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The Text Encoding Initiative and the Study of Literature by James Cummings

This article, by James Cummings, is a long and detailed account of how TEI has evolved and how scholars and editors can use TEI to study literature via digital means. According to the people at www.tei-c.org 
‘TEI’ is short for ‘Text Encoding Initiative’. The TEI is an international organization founded in 1987 to develop guidelines for encoding machine-readable texts in the humanities and social sciences.

Cummings begins his article by discussing these guidelines. At the time of publishing this article he explains that TEI has reached its fifth major version, which is called P5. Cummings describes the TEI Guidelines as being divided into chapters covering many topics. He simplifies them into five main chapters. 

  1. Introductory four chapters: Covering the basics from a Guideline description, to XML, to TEI's infrastructure to language and character sets.
  2. Structure and metadata.
  3. Performance texts through to manuscript description.
  4. Recommendations on the encoding of certainty and responsibility.
  5. Conformance to the TEI Guideline's implementation.
However, what interested me the most about this article was Cummings' third chapter division. It appealed to me because of the recent research i have done on Medieval manuscripts and digitised scholarly editions. Cummings describes this movement as a theoretical one under his heading Textual Criticism and the Electronic Edition. He states that this movement which has had more of a direct influence on the advancement of the TEI is one that is more directly involved with either 
computational linguistics or textual (so-called "lower") criticism.
Cummings understands this because of the nature and uses of electronic texts when the TEI was founded. As a student, I welcome this understanding from Cummings as it depicts him as man who can critises his own area but also encourage the evolution of the TEI to help academically. Further on in this article, Cummings quotes Sperberg-McQueen's (1994) text-critical provisions. Interestingly, more than fifteen years on, these provisions are still applicable through all the changes that have occurred. The first one (and most basic) states that electronic scholarly editions are worth having and so it is important to look at the form they should take. As a student with some Computer Science modules completed, the next few rules make me question what I believe technologically. I have always believed in the technological timeline, like the picture below. My motto from Computer Science studies, was technology should be constantly evolving,  increasing speeds and making it easier for everyone to use. This motto was particularly true when I applied it to the internet. 


On the other hand, when I read the following excerpt from Cummings's article on  Sperberg-McQueen's (1994) text-critical provisions, I changed my mind.
 2.  Electronic scholarly editions should be accessible to the broadest audience possible. They should not require a particular type of computer, or a particular piece of software: unnecessary technical barriers to their use should be avoided.
3.  Electronic scholarly editions should have relatively long lives: at least as long as printed editions. They should not become technically obsolete before they are intellectually obsolete.
When I see how my need to evolute could destroy the work of the TEI and some electronic scholarly editions, the English Student in me stops my longing for the evolution of the internet. I asked myself several times while reading Cummings' article, If it works fine, then why change it?!

However my change of mind was short lived. As previously stated, in the last few months I have researched how The Canterbury Tales (seen here: The Canterbury Tales.) Through my research, I have read a lot of Peter Robinson's articles and views. What was most intriguing to me was Robinson's ability to critises his own field. He wishes for a way in which scholarly digital editions can move along with this technological evolution that we are living through.  He implies that not enough is being done, that this kind of manuscript digitalising must keep up with the times. This pleases both the English and Computer Science student in me. I encourage the use of the internet and the TEI for academic purposes and the use of technology as educational aids.

However, not everything you see on the internet in regards to The Canterbury Tales should be used an educational aid. For example this video called The Canterbury Tales Rap should be watched with caution (and dismay)!!


To conclude, James Cummings is under the same opinion as me. 
"The creations of digital edition is either unproblematic or fully exploits..." 
the advantages of the media in which they are published. Whether this be The Canterbury Tales CD released by Peter Robinson or his co-worker (while at the University of Birmingham) Barbara Bordalejo who has published many Medieval digitised manuscripts or the publishing of databases containing images like the Ellesmere Canterbury Tales by The Huntington Library, California. The TEI guidelines help to procure a valuable framework upon which scholars, students and academics can augment their learning.