The Model Editions Partnership: Putting TEI Theory into Scholarly Practice

  1. 1. C.M. Sperberg-McQueen

    Computer Center - University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  2. 2. David R. Chesnutt

    Department of History - University of South Carolina

Work text
This plain text was ingested for the purpose of full-text search, not to preserve original formatting or readability. For the most complete copy, refer to the original conference program.

This paper describes recent work in the Model
Editions Partnership, a cooperative effort of seven
historical editing projects to develop adequate intellectual and practical models for electronic historical editions. In particular, we will report on the
development of a TEI-conformant markup scheme for use in the samples of historical editions to
be prepared in later stages of the project by the
various partner projects. The paper will have five
parts: an introduction to the partnership as a whole, a discussion of the document analysis process
with which the project began, a summary of the
requirements derived from that document analysis
for markup of historical documents in the context
of historical editions, a demonstration of the resulting modifications of the markup scheme developed by the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), and a
brief description of the future work of the partnership.
The paper is relevant to the areas of concern to
attendees first because the Model Editions Partnership is a major effort of the historical documentary editing community in the United States to
address the issues raised by the advent of electronic distribution methods and SGML. The paper
will also provide an extended concrete example of
the use of the TEI Guidelines in an important
specialized application area, complete with local
customization and extension of the DTDs.
1 The Model Editions Partnership
The Model Editions Partnership is a cooperative
project of seven major historical documentary editing projects in the United States:
• the Documentary History of the First Federal
Congress of the United States of America
(George Washington University, Washington, D.C.), a letterpress edition of all extant
documents relating to the First Federal Congress
• the Documentary History of the Ratification
of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights
(University of Wisconsin, Madison), a selective letterpress edition of all important documents illustrating the debate, in each state,
over the ratification of the Constitution, the
passage of the Bill of Rights by the first
Congress, and the ratification of the first ten
• the Papers of General Nathanael Greene
(Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence, Rhode Island), a letterpress edition of the
extant correspondence and other papers of
General Nathanael Greene, a prominent military figure in the U.S. Revolution
• the Papers of Henry Laurens (University of
South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.), a selective
letterpress edition of the papers of a prominent South Carolina planter and leader of the
American Revolution
• the Lincoln Legal Papers (Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield, Illinois), a complete electronic facsimile edition of all extant
documents relating to the legal practice of
Abraham Lincoln and to cases in which he
• the Margaret Sanger Papers (New York University, New York), a complete microfilm
edition of all known papers of the birth control pioneer which were not included in the
microfilm series issued by the Library of
Congress, together with indices both to the
new microfilm series and to the Library of
Congress series
• the Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and
Susan B. Antony (Rutgers University, New
Brunswick, N.J.), a selective letterpress edition of correspondence, speeches, and other
writings of the two leaders of the U.S. woman suffrage movement.
The project is coordinated by David Chesnutt
(South Carolina), Susan Hockey (Princeton and
Rutgers), and C. M. Sperberg-McQueen (University of Illinois at Chicago).
2 The Prospectus for Historical Editions
In the first phase of its work, the Model Editions
Partnership has attempted to clarify the implications of electronic editions for historical documentary editing as now practiced in the U.S.
Modern historical editing in the U.S. dates from
the publication of Julian Boyd’s first volume of
The Papers of Thomas Jefferson in 1950. Although there had been earlier compilations of the
papers of famous Americans, his carefully prepared texts of Jefferson’s letters and other writings,
“warts and all,” set a new standard for accuracy
and reliability. His equally careful selection of
what to include and what not to include reflected
the historian’s thoughtful appraisal of what needed to be set before readers so they could begin to
understand the essential Jefferson. And Boyd’s
incisive commentary provided the context needed
to place Jefferson in the wider world of the American Revolution and the early national period of
American history.
Boyd’s greatest legacy, however, was the model
he set for the generations of historians who followed in his footsteps – editing the letters and documents of a broad range of individuals who played
roles, both large and small, in creating the new
nation. The number of book and microfilm editions which followed in the wake of Boyd’s Jefferson made available hundreds of thousands of
historical documents gathered from repositories
on both sides of the Atlantic and sometimes, both
sides of the Pacific. As historical editors move
toward the age of the digital library, however, they
face the challenge of developing new kinds of
editions in which to present the letters and documents which explain our past. The Model Editions
Partnership is a first step toward meeting that
Principles for Designing Electronic Editions
Although markup is essential, the first task of the
editors was to develop a set of principles to govern
the creation of the markup scheme for the models.
The partnership agreed on five principles of design for an electronic edition.
• The design must accommodate current scholarly editorial practice.
• The design must accommodate changes in
editorial practice.
• The design must accommodate post-publication enhancements.
• The design must accommodate multiple
forms of publication.
• The design must be based on relevant, nonproprietary standards.
These principles are discussed at some length in a
“Prospectus for Electronic Historical Editions”
posted on the Web site of the partnership
( The basic point to be made
here is that the editors wanted a set of clear statements which emphasize that scholarly, not technical, criteria should govern the development of
editions in an electronic environment.
The first three principles address the editors’ scholarly concerns. “Current scholarly editorial practice” encompasses the basic practice of providing
reliable texts of the documents, adequate commentary to explain their historical context, and
tools like good indices to provide intellectual access – all hallmarks of the Boyd tradition. Welldesigned markup must accommodate those practices. “Changes in editorial practice” will certainly
emerge as editors learn to take advantage of the
electronic environment. Even in this early stage of
the partnership, the editors have begun to realize
that new forms of annotation and commentary are
both possible and desirable in electronic editions.
Other changes in the way in which editions are
organized or made accessible to readers are also
likely. “Post-publication enhancements” refer to
the ability to integrate newly-found documents, to
correct misreadings of an existing text, or perhaps
to create a subset of the larger edition which can
be used as a classroom reader. Although we cannot
anticipate all of the needs of future generations of
scholars, we can design our editions so that the
texts are both durable and reusable.
The last two principles address more practical
matters. Because we are in an age of transition in
which historical editions may continue to be published in book and microfilm editions, markup
which accommodates “multiple forms of publication” is important. Well-designed markup will
enable projects that begin as microfilm editions or
projects that begin as book editions to migrate
smoothly to image editions or live-text editions on
CD-ROM or the Web. “Non-proprietary standards” are essential if long-term resources are to
survive in midst of rapidly changing technology.
De facto proprietary standards are simply too volatile. WordStar 3.3 became a kind of de facto
standard for text files in the mid-1980s. Almost
any word processing software could read those
files, a situation which is no longer true. For text
files, the partnership will use the SGML standard
inherent in the TEI Guidelines. Relevant standards
for images and other digital resources have yet to
be determined.
Currently, discussions of editing practice and types of editions use the nature of the printed product
as a touchstone, and it can be hard to disentangle
characteristics of our current editions which are
imposed by the nature of the material and the
intellectual requirements of users from those
which are imposed by the nature of current typesetting.
A Typology for Electronic Editions
In addition to articulating principles to guide the
design for editorial markup, the editors defined a
typology for electronic historical editions. Editors
have a well-developed shorthand for describing
current editions. “Microfilm editions” contain
images of documents and usually have indices and
other access tools, but limited commentary. “Selected Letterpress Editions” are usually based on
microfilm editions and tend to present a small
sample of the documents. They include transcriptions of selected documents, extensive commentary, indices and other editorial apparatus. “Comprehensive Letterpress Editions” are generally
understood to be more exhaustive and may or may
not be based on previous microfilm editions. (The
latter descriptions were developed in the 1950s
when volumes were typeset in hot metal and printed on letterpresses.) A somewhat analogous typology is set forth in the partnership’s Prospectus:
Image Editions, Live-Text Editions, Combined
Editions and Transitional Editions.
Image editions are envisioned as editions which
present images or pictures of historical documents
linked to control files and other types of scholarly
apparatus. Control files usually identify each document, the date it was created, and the repository
which holds the original. Other bits of information
may also be included (the author and recipient of
a letter, copyright information for modern materials, etc.).
Two of the partner projects, one addressing papers
of Abraham Lincoln and the second the papers of
Margaret Sanger, fall into this category. These
projects are creating “silicon microfilms” and both
editions will go far beyond current microfilm editions by providing greater supplementary information; by allowing users to define subsets of the
documents to suit their particular interests; and by
eliminating the necessary tedium of cranking
through reel after reel of film to reach the documents.
The Lincoln Legal Papers is creating a CD-ROM
edition of letters and documents relating to Lincoln’s career as a lawyer before his election as
president. The editors have amassed more than
250,000 photocopies from which they are creating
digital images. Extensive database files are used
to provide item-level control of the collection and
to provide information about the individuals involved, the types of cases at issue, written summaries of the cases, and many other kinds of information. These database files will be used to retrieve
documents and to provide supplementary information about the documents.
The editors of the Margaret Sanger Papers are
planning an equally interesting image edition to
bring together three discrete microfilm collections
totaling more than 300,000 pages. The Sanger
databases provide item-level access as well as
links to four related research files created by the
project: a chronology of Sanger’s day-to-day activities, biographical sketches of prominent correspondents, copyright information regarding individual correspondents, and repository holdings for
the documents. Hypertext links will also bring
together letters, enclosures, and referenced documents which are now separated in the three microfilm collections.
Live-text editions will contain searchable ASCII
transcriptions of documents. They are seen as
being somewhat like letterpress editions, since
transcriptions of documents, commentary, indices
and other scholarly apparatus would form the core
of this kind of edition. The editors of the Papers of
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony are
in the initial phases of creating a six-volume,
selected letterpress edition. Because they are using
computers to prepare the texts and supplementary
materials for print publication, the creation of a
“live-text” edition seems eminently feasible.
Combined editions would include both images of
the documents as well as live-text transcriptions
of the documents. This type of edition would be
well suited for a small classroom “reader” which
provided students with both images and transcriptions of seminal documents like the Declaration of
Independence. This is a concept which has been
incorporated in some of the Library of Congress
exhibits like the Walt Whitman journals and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Transitional editions are seen as a way of bringing
together existing letterpress volumes and subsequent volumes or supplements for which livetext exists. Editions like the Ratification project,
the First Congress project, the Laurens Papers, the
Greene Papers and almost every major edition
began many years ago before computers were used
to prepare material for the printed volume. Most
of these projects also began using word processing
software in the early 1980s and thus have electronic files for their more recent volumes. Because
creating live-text for the early volumes does not
seem financially feasible at this time, we have
proposed that this type of edition combine images
of the printed pages for the early volumes with
live-texts for the later volumes or supplements.
Printed indices for the earlier volumes would be
combined with the electronic indices of later volumes to produce a comprehensive index for the
entire edition. Page numbers in the comprehensive
index would point either to page images or to
live-text as appropriate. Our preliminary experiments indicate that this kind of edition would be
both a technologically feasible and cost-effective
approach to making entire editions available in an
electronic form deliverable on CD-ROM or over
3 Requirements for a MEP Markup
The markup language to be used by the Model
Editions Partnership must meet several requirements:
• It must conform to the Guidelines issued by
the Text Encoding Initiative.
• It must select among the tag sets and tags of
the TEI those which are to be used for MEP
• Where the Guidelines offer several possible
methods of encoding the same phenomena,
it must (where feasible) choose among those
• It must extend the TEI markup language to
handle document types common in historical
editions but not fully treated in the current
version of the Guidelines, or to handle specialized types of annotation or analysis important for historical editions.
The necessity of selection, choice among alternatives, and extension of the existing tag sets are
common to all users of the TEI Guidelines, and so
the account of how the Partnership has gone about
specifying its particular selection and extension of
the Guidelines should be of interest to other potential users of the TEI. In the case of MEP, the
customization of the TEI Guidelines is driven by
the types of documents included in the editions,
the types of interests which editions must serve,
and the variations among editions in transcription
Historical editions may contain virtually any type
of document, but in practice at least half, and often
ninety percent, of the documents in a conventional
historical edition are letters and their enclosures.
Official documents (e.g. legislation or, for legal
editions, court papers) and newspaper accounts
are also relatively common. The TEI Guidelines
have only minimal advice for those encoding historical letters, and virtually no advice for those
encoding official documentary records. New tags,
and refinements of existing tags, will be useful in
ensuring that the sender(s), recipient(s), date(s),
and similar critical attributes of letters are readily
identifiable from the markup.
Because the letters in historical editions are typically not published elsewhere, it is essential that
the edition systematically provide relevant information about each document, including the repository where the original is held, the length and
physical state of the original, etc. Specialized tags
for the description of the source document (in the
TEI header), and for providing repository information (associated with each transcription), will
be very useful.
Electronic image editions will need to document
the creation of their electronic images in the same
way that electronic transcriptions of text document their encoding principles and editorial practice; the TEI header will need extensions to deal
with non-textual, non-SGML data, in order that it
can be used to document images, and not just
transcriptions, of documents.
The paper will identify in some detail the most
important textual features requiring extension of
the TEI markup scheme, and provide examples
both of documents exhibiting these features and of
the proposed markup.
4 Modifying the TEI Markup Scheme
The paper will then illustrate in very concrete
terms the work needed to incorporate extensions
and modifications of the sort needed by MEP into
the SGML document type definition provided by
the TEI. Several files are needed for this purpose;
each file, or portions of it, will be shown and
* a file with redefinitions of some TEI element classes and other parameter entities
* a file with the new and modified SGML
element declarations
* a driver file for the MEP document type
* a tag-set documentation file, providing detailed description of the elements added or
modified by MEP, in the form familiar to
readers of TEI P3 from the second volume
of the Guidelines
In addition to these files, which work together with
the standard TEI DTD, a free-standing version of
the MEP DTD, in a single file, will be generated.
Such free-standing versions of the TEI DTD, including all selections and modifications of the TEI
markup scheme, are useful because they are less
confusing to read, and may be simpler to process,
than the full TEI DTDs together with the local
modification files.
5 What Next?
The paper will conclude with a look forward to the
remaining work of the Model Editions Partnership. After the completion of the MEP markup
scheme, the partnership will encode sizable samples (50 printed pages or more) from each of the
partner editions, using the markup scheme described here. In later phases, the samples will be
distributed together with search and display software in a CD-ROM edition of the MEP sampler.
The CD-ROM edition should demonstrate various
approaches to CD-ROM-based publication of
electronic editions. A companion effort will involve the creation of an Internet-based version of the
sampler, which will demonstrate approaches to
network distribution. The final phase of the project
will involve the completion of extensive documentation of the work of the partnership, in order
that the lessons of this project’s experimentation
can be readily accessible to scholars in the field.

If this content appears in violation of your intellectual property rights, or you see errors or omissions, please reach out to Scott B. Weingart to discuss removing or amending the materials.

Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Bergen

Bergen, Norway

June 25, 1996 - June 29, 1996

147 works by 190 authors indexed

Scott Weingart has print abstract book that needs to be scanned; certain abstracts also available on dh-abstracts github page. (

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (16), ALLC/EADH (23), ACH/ALLC (8)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC