Feminist Markup and Meaningful Text Analysis in Digital Literary Archives

By Schilperoort, Hannah | Library Philosophy and Practice, January 2015 | Go to article overview

Feminist Markup and Meaningful Text Analysis in Digital Literary Archives


Schilperoort, Hannah, Library Philosophy and Practice


Introduction

In this research paper, I look closely at three digital archives of women writers for evidence of feminist encoding practices and text analysis experimentation that supports feminist scholarship. I chose to examine the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Willa Cather Archive, Northeastern University's Women Writers Online, and University of Alberta's Orlando Project because all three archives utilize the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) guidelines and are involved with computer based text analysis projects. The notion and practice of feminist markup has evolved out of the digitization and encoding of women's writing as well as feminist literary criticism. As I examine digital archives of women's writing, I focus on reaching an understanding of encoding practices and attempt to generate a working definition of feminist markup by looking at documentation of markup practices of women's writing. Secondly, I am looking for connections between feminist markup practices and text analysis, especially for evidence that supports or does not support a direct cause and effect relationship between interpretative and critical feminist markup and more meaningful text analysis outcomes.

Statement of Problem

Despite the undisputable interpretative nature of text encoding, traditional digital literary scholars have prioritized structural over overtly interpretive and critical markup in an attempt to produce the most objective and reliable scholarly editions as possible. However, as we will see in the following literature review, critics of this perspective reveal not only the fallacy of objectivity but also the benefits of embracing interpretative and critical markup for scholarly research and text analysis. In particular, in the following literature review, I will explore feminist theories in relation to the digitization and markup of women's writing, along with the possibility of more robust and meaningful text analysis.

Literature Review

Some TEI Basics

Digital literary studies is a subset of digital humanities concerned with digitization of literary texts, preservation and representation of digital texts, computational text analysis, and new ways of data visualization (Siemens and Susan Schreibman xix). Text encoding is a central concern of digital literary studies, contributing to the preservation of digital texts, scholarly editing, and preparation for digital display and computational text analysis. First developed in 1987, the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), which refers both to the set of guidelines used for textual markup as well as the international consortium that maintains the guidelines, is currently the recommended standard of text encoding for digital scholarly texts in the humanities ("TEI: History").

TEI markup includes descriptive metadata about the text in the TEI Header, and structural metadata that identifies and separates the textual elements of the content (Van den Branden, Terras and Vanhoutte). Publication 5 (P5), the current phase of TEI, is expressed in XML (eXtensible Markup Language), which dictates the syntax, the structural and hierarchical layout of textual markup. The TEI guidelines are designed to be open and customizable, and the semantics of the markup is determined by the Document Type Definition (DTD), the agreed upon set of element tags and corresponding attributes, of the particular encoding project ("A Gentle Introduction to XML"; Van den Branden, Terras and Vanhoutte).

One of the primary purposes of TEI is to produce machine-readable texts, enabling a computer to perform functions, such as search retrieval, display or analysis, based on the elements of the text that are marked. Buzzetti and McGann explain: "It is through markup that textual structures show up explicitly and become processable" (64). Structural elements, such as chapters or paragraphs, for example, are marked, enveloped within opening and closing tags denoting the structure, so that they are recognized as such by computer software (64). …

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