The e-Laborate Project and the Usability of Another Textual Paradigm

  1. 1. Joris van Zundert

    Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands (Huygens ING) - Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW)

  2. 2. Karina van Dalen-Oskam

    Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands (Huygens ING) - Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW)

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In 2003 we embarked upon the project e-Laborate: a digital
platform for partnerships in the humanities and social sciences.
The web application (at <
/> ) resulting from this project is intended as a virtual
workplace for researchers in the humanities and social
sciences.The e-Laborate collaboratory contains text collections,
collections of statistical data and basic content management
tools for sharing and working on text material and datasets.
The project allows individual researchers as well as research
groups to explore the potential of the collaboratory and to
generate feedback. The tools enable users to expand the
collection of material continuously and to improve its quality.
In our paper we will present e-Laborate as an on line research
collaboratory and as a web enabled tool for editing and
analysing textual content. We will also show how e-Laborate
provided a research environment in which we can explore the
usefulness and usability of a specific text paradigm.
The text material we used in our project issued from the
historical cultural journal "Vaderlandsche Letteroefeningen".
The title means "National Literary Exercises" and in academic
writing is usually shorthanded as "VLO". Published between
1761 and 1876, the "VLO" is of great importance for every
research discipline concerned with the study of culture in the
Netherlands during that period. There has long been a widely
held desire to see a complete set of the journal available in
digital form. However, because of its huge size and the
enormous costs that digitisation would entail this has not been
possible before now. The approach we have chosen differs
fundamentally from the way in which textual material has
usually been digitised and published in the past. The "VLO"
component of the e-Laborate project uses a bottom up
collaborative approach, drawing upon the assistance of
researchers, to produce a continuous developing and evolving
digital version of the publication. Using this approach NIWI will now be able to publish facsimiles (scans) of the first 50.000
pages of "VLO" editions by the first quarter of 2005.
We will describe the development process used in building
e-Laborate.The eXtreme Programming protocol (XP) was
closely followed. Researchers' demands concerning the texts
were closely monitored during the project and used to drive the
development of the electronic tools for joint working on text
and textual material. Every two weeks new elements were
delivered, tested and approved of or commented on. Also
critique and additional wishes were communicated with the
developers. In this way we made sure that the tools would really
be what researchers collaboratively working on text wanted
and needed. The participating researchers are enthusiastic about
this development approach and about the tools delivered up till
now. Formal evaluation and retrospection showed especially
appreciation for the pragmatically forward looking vision of
the project (i.e. building the collaboratory brick by brick, feature
by feature).
The paper will provide a functional and architectural overview
of e-Laborate as a collaborative tool for supporting the
production of digital editions. At the core of e-Laborate is the
transcription object. The transcription object is a container
object holding the scanned image of a page from an original
publication and a transcription field. Each transcription object's
authorisation may be tailored by its creator / owner. Depending
on the user's authorisation the transcription field of a
transcription object is depicted either as a text edit box or as
rendered text. Arbitrary additional metadata may be added. In
the case of the "VLO" a standard id field is added to hold the
number of the year, volume and page the scan shows. Standard
content management utilities available within the e-Laborate
platform allow for the arbitrary placing and grouping of
individual transcription objects into a page or folder hierarchy.
Any transcription object is automatically indexed so an
authorised user or editor can search through the text base and
present the search results in a comprehensive way. A fuzzy
matching algorithm amends search input as well as the indexed
material for spelling variants. In the future tools to further
process or statistically analyse those results may be added. The
addition of modules, tools, or components to e-Laborate is
easily facilitated by its plain plugin architecture and open source
nature. Current additions under development are the inclusion
of an open source OCR engine to facilitate text recognition on
demand for uploaded scans.
Current work in the project is focused on the development of
a flexible annotation tool. This tool will empower researchers
to create annotations to every part of a scan or the transcription
text of a transcription object, simply by pointing to and
highlighting the image part or text range they desire to annotate.
Researchers will also have the possibility to react to annotations
by annotating the annotation (ad infinitum). A researcher may
choose to categorize his or her annotation using a standard or
personalised typology of annotations. Standard annotation
typologies that will be provided concern a.o. basic formatting
(italic, bold, capitalization etc.), ranges of interpretation (word,
part of the text etc.) and information type (back ground
historical information, biographical etc.). Any annotation may
be categorised in multiple typologies.
The annotation tool will be as much WYSIWYG as possible.
This means that a researcher wanting to add annotations will
not be bothered by laborious tagging and will need no prior
knowledge of any particular mark up language. This is a design
choice fundamental to our view of text and textual research.
We think that it's not a researcher's concern to produce or
validate XML or any other marked up form of text. Knowing
about mark up is not fundamental to the task of a text
researcher, but making inferences about the meaning, structure
and form of a text and putting such inferences into annotations
is. Therefore tools for the production and enrichment of digital
editions should focus on that research related task and not on
mark up particulars. As a consequence the digital editing tools
of e-Laborate will take care of the creation of valid mark up
'in the background', providing ample information about the
name of the user who created the annotation, the date and time
of creation, the part of the text or scan the annotation belongs
to, and of course, the annotation text itself and any additional
metadata provided by the user.
Elementary for our project are the leading principals behind
the design choices described in the preceding paragraph. That
is, the design choice not to define yet another mark up solution,
but to concentrate on the researcher's interactions with the
textual material, leaving the description of these interactions
in the form of XML to the application. We will show that these
principals define another textual paradigm, meaning another
textual paradigm than the text paradigm implicitly emanating
from the concepts of TEI.
At present a powerful surge of TEI-driven edition projects,
seems to have propagated TEI into a de facto standard. Although
undeniably useful as a means for marking up texts for editorial
use, the apparent all round applicability and efficiency of TEI
needs to be contested. We will argue that TEI in it's form of
explicit mark up is not a very efficient means of editorial mark
up. We will also argue that TEI is far from efficient nor very
useful when computer supported textual analysis is the focus
of research. We will show that the use of TEI forces an a priori,
top down view of text onto a researcher trying to model a text
using TEI-tagging. TEI's particular use of XML and its DTD
implicitly present a vision of a text being a flat hierarchy of
meaningful text elements. To a researcher wanting to express
and analyse overlapping interpretations, associative relations,
layered narratives (to name but a few common textual constructs
TEI has difficulty expressing) TEI does not provide effective or efficient solutions. We will argue that such a researcher
would be better off considering the use of lightly embedded
mark up solutions and layered cross tagged mark up as provided
for example by the JITT and LMNL models. Although
problematic in themselves, these models do address the non
linear, non hierarchical nature of texts more adequately than
TEI. We will also argue how these models can be combined to
provide an intuitive way of structuring and annotating text,
resulting in a dynamic layered model of text that can be
represented by proper XML. We will show how within the
context of e-Laborate a graphical user interface enables
structuring and annotating texts according to this dynamic
model of text representation. We are convinced that this
interface enables a researcher to interact with a text on a
research and interpretative level rather than a mark up level.
We will also show that in such a dynamic research environment
it is still possible to provide backward compatibility with TEI
mark up using transformational languages.
Agosti, M., I. Ferro, I. Frommholz, and U. Thiel. "Annotations
in Digital Libraries and Collaboratories." Proceedings of the
8th European Conference, EDCL 2004. Bath, UK, September
12-17, 2004. Ed. R. Heery and L. Lyon. Berlin: EDCL, 2004.
244- 255.
Buzzetti, D. "Digital Representation and the Text Model." New
literary History 33 (2002): 61-88.
DARE, Digital Academic Repositories. Accessed 2004-11-20.
e-Laborate. Accessed 2004-11-20. <http://www.e-lab>
JITT. Accessed 2004-11-20. <http://www.sbl-site2
.org/Extreme2002/> and <http://www.idealli
LMNL. Accessed 2004-11-20. <>
McGann, J.P. "Dialogue and interpretation at the interface of
man and machine, reflections on textuality and a proposal for
an experiment in machine reading." Computers and the
Humanities 36 (2002): 95-107.
NHDA. Accessed 2004-11-20. <http://www.niwi.kna>
NIWI-KNAW. Accessed 2004-11-20. <http://www.niw>
SURF. Accessed 2004-11-20. <
TEI and TEI-Consortium. Accessed 2004-11-20. <http:/
van Dijk, S. "Introduction." 'I have heard about you'. Women's
writing crossing borders. Ed. S. van Dijk, P. Broomans, J.F.
van der Meulen and W.R.D. van Oostrum. Hilversum: Verloren,
2004. [Information about the "VLO".]
Women Writers. Accessed 2004-11-20. <>
XML and the World Wide Web Consortium. Accessed
2004-11-20. <>
Xpast. Accessed 2004-11-20. <http://www.e-labora>

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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