just one of many
ways to "get into" a text, and one that just happens to have all the
added benefits of making it more accessible to others, or using it as a
focal point for collaboration and teaching? Is there something
intrinsically valuable about "encoding as performance art?"I would hope
this group has some ideas on this, as many have worked on texts through
a variety of computing models (yes, Stuart, I was at your "Break of Day
in the Trenches" ACH/ALLC'93 presentation!).

According to Rogers (The Diffusion of Innovations) and Geohegan (What
Ever Happened to Instructional Technology), technology leaders and early
adopters need little encouragement to work with new technologies, but
the majority of scholars need personally compelling reasons to disrupt
their usual practices and use new technologies. What can I tell faculty
and students to convince them that they themselves, not their libraries
or publishers or computing staff, but they themselves should experience
the "joys" of encoding? (Beyond saying "this is the way to get your
favorite obscure works out in the public eye and make them available for

Or to put it another way, if I wanted to compile a bibliography on "how
the TEI makes me a better scholar" and didn't want to include the
accessibility, collaboration and teaching issues, what could I put on
the list? (I've got McGann/Rosetti and the Orlando Project)

- Hope

hope.greenberg@uvm.edu, U of Vermont, http://www.uvm.edu/~hag
(and experiments temporarily at

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