Anastasia: A New XML Publication System

  1. 1. Peter Robinson

    De Montfort University

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Anastasia: A New XML Publication System


De Montfort University


University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia




Kretzschmar, Jr.



Over the last decade, many humanities scholars have been persuaded by the promise
and the power of encoding schemes for electronic texts to create texts,
sometimes very large and complex, encoded using these schemes. This is specially
true of SGML/XML based encodings, with the implementation of the Text Encoding
Initiative being particularly influential in the community. However, scholars
who have made such texts have typically discovered that software to publish them
is too expensive for their limited budgets, or too difficult to use, or lacking
essential facilities, or all three of these.
The Anastasia electronic publishing system, developed
in the last five years in a partnership between the Centre for Technology and
the Arts, De Montfort University, and a new electronic publishing company,
Scholarly Digital Editions (SDE), attempts to supply this deficiency. Anastasia stands for ‘Analytic system tools and SGML
integration application’. As this implies, it is able to handle all valid SGML
and XML documents, with no limits on their complexity.
Particularly, Anastasia has been designed to meet the
needs of humanists, and especially textual scholars. It is a common complaint of
humanists that SGML/XML systems constrain a single hierarchical view of a
document, while humanities texts can be seen as containing many overlapping and
competing hierarchies. SGML/XML publishing systems usually cannot support
facilities which cut across the primary document hierarchy, and so cannot
satisify even such simple needs as display of a single page of transcription, or
display of a tabular list of key word in context search results with formatting
of all returned search strings according to the embedded encoding. Anastasia seeks to escape these limitations by
adopting a document processing model that sees the document as made up of a
series of events which are defined not only by their hierarchical relation, but
also by their left to right relation in the document stream. As a result, Anastasia provides tools which allow the document to
be manipulated according to alternative hierarchies implicit in the element
relations. Thus, one can very easily extract views of the text by column or
page, or indeed start a display at any point in any element and continue to any
point in any other element. A KWIC display, for example, requires that we
display an arbitrary number of characters before a hit, then display the
characters in the hit themselves, and then display an arbitrary number of
characters after the hit, all with complete awareness of the document encoding
within those spans of characters: Anastasia can do
this. Then, one should be able to click on a link from the KWIC display to the
document itself, and see the hits highlight in the full-text context: once more,
Anastasia has been designed to make this easy.
One can also manufacture virtual texts by extracting and combining multiple and
even overlapping segments.
Anastasia is also designed to fill another need: for
a mode of publication which is identical on both CD-ROM and the internet, on the
major Windows and Macintosh systems. Typically, the scholar will prepare a body
of SGML/XML documents for publication using the Anastasia GroveMaker application, which compiles the documents into
a binary database. The Anastasia Reader then serves
the documents to an internet browser, either over a network or from a CD-ROM.
Control of all aspects of the publication's display and behaviour (including
fully SGML/XML aware searching) is achieved through a series of Tcl script
A key factor in the development of Anastasia has been
the desire to achieve publication without compromise. That is: if it is possible
to achieve a certain kind of computer display effect, then Anastasia will allow this. For example, we might want to use some of
the advanced dynamic HTML features permitted by Javascript: pop-up menus, text which changes colour as the mouse
passes over some other part of the document (for instance, to show that a word
or phrase in one window is a translation of, or is otherwise related to, a word
or phrase another window), synchronous scrolling or separate windows, and more.
Practically, this means that we should be able to generate streams for display
in any format whatever, directly from the XML: in pdf, SVG, rtf, any variant of
HTML and XML, and send it directly to the display engine. We have concentrated
on using Anastasia to generate HTML with Javascript:
an example of the effects possible through this can be seen in the work on the
digital 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, accessible through Other instances can be seen from the SDE website,
Anastasia is designed to work as a Apache webserver
module. It also requires C-language support, and the Tcl (Tool Control Language)
libraries. In theory at least, this means Anastasia
can operate whereever Apache operates: our main development is on Macintosh OS X
and Windows machines; there is also a Linux port. The search systems in Anastasia are based on SGREP, written by Jani Jaakkola
and Pekka Kilpelainen of the University of Helsinki: we have heavily customized
the SGREP code to improve its performance with large texts. Perhaps one of the
most distinctive (if not controversial) features of Anastasia is that the style sheets we use to control exactly how the
source XML is sent to the browser are written in Tcl, and not in any of the
various XML-based systems which have appeared in the last years (such as XSLT,
XPATH, and others). In part this is historical: the roots of Anastasia lie some distance back, as far as the first
work done by myself on the Canterbury Tales Project
with Elizabeth Solopova and Norman Blake) in 1993, long before even XML made an
appearance. In part, it is because those systems themselves remain in a start of
flux. But it is also because there is room for argument about the efficiency of
such schemes. There is no doubt that XML is superb at representing textual
structure. But this does not mean it is suitable for use as a programming
language, requiring ease of use, rapid development, efficient maintenance, and
widespread support across many different computer systems. Tcl does offer all
Anastasia is not intended to be the tool of choice
for everyone who works with XML. It is designed for situations where the very
best possible presentation is required of highly complex XML. A single screen of
the digital Nestle-Aland, for example, may draw XML from hundreds of different
places within the source, reformat into HTML interwoven with Javascript
commands, and spread this across a series of frames nested within the browser
display Ð all in a fraction of a second, in response to a request from the
reader. It is also designed to run identically on CD-ROM and over the internet.
Reports of the death of CD-ROM appear rather exaggerated: indeed, the
availability of cheaply priced publication tools such as Anastasia may make it possible for high-quality CD-ROMs to be made
available at much lower prices than hitherto, and so create a market which has
been previously elusive. Finally, my hope when designing Anastasia was that a single scholar, with reasonable dedication,
good knowledge of XML and with no more computer resources and support than are
commonly available within university departments, would be able to use it to
make high-quality XML based publications. There have been some encouraging signs
that Anastasia can indeed be used in this manner. In
the same context, it should also be appropriate for use by smaller academic
This is the first conference presentation of Anastasia as a mature publication system. There has been one
previous conference presentation of the system, at the DRRH conference in Sydney
in September 2001, when only a preliminary version of the software was

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Conference Info

In review

"Web X: A Decade of the World Wide Web"

Hosted at University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia, United States

May 29, 2003 - June 2, 2003

83 works by 132 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double-checked.

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (23), ALLC/EADH (30), ACH/ALLC (15)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None