TEI and The Mark Twain Project

Digitization of a letter from Samuel Clemens to Jane Lampton

An interesting example of TEI in action is the Mark Twain Project. The stated purpose of this project is to “…produce a digital critical edition, fully annotated, of everything mark twain wrote.” To this end the Project houses a range of digitized materials including: every letter Twain has known to have written, letters written to him or about him, other private papers, many complete and edited texts of his published works, as well as notes and annotations for each for every included text. All together this project makes available, in a  fully-indexed and digital form,  over forty years of scholarly archival research. The quality of this project is so good that it has been named by MLA’s Committee on Scholarly Editions (CSE) as an Approved Edition. A quick look at the Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions shows how rigorous a digital text must be in order to earn “Approved” status.

Included among the MLA’s CSE guidelines for editors is an acknowledgement that “[e]ditorial perspectives range broadly across a spectrum from an interest …and editors may select a given methodology for a variety of reasons.” In light of this fact, the CSE suggests that editors carefully “choose what to attend to, what to represent, and how to represent it, [and require that] there should be a consistent principle that helps in making those decisions.”  As an Approved Edition, the Mark Twain Project takes great pains to explain it’s editorial perspective, and very clearly positions itself as critical project–meaning the editors’ overarching goal is to reproduce a given text  “…exactly, except where the editors thought it contained identifiable, correctable (not just obvious) errors.” Additional information on the project’s editorial  goals is available in the Guide to Editorial Practice.

Most relevant for the this week’s blog question is the decription of how they brought this project online. The Mark Twain Project was no ‘born digital’, rather it was made digital starting in 2002. From the beginning the editors decided to work within the TEI framework. Startinig with a smaller project to encode a series of letters, editors delved into devising a markup and establishing a DTD. With this smaller-scale success they  build the project out to the large-scale and comprehensive site that is currently available. Unfortunately, this description of bringing the project online does not include a description of the editor’s specific mark practice or philosophy. However, the Project does make available an example of their XML markup* on the Recent Changes page, and they include a Technical Summary that describes how they mobilize TEI and how XML encoding enables the search functionalities on the site, as well as XML code snippets.

*Note: markup will not display in Safari; try Firefox instead.

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