The Robert Graves Diary (1935-39): a TEI Application using an XML Database (eXist)

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Chris Petter

    University of Victoria

  2. 2. Elizabeth Grove-White

    University of Victoria

  3. 3. Linda Roberts

    University of Victoria

  4. 4. Spencer Rose

    Western University (University of Western Ontario)

  5. 5. Jessica Posgate

    University of Victoria

  6. 6. Jillian Shoichet

    University of Victoria

Work text
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Our paper will cover both academic and technical
development of the Graves Diary Project (1935-39). The
prototype can be found at <http://www.tapor.uvic.
ca:8080/cocoon/graves/> .
Academic Development
Robert Graves' 1935-39 diary is part of the prized Graves
collection in the UVic Libraries' Special Collection. The
diary has been used extensively by biographers and scholars,
but it has remained inaccessible to a wider readership until
recently. The Robert Graves Trust in Oxford owns the copyright
to the diary and in 2001 they agreed to allow the University of
Victoria Libraries to publish the diary as both an electronic and
a print edition. Beryl Graves, Robert's widow, transcribed the
diary into text and a copy of this text was deposited with the
University of Victoria. In addition the Trust encouraged Chris
Petter to scan an annotated version of the transcript, prepared
by Karl Goldschmidt, Graves' long time secretary. William
Graves, Robert's eldest son by Beryl, offered to contribute notes
that he kept on the Deyá portions of the diary.
Robert Graves (1895-1985) is a major twentieth-century English
poet, novelist and essayist. After surviving the First World War
and subsequent shell shock, he married, studied at Oxford and
began to publish poetry. In 1926 he met Laura Riding, the
American poet whose work he had admired from afar. She
became an enormous influence on him, and on his writing, and
their intense working relationship lasted for over ten years.
They founded the Seizin Press together, and in 1929 they moved
to Deyá, Majorca. The novels that made Graves famous —
Goodbye to All That, I Claudius and Claudius the God — were
written in this period. The diary is an important document
illuminating their life together and that of the little coterie of
writers and artists they gathered around them.
The diary's permanent project team consists of Elizabeth
Grove-White (English Department) who is responsible for the
introductory material; Chris Petter (Library), project manager
and Linda Roberts M.A., who is responsible for encoding,
abstracting and annotation. Spencer Rose, and later Martin
Holmes of UVic’s Humanities Computing and Media Centre
have developed the interfaces. Elizabeth was successful in
landing a two year SSHRC project grant for the diary for
2004-2006. Dr. Patrick Quinn kindly contributed monthly
abstracts for 1935 and 1936 diary entries.
TEI Development
Work began in 2002 when Chris Petter was granted a study
leave from the Library. The manuscript was digitized and an
index created which links the file title to the date. Chris traveled
to the University of New Brunswick Text Centre and then to
Oxford. At UNB Chris was able to restructure the text files into
day entries within month divisions. In Oxford, Sebastian Rahtz
advised on using the TEI.corpus dtd and an XML database to
present the diary. The reason for this advice was because of the
structural difficulties of the diary with its 115 enclosures and
numerous letter logs. Chris also set up databases which could
store information on the names, places and titles mentioned in
the diary. These included the annotations of Karl Goldschmidt
and the notes contributed by William Graves.
A guiding principle of the Graves diary markup procedure is
to approximate the original document as closely as possible,
so that the character of Graves' 'diary style' is preserved along
with its content. Fortunately, XML (Extensible Markup
Language), with its capacity to convey emendations such as
deletions (crossed out) and supralinear additions allows us to
produce an authentic version which reflects to some extent the
immediacy of the diary mss. It has been necessary to work
constantly with the mss in order to identify and adjust any
changes made in the transcript which diverge from the copy
text, including paragraphing, spelling and punctuation. Any
exceptions will be accounted for in the editorial notes. The markup process allows us to include annotations for names,
places, titles, foreign words, and emendations, as well as notes
and editorial comments.
Technical Implementation: Web
Interface Development
Work on the web interface began in the fall of 2002, and
has since become a platform for testing client-side xml
processing in the rendering of XHTML documents using XSL
stylesheets. Spencer Rose's contribution to this project, through
the Humanities Computing and Media Centre, has involved
transforming updated TEI-conformant XML documents into a
simple and transparent web interface that is intuitive and useful
for researchers.
The first prototype developed by Spencer Rose in 2003 made
use of client-side XML processing, but was expanded to
accommodate more complex XML markup. These xml
processing capabilities became available with advanced web
browser software. Some desirable features of client-side XML
processing included the offloading of processing from the server
to the client, and the direct access of XML files for customizable
display. However, unlike server-side XML-to-XHTML
transformations, client-side processing depends on the
compatibility of the web browser to parse and render using
XSL stylesheets, which, until recently, had been an unstable
feature of standards-compliant browsers.
Web Prototype
The interface design involved two phases. The first phase was
to build a static web display that allowed for easy browsing of
the diary text. The second phase would allow users to perform
complex search querying of the XML documents. For this
prototype, the interface design involved a number of separate
components. Of these components, some might be considered
common to most web development projects such as using CSS
and javascript to web-enable the site; others required special
work. The static components of the site design included the
general web design, XHTML layout and styling using XSL
rendering and Cascading Stylesheets. The dynamic components
involve using javascript for client-side interactivity. These
components are brought together to form a document that is
XSL Templates and XHTML
The Graves Diary xml documents strictly conform to the Text
Encoding Initiative guidelines and therefore use standard tags
and attributes that describe typographic and analytic structures
of the text. Attention to detail in the XML markup was reflected
in the detail of the XSL-Transformed representation such that
the diary's wide range of styling features — all encoded using
TEI elements — were reproduced in the transformed XHTML
document. As well, the interactive features of the interface —
including image scan and spot-of-reference pop-ups, as well
as other dynamic display elements — were developed using
client-side javascript.
XML Indexing System
The Graves Diary contains numerous enclosures — letters,
poems, photographs — clippings that are components of the
transcription. As with each diary entry, each enclosure has a
separate digital scan that is indexed in XML documents. As
well, each entry and enclosure also contains numerous
biographical, geographical and bibliographical references that
link to an external reference database. Because of this complex
cross-indexing of media, reference information and enclosures,
an important design issue was deciding on a suitable indexing
system that linked these components in a coherent display.
One of the projects greatest innovations was the creation by
Spencer Rose of two modular XML index files: one file
cross-indexes the collection of digital image scans of the diary
(including enclosures) with the main diary files; another XML
file lists reference entries identified with reference locations in
the diary text. Both of these external XML files originated in
different file formats and needed to be transformed into XML
documents. These XML files could then be included with the
diary markup in the XSL templates, and as well made the
creation of image and file index displays straightforward.
Finally, XML pointer files for the diary entries were also used
to isolate the XSL references in the document header from the
actual document. This has the benefit of removing the diary
files from a specific stylesheet reference.
eXist XML Database Late Breaking
The present phase of this interface project is to make the
transcribed Graves Diary documents searchable online. For
this, the implementation of the Open Source native XML
database system eXist ( <> ) has
shown a promising start — with at least the proof of concept
being established in a working prototype.
The eXist search engine makes use of an extended XPath query
language called XQuery to search elements in a document.
XPath is an established document syntax that is integral to XSL
in that it defines the elements of XML documents for stylesheet transformations. eXist's enchanced querying includes basic
XPath expressions to search through the nodal structure of the
XML document, but it is also capable of keyword searches on
XML elements and attributes, as well as queries on the
proximity of search terms and regular expressions. Analyses
of nodal relationships (e.g. parent-child relations between
elements) are also possible with eXist. One feature of the eXist
search engine is that, for a wide range of XPath expressions, it
uses stored index files that reference the structure of the XML
document nodes. Information can then be retrieved without
accessing the collections documents directly. This improves
the speed and efficiency of information retrieval.
The Graves Diary eXist database is still in the process of
development, with the rendering and placement of enclosures
(some multi-page) alongside their digital images proving to be
a challenge for Martin Holmes (Humanities Computing). In
the meantime, the markup of the diary text and the creation of
abstracts for each month by graduate students continues under
the supervision of Linda Roberts. The project is scheduled for
completion by July 2006.
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Meier, Wolfgang. eXist: An Open Source Native XML
Database. . Accessed 2002-11. <

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Victoria

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

June 15, 2005 - June 18, 2005

139 works by 236 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double checked.

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (25), ALLC/EADH (32), ACH/ALLC (17)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

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