Letters and Lacunae: Editing an Electronic Scholarly Edition of Correspondence

  1. 1. Susan Schreibman

    University of Maryland, College Park

  2. 2. Gretchen Gueguen

    University of Maryland, College Park

  3. 3. Amit Kumar

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  4. 4. Ann Saddlemyer

    University of Victoria

Work text
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Encoding editions of documentary texts, particularly
editions of correspondence, within the Text Encoding
Initiative (TEI) Guidelines raises special challenges not
encountered when editing previously published works. The
challenges fall into three broad categories: 1) difficulties in
capturing bibliographic meta-information describing the
physical object and its transmission history; 2) challenges in
developing a controlled vocabulary suitable to the informal
nature of texts which were never intended for publication; and
3) difficulties in encoding both physical characteristics of the
documentary texts, as well as their intellectual content, i.e.
adopting a principle of encoding the text either as a physical
artifact or as a conceptual work. These challenges, particularly
as they relate to encoding letters, will be explored by through
an edition currently being edited entitled Thomas MacGreevy
and George Yeats: A Friendship in Letters.
During the next two years members of The Thomas MacGreevy
Archive team will be creating for online publication an edition
of the correspondence between George Yeats (1893-1968),
wife of the Irish poet W.B. Yeats, and Thomas MacGreevy
(1893-1967), Irish poet, art and literary critic, and Director of
the National Gallery of Ireland (1950-63). It is a collection
spanning 41 years, comprising 148 letters. The letters are
fascinating documentary records which provide a window not
only into the personal lives of the authors, but into the artistic
and political circles in which they moved, providing a unique
insight into the new Irish Free State and the cultural climate of
Europe during the first half of the twentieth century. The letters
are being encoded using Extensible Markup Language (XML)
according to newly released P5 TEI Guidelines to take
advantage of the TEI’s new chapter on Manuscript Description.
Although the TEI Guidelines were not developed specifically
to encode previously published texts, many of the rules built
into the syntax of the Document Type Definitions (DTDs) favor
this document type. To cite but one example, the content model
of tei.divbot does not allow for a paragraph <p> element
after the closer element <closer>. While the need for
additional paragraphs after closing material in published texts
may be uncommon, letters frequently have a closing salutation,
followed by a postscript. Moreover, it has proved difficult
within the TEI header to detail the type of descriptive
information that editors, scholars, and bibliographers require
when engaging with handwritten documents.
Individual projects (such as DALF: Digital Archive of Letters
in Flanders Project) and subject- area consortiums (such as
The Model Editions Partnership) have developed their own
extensions to the TEI Guidelines to accommodate the needs of
electronic editions of correspondence. After a brief survey of
the strategies employed by these and other editions, we will
discuss how TEI’s new chapter on manuscript description
alleviates some of the problems previous projects solved with
local solutions. The chapter on Manuscript Description builds
on the work of two separate initiatives which have been recently
combined: MASTER project (1999-2001), an EU-funded project
headed by Peter Robinson, and the work of the TEI Medieval
Manuscripts Description Work Group (1998-2000), headed by
Consuelo Dutschke and Ambrogio Piazzoni . The new elements
available in this tagset provide for detailed description of
primary texts including transmission, physical description, the
relationship between parts of the manuscript (for example, when
a poem is enclosed with a letter), dimensions, location,
manuscript identification, provenance, and history of ownership.
Another area to be discussed is the difficulties in developing
an ontology or controlled vocabulary for a correspondence.
The ontology, the backbone for the search page, is more difficult
to develop for a collection of letters than other document types.
Subject headings, such as the Library of Congress Subject
Headings (LCSH), which are used to describe entire collections
or self-contained bodies of information, are not suitable for this
project which describes each letter individually. The problem
with using schemes such as LCSH is twofold: one, the letters
cover many subjects and follow no formal organization pattern,
making it difficult to make a faceted indexing schema like
LCSH worthwhile; secondly, the subject headings were meant
to be used in the cataloging of cohesive works or collections,
and were not designed to be brief entries in the index for a
specific work or collection.
The indexing done for this edition more closely resembles
back-of-the-book style indexing in terms of its description of
the details of the text. Standard controlled vocabularies that
might be used in this type of indexing, like the Getty Art and
Architecture Thesaurus, on the other hand, are too specific and terms do not sufficiently summarize or categorize the topics
discussed. Capturing, representing, and, indeed, interpreting a
multitude of topics present in any given letter — from general
subjects to more intimate personal details — is of paramount
importance. If ontology is defined as a "formal, explicit
specification of a shared conceptualization" (Fensel 11), the
burden of interpreting by a third party what a "shared
conceptualization" of a text written for an intended audience
of one is immense. Indeed, as the correspondence itself often
indicates, meaning is often misconstrued by the intended
recipient. Given these difficulties, other types of structured
data, such as annotation and abstracts, may be used to mitigate
issues of keywords conveying different meanings when taken
out of textual context.
Another challenge when editing documentary texts for
electronic publication is choosing a philosophy by which to
encode. This is particularly true in the case of editing modern
correspondence. Editors have had to traditionally decide
whether the purpose of the encoding is to capture the physical
appearance of the page (regardless of the text's logical
sequence), or whether it is to record the textual/ontological
flow (regardless of the text's physical appearance). In traditional
print publications, editions (except for facsimiles) reflect a
logical sequencing of the text. For example, text which appears
in the margins is placed where the editor feels it belongs
logically, even when the writing crosses page boundaries (such
as finishing a letter in the margins of the first page when the
author ran out of room on the last).
This edition is exploring methods of encoding both the physical
appearance of the page, as well as the letter’s logic. This is
particularly challenging when encoding, for example,
marginalia. To represent the marginalia within the logical
sequence of the text, the editor must decide where it is to be
anchored within the textual flow. To represent it in a physical
representation, the editor must provide coordinates that will
anchor the text vertically and horizontally in relation to the
main body of the work. While some of this positioning is
absolute, for example, anchoring text at the top of the page,
other positioning is relative, for example, anchoring marginalia
relative to the paragraph it appears next to. While the encoding
must take into account, in some measure, the technologies
available to us today, XSLT, CSS, and JavaScript, for example,
at the same time it must also be encoded with a view to future
presentations, independent of current technologies.
These are a sampling of issues that will be discussed.
Chestnutt, R. David. "The e Model Editions Partnership: 'Smart
Text' and Beyond." DLib Magazine (July/August 1997). <h
DALF: Digital Archive of Letters in Flanders Project . Centrum
voor Teksteditie en Bronnenstudie (KANTL). Accessed
2005-03-21. <http://www.kantl.be/ctb/project
DeRose, Steven J., David G. Durand, Elli Mylonas, and Allen
H. Renear. "What is Text, Really?" Journal of Computing in
Higher Education 2.1 (Winter) (1990): 3-26.
Farrow, John. "All in the Mind: Concept Analysis in Indexing."
The Indexer 19.4 (1995): 243-247.
Fensel, Dieter et al. Spinning the Semantic Web. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2005.
Matthews, Douglas. "Indexing Published Letters." The Indexer
22.3 (2001): 135-141.
Renear, Allen H., Elli Mylonas, and David G. Durand.
"Refining Our Notion of What Text Really Is: The Problem of
Overlapping Hierarchies." Research in Humanities Computing
4: Selected Papers from the ALLC/ACH Conference, Christ
Church Oxford, April 1992. Ed. Susan Hockey and Nancy Idle.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. 263-280.
Schreibman, Susan. The Thomas MacGreevy Archive.
Accessed 2005-03-21. <http://macgreevy.org>
TEI Guidelines P4 . Accessed 2005-03-15. <http://www
TEI Guidelines P5, Manuscript Description Chapter . Accessed
2005-03-15. <http://www.tei-c.org/Activities

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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: http://web.archive.org/web/20071215042001/http://web.uvic.ca/hrd/achallc2005/

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

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

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