In the following interview, Kent Emerson (postdoctoral fellow at the University of Tulsa) discusses his experience as a beta tester of end/line.
How did you discover end/line?
I was notified about end/line by a colleague in my department at the University of Tulsa. I responded to the call for volunteers to test end/line and then when it went live I plugged a poem in and tried it out.
I believe you tested our app during the #dayofdh2017, after having read our tweet about the event. Why did you decide to test end/line? I mean, what aspects of the project interested you?
I wanted to test end/line because I have used TEI as a close reading tool in my own classrooms. I have used Notepad++ as the platform for students to insert the TEI tags and have been successful with it, but obviously Notepad++ doesn’t validate the TEI. In this way, end/line will be a great tool for teaching close reading and text encoding practices.
Do you think end/line is more promising as a pedagogical tool, or rather, may it end up being more useful for those who are looking to learn TEI and encoding skills?
I think end/line is equally valuable for both teaching poetry and TEI. The use of end/line helps students make concrete interpretive decisions about poetry. For instance, I’ve taught Pound’s Cantos using TEI and provided students with a set of tags for encoding people, places, and intertextual references appearing in the poem. Then students were asked to include a secondary structure for linking the references according to semantic content. For students, the use of TEI is usually a new kind of interaction with a text, and though they will likely not master the global tagging structure, they gain useful experience with the application of digital tools onto humanities materials. Further, I think it raises interesting questions about what the text itself asks the reader to do. To use my experience teaching the Cantos again, as the students apply the tags, begin linking the separate references together, they realize the poem is asking them to perform this work in order to interpret it. In this sense, the application of TEI tags raises questions about the role of metadata and how it interacts with the text it encodes and how the practice of encoding (and perhaps the application of digital tools in general) is fundamentally interpretive.
What do you think are the most useful tools/aspects of end/line?
The ease of use is easily the best feature of end/line. Students can be using the tool almost as soon as they paste the text of the poem into the fields. I think it would be nice to add a kind of tag palette into which users could set their tags so they could be copied and pasted quickly into the text they’re encoding. Unless I was using it incorrectly, I didn’t see there was any tag autocomplete feature as there is in Oxygen and the palette could be helpful and save time in its absence.
In what contexts do you think end/line could be successfully employed?
I see end/line primarily as a teaching tool, but can imagine it used in workshop contexts or as a handy way to validate your TEI in the absence of software like Oxygen.
Finally, can you provide a short introduction?
I am Kent Emerson. I received my Ph.D. in English Literature in May of 2016 at the University of Tulsa and am now a postdoctoral fellow on the University of Tulsa’s English department.
20 April was the #dayofdh2017, an annual event that encourages digital humanists to collaborate and interact. This day also marked the first test of end/line, at the Centre for Digital Humanities at Ryerson University in Toronto. Previously, the co-director of the centre, Dr. Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, emailed us during our search for potential beta testers. Enthusiastic about our application, she invited her colleagues to participate in the testing.
And, through Twitter and our outreach campaign, we worked with another scholar, Kent Emerson, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Tulsa, who tested and provided some useful feedback.
By sharing our work with scholars interested in poetry and poetics and TEI, and who had no prior knowledge of end/line, we gained a new perspective on the application. Obviously, most important was the critical feedback, which prompted us to make some front-end changes to better guide users. For example, the initial homepage didn’t fully explain the site’s purpose, so we changed our tagline and deck and added some additional prompts for users with further questions. XML validation was another area of concern for our beta testers, and, consequently we’re working to improve this feature too.
Meanwhile, testers regarded the sign-up, upload, and encoding processes as extremely intuitive and easy. The testers read our FAQs, and this is another positive for us since it validates our decision to feature this page in the top navigation bar. Indeed, the uniform distribution of the answers about the FAQs, showed that users needed help before, during, and after encoding and validation. Among the 25% of testers who considered the FAQs unhelpful, it was interesting to notice that they were confused about the purpose of comparing encodings of the same text—a purpose we regard as fundamental to the site.
Finally, the graphical layout of the website received positive feedbacks (testers chose “good”, “clear”, and “readable” in the list of adjectives we provide them to describe the site’s design and layout). Ultimately, the majority of the testers would like to use end/line in the future, considering it as a useful tool to teach poetry markup, to introduce basics of text markup, prosody, or structural poetry analysis, and to read poetry closely. For this reason, they would like to employ it with students, but also for forthcoming research projects.
How do you develop a visual identify for project so focused on textual encoding? What could convey the reams and reams of alphabetic characters and the angle brackets enclosing them?
While we’d already settled on cool blue/off-white color scheme for end/line (hex values
#fffaf0 for those interested) and monospaced typeface (Letter Gothic Standard) that evokes the text
you might see working the command line, we didn’t have any compelling imagery. The free association began. Poetry.
Text. Versions—maybe some geometric icon with many shapes? XML—XML documents have “tree” structures, so let’s use
something tree-related. Maybe a forest? Or some leaves? Got it, a branch, and angle it like the forward slash you
see so often in XML code. And that’s how we got here.
Let us know if you like (or hate) the new logo, or if you’re interested generally in the project. You should see it on endlineproject.org soon.
As stated in a previous post, end/line will allow users to upload a poetic text of their choosing, encode it, based on TEI Guidelines, and then compare their own encodings with those of others. In the same post, we also emphasized that, because we consider encoding as a form of close reading, we offer users a more direct way to work with TEI.
Yet end/line is not the only TEI-based project focused on poetry in English language—far from it. TEI is also "a consortium which collectively develops and maintains a standard for the representation of texts in digital form" (as reported on TEI homepage), and it’s important to realize how our project fits into the TEI environment. Reviewing some projects listed on the TEI website, many of which are digital editions or repositories, reveals a multitude of initiatives similar to end/line.
For instance, the American Verse Project developed by the University of Michigan Text Initiative and the University of Michigan Press is an archive of American poetry published before 1920: the texts have been coded in SGML with TEI, and users can search by single or associated words and by title and author, though they cannot upload their own texts. Similarly, the British Women Romantic Poets 1789-1832, developed by the University of California, Davis, is "an online scholarly archive consisting of E-text editions" of British female poets "written (not necessarily published) between 1789 and 1832". Texts are selected by an Editorial Advisory Board consisting of scholars, scanned and converted to ASCII format using an OCR software and, finally, imported into a SGML editor; users can browse the texts. Despite the availability of the texts, this is a close project because scholars chose and encoded the texts. The terms used to define some of these projects clearly define their modes of interaction with users: the project that "makes high-resolution images of Dickinson’s surviving manuscripts available in open access, and provides readers with a website through which they can view images of manuscripts" is the Emily Dickinsonarchive , while the place where it is possible to study "the literary history of popular British and American poetry" is the Poetess archive. The same separation between scholarly producers and interested audiences can be found also in projects regarding non-English texts like the Princeton Charrette Project, which explores the tradition of the medieval French text Le Chevalier de la Charrette by Chretien de Troyes; or Dante Search by Università di Pisa, aimed to provide a catalogue of Dante's words in his Latin and vernacular works.
The approach we chose for end/line involves some additional user activity: we’ll allow users, after they create accounts, to upload poetic texts, or search for already-uploaded poetic texts, and encode them. Some projects take a similar angle. For instance, For better for verse, developed by University of Virginia, offers the possibility to choose a poem in a list and to analyze its metrical features by clicking on the different syllables and then submit your result, validated or invalidated by the site. It uses TEI P5 markup, and it includes validation, like end/line, though users cannot upload texts. Prism offers a similar experience because it allows users to choose texts from a list (both poetry and prose) and to highlight words according to specific categories and then visualize the texts based on their actions. Finally, the features offered by the Thomas Grey Archive and the Eighteenth-Century Poetry Archive are intriguing. The former allows users to browse between poems and letters written by Gray, offering also a digital library with links to scanned images of the print editions of the poems. By selecting a poem or a letter, the user finds bibliographical and chronological references and, above all, by clicking on each line, the possibility to insert a personal comment. The latter does the same with a corpus of 265 authors and 1,321 works: by clicking on texts, users find bibliographical, chronological, and metrical data; meanwhile, by clicking on the words themselves, users find properties such as spelling, lemma, and so on.
There’s a wide variety, and a lot of creativity, in TEI-related projects. We hope that end/line will provide a novel take on the field.
The development of end/line, our webapp for the encoding of poetic texts, requires a group of of people, with at least a basic expertise of TEI, as testers.
We have just started to build end/line, so the testing will be approximately at the end of March or in April. We will ask the testers to use our app, either by online or in person meetings (if you reside in NYC area), and to give us back their feedbacks.
Our digital project, end/line, will rely on the TEI Guidelines to allow our users to encode the poetic texts they want to upload. Being TEI a "a consortium which collectively develops and maintains a standard for the representation of texts in digital form" (as reported on TEI homepage), it is important for us to define how our project relates to the TEI Community: indeed, end/line presents some characteristics related to a specific approach and use of the TEI Guidelines that makes it something different from other TEI literary projects.
A brief overlook of other TEI projects, enlisted on the TEI website, is a good way to understand how end/line will relate to them and to the community. First of all, the great majority of these projects have been developed by scholars, universities, or other research centers as tools to improve the knowledge of specific authors, languages, or literary genres. Reading the list, we can find a lot of digital or scholarly editions of books and texts already published in a paper edition, written by the same author or collected from authors writing in a specific period or a specific geographic area; most of them can be considered as archives or repositories. More importantly, they usually offer the user only a passive experience: users can indeed browse the corpus doing research by words, authors, etc. but they can not usually choose freely within a large corpus, but only choose between a limited number of texts chosen by other people. The didactic approach pursued by these projects enlarge the knowledge of authors, periods, and texts by offering users a more direct contact with them; but this is only a limited contact, and the experience offered to users is passive. TEI Guidelines are followed for the encoding of the texts by marking the different components of the text structure in order to provide users the key terms for their research.
End/line will instead propose as a more interactive and collaborative project. Relying on some of the main principles of Digital Humanities like openness and collaboration, it will allow users the possibility to upload their own poetic text and to encode them. The main idea behind end/line is indeed that encoding is a form of close reading: this reinforces the didactical premise of the project, aiming to directly involve users in a process that - asking them to mark different components of the poems - is also an analysis of the text that implies its comprehension. And this didactical process will be reinforced because, after the encoding, the user can compare his own encoding with the work of other users on the same text.
End/line will pursue the same didactic purpose of others TEI projects but in a different way: it will indeed be more open, offering everyone the possibility to be involved in an encoding process, and it will allow users to increase their expertise of literary text through a direct employment of a digital tool. In this way, also the knowledge and proficiency of TEI will be directly assessed through the direct use of TEI guidelines.