Innovations 2013: TEI and XML for Humanists

TEI and XML for Humanists: A Report from the Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer Seminar

How and why do humanists use programming? XML (eXtensible Mark-up Language) is an accessible but robust syntax for making texts machine-readable, and the Text Encoding Initiative has developed standards for describing texts through XML. These mark-up syntaxes, in conjunction with XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations), allow the humanist to make primary source materials accessible to new kinds of scholars who use technology to see connections in large datasets. Examples of scholarship using these technologies include the Swinburne Archives, the London Lives project, and the Electronic Enlightenment project; both are built on encoding platforms that originate in XML to provide relational data among interconnected documents, often in visual form. This presentation—a report from the 2013 DHOxSS—will contain a hands-on component to introduce faculty to the concept of TEI/XML for projects in the humanities. Resources will be available at (search for “innovations” or “DHOxSS”).

Today, we’ll learn a little bit about what XML and TEI are good for, look at some examples, and then I’ll ask you to try your hand at basic structural markup on a piece of literature. Keep in mind that you can create your own schemas and doctypes, so the sky really is the limit–of course, if not standardized, your work may not be legible to others. But, since we’re only going to be peeping into the abyss, we won’t worry too much about whether your documents are valid or draw accurately on a specific standard. Feel free to make up some tags!


A Very Gentle Introduction to TEI

Getting Started Using TEI (Oxford)

TEI Structures (Oxford)

TEI by Example

TEI Handout, Poetry Edition (UVa)

Samples that I’m working on (The Tatler No.238; Mary Hays)

Sample highly marked-up Swinburne poem, “On the Cliffs” (should open in browser; if not, right-click, save as, and open with wordpad, notepad, or the equivalent)

Sample visualization created using the encoded “On the Cliffs”, by John Walsh

Presentation on “‘Quivering web of living thought’: Conceptual Networks in Swinburne’s Songs of the Springtides.”  (see slides 16-20 for thematic encoding)

TEI Template (UVa) (copy the template code into a new notepad, wordpad, or equivalent program; we’ll use this to play!)

Stuff to Work With

Choose one of the following excerpts to try your hand at encoding.


Text 1

Preface to The Memoirs of Emma Courtney, by Mary Hays (1796)

The most interesting, and the most useful, fictions, are, perhaps, such, as delineating the progress, and tracing the consequences, of one strong, indulged, passion, or
prejudice, afford materials, by which the philosopher may calculate the powers of the human mind, and learn the springs which set it in motion—’Understanding, and talents,’ says Helvetius, ‘being nothing more, in men, than the produce of their desires, and particular situations.’ Of the passion of terror Mrs Radcliffe has made admirable use in her ingenious romances.—In the novel of Caleb Williams, curiosity in the hero, and the love of reputation in the soul-moving character of Falkland, fostered into ruling passions, are drawn with a masterly hand.

For the subject of these Memoirs, a more universal sentiment is chosen—a sentiment hackneyed in this species of composition, consequently more difficult to treat with any degree of originality;—yet, to accomplish this, has been the aim of the author; with what success, the public will, probably, determine.

Every writer who advances principles, whether true or false, that have a tendency to set the mind in motion, does good. Innumerable mistakes have been made, both moral and philosophical:—while covered with a sacred and mysterious veil, how are they to be detected? From various combinations and multiplied experiments, truth, only, can result. Free thinking, and free speaking, are the virtue and the characteristics of a rational being:—there can be no argument which mitigates against them in one instance, but what equally mitigates against them in all; every principle must be doubted, before it will be examined and proved.

It has commonly been the business of fiction to pourtray characters, not as they really exist, but, as, we are told, they ought to be—a sort of ideal perfection, in which
nature and passion are melted away, and jarring attributes wonderfully combined.

In delineating the character of Emma Courtney, I had not in view these fantastic models: I meant to represent her, as a human being, loving virtue while enslaved by
passion, liable to the mistakes and weaknesses of our fragile nature.—Let those readers, who feel inclined to judge with severity the extravagance and eccentricity of her conduct, look into their own hearts; and should they there find no record, traced by an accusing spirit, to soften the asperity of their censures—yet, let them bear in mind, that the errors of my heroine were the offspring of sensibility; and that the result of her hazardous experiment is calculated to operate as a warning, rather than as an example.—The philosopher—who is not ignorant, that light and shade are more powerfully contrasted in minds rising above the common level; that, as rank weeks take strong root in a fertile soil, vigorous powers not unfrequently produce fatal mistakes and pernicious exertions; that character is the produce of a lively and constant affection—may, possibly, discover in these Memoirs traces of reflection, and of some attention to the phænomena of the human mind.

Whether the incidents, or the characters, are copied from life, is of little importance—The only question is, if the circumstances, and situations, are altogether improbable? If not—whether the consequences might not have followed from the circumstances?—This is a grand question, applicable to all the purposes of education, morals, and legislation—and on this I rest my moral—’Do men gather figs of thorns, or grapes of thistles?’ asked a moralist and a reformer.

Every possible incident, in works of this nature, might, perhaps, be rendered probable, were a sufficient regard paid to the more minute, delicate, and connecting links of the chain. Under this impression, I chose, as the least arduous, a simple story—and, even in that, the fear of repetition, of prolixity, added, it may be, to a portion of indolence, made me, in some parts, neglectful of this rule:—yet, in tracing the character of my heroine from her birth, I had it in view. For the conduct of my hero, I consider myself less responsible—it was not his memoirs that I professed to write.

I am not sanguine respecting the success of this little publication. It is truly observed, by the writer of a late popular novel—’That an author, whether good or bad, or between both, is an animal whom every body is privileged to attack; for, though all are not able to write books, all conceive themselves able to judge them. A bad composition carries with it its own punishment—contempt and ridicule:—a good one excites envy, and (frequently) entails upon its author a thousand mortifications.’

To the feeling and the thinking few, this production of an active mind, in a season of impression, rather than of leisure, is presented.

Text 2:

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler No. 4.  Saturday, 31 March 1750.

Simul et jucunda et idonea dicere vitae. —Horace, Ars Poetica

The works of fiction, with which the present generation seems more particularly delighted, are such as exhibit life in its true state, diversified only by accidents that daily happen in the world, and influenced by passions and qualities which are really to be found in conversing with mankind.

This kind of writing may be termed not improperly the comedy of romance, and is to be conducted nearly by the rules of comic poetry. Its province is to bring about natural events by easy means, and to keep up curiosity without the help of wonder: it is therefore precluded from the machines and expedients of the heroic romance, and can neither employ giants to snatch away a lady from the nuptial rites, nor knights to bring her back from captivity; it can neither bewilder its personages in desarts, nor lodge them in imaginary castles.

I remember a remark made by Scaliger upon Potanus, that all his writings are filled with the same images; and that if you take from him his lillies and his roses, his satyrs and his dryads, he will have nothing left that can be called poetry. In like manner, almost all the fictions of the last age will vanish, if you deprive them of a hermit and a wood, a battle and a shipwreck.

Why this wild strain of imagination found reception so long, in polite and learned ages, it is not easy to conceive; but we cannot wonder that, while readers could be procured, the authors were willing to continue it: for when a man had by practice some fluency of language, he had no further care than to retire to his closet, let loose his invention, and heat his mind with incredibilities; a book was thus produced without fear of criticism, without the toil of study, without knowledge of nature, or acquaintance with life.

The task of our present writers is very different; it requires, together with that learning which is to be gained from books, that experience which can never be attained by solitary diligence, but must arise from general converse, and accurate observation of the living world. Their performances have, as Horace expresses it, plus oneris quantum veniae minus, little indulgence, and therefore more difficulty. They are engaged in portraits of which every one knows the original, and can detect any deviation from exactness of resemblance. Other writings are safe, except from the malice of learning, but these are in danger from every common reader; as the slipper ill executed was censured by a shoemaker who happened to stop in his way at the Venus of Apelles.

But the fear of not being approved as just copyers of human manners, is not the most important concern that an author of this sort ought to have before him. These books are written chiefly to the young, the ignorant, and the idle, to whom they serve as lectures of conduct, and introductions into life. They are the entertainment of minds unfurnished with ideas, and therefore easily susceptible of impressions; not fixed by principles, and therefore easily following the current of fancy; not informed by experience, and consequently open to every false suggestion and partial account.

That the highest degree of reverence should be paid to youth, and that nothing indecent should be suffered to approach their eyes or ears; are precepts extorted by sense and virtue from an ancient writer, by no means eminent for chastity of thought. The same kind, tho’ not the same degree of caution, is required in every thing which is laid before them, to secure them from unjust prejudices, perverse opinions, and incongruous combinations of images.

In the romances formerly written, every transaction and sentiment was so remote from all that passes among men, that the reader was in very little danger of making any application to himself; the virtues and crimes were equally beyond his sphere of activity; and he amused himself with heroes and with traitors, deliverers and persecutors, as with beings of another species, whose actions were regulated upon motives of their own, and who had neither faults nor excellences in common with himself.

But when an adventurer is levelled with the rest of the world, and acts in such scenes of the universal drama, as may be the lot of any other man; young spectators fix their eyes upon him with closer attention, and hope by observing his behaviour and success to regulate their own practices, when they shall be engaged in the like part.

For this reason these familiar histories may perhaps be made of greater use than the solemnities of professed morality, and convey the knowledge of vice and virtue with more efficacy than axioms and definitions. But if the power of example is so great, as to take possession of the memory by a kind of violence, and produce effects almost without the intervention of the will, care ought to be taken that, when the choice is unrestrained, the best examples only should be exhibited; and that which is likely to operate so strongly, should not be mischievous or uncertain in its effects.

The chief advantage which these fictions have over real life is, that their authors are at liberty, tho’ not to invent, yet to select objects, and to cull from the mass of mankind, those individuals upon which the attention ought most to be employ’d; as a diamond, though it cannot be made, may be polished by art, and placed in such a situation, as to display that lustre which before was buried among common stones.

It is justly considered as the greatest excellency of art, to imitate nature; but it is necessary to distinguish those parts of nature, which are most proper for imitation: greater care is still required in representing life, which is so often discoloured by passion, or deformed by wickedness. If the world be promiscuously described, I cannot see of what use it can be to read the account; or why it may not be as safe to turn the eye immediately upon mankind, as upon a mirror which shows all that presents itself without discrimination.

It is therefore not a sufficient vindication of a character, that it is drawn as it appears, for many characters ought never to be drawn; nor of a narrative, that the train of events is agreeable to observation and experience, for that observation which is called knowledge of the world, will be found much more frequently to make men cunning than good. The purpose of these writings is surely not only to show mankind, but to provide that they may be seen hereafter with less hazard; to teach the means of avoiding the snares which are laid by Treachery for Innocence, without infusing any wish for that superiority with which the betrayer flatters his vanity; to give the power of counteracting fraud, without the temptation to practise it; to initiate the youth by mock encounters in the art of necessary defense, and to increase prudence without impairing virtue.


Text 3:

Ann Wingrove, Letters Moral and Entertaining (1795)


Reject that vulgar error, which appears
So fair, of making perfect characters:
There’s no such thing in nature, and you’ll draw
A faultless monster which the world ne’er saw.

—Duke of Buckingham’s Essay on Poetry.

YOU tell me, my dear Delia, you have been reading a novel, in which the character of a Clergyman pleases you so much, that you should have no objection to become a wife to such a man. […] I was rather surprised to hear you had been reading a novel, having heard you express a dislike to the tendency of such kind of books; but having in one of them seen and admired the character just mentioned, I think it necessary to warn you against supposing it possible for any clerical youth you know to arrive at such a degree of perfection….


Many sensible parents intirely disapprove of young people’s reading novels; others are so fond of that fort of reading themselves, that they permit their children to read scarcely any other books. In my opinion, young women should read a novel only as a temporary amusement, not to seek examples for their own conduct through life; therefore those whose situations are in towns or cities, (where they are sometimes permitted to partake of rational diversions) should make choice of such authors as will teach them to be religious, patient, benevolent, and industrious; and if any book should be published that will tend to inculcate these qualities in the youthful mind, I humbly conceive they cannot be less instructive, if interspersed with matter of amusement; but as a late sensible writer has given her sentiments on this subject so intirely accordant with my own, I mall transcribe them for your perusal:

“The present rage for novels, (says this sensible writer) and your particular application to me, lead me to make remarks upon the general effects that may arise from the frequent perusal of these publications. There are books of this description which deserve the highest commendation; and when we meet with characters struggling with magnaminity, under under complicated distresses, we may be led to think that they are examples worthy imitation; but whether these details are conducive to the advantage of the two sexes, or not, ought to be fully investigated, as the characters should be, in many particulars, totally dissimilar. Hence it follows, that what is beneficial to one sex, may be detrimental to the other; and this obvious conclusion will assist in solving the question concerning the advantage or disadvantage of novels towards forming the youthful and unexperienced mind. I am of opinion that it is very desirable for a young man to form an attachment to a virtuous woman. Such a passion calls forth the noblest feelings, raises in his mind an emulation to make himself worthy of the beloved object, and is often the means of inducing him to apply with increased diligence to any particular profession, business, or science, which may promote his success in life. Every sort of reading, therefore, which awakens the feelings of virtuous love in his breast, may safely and prudently be encouraged. But when I consider a girl, who is nearly entering into life with a susceptible heart, instead of recommending hovels in general to her perusal, I would strongly dissuade her from reading them. Women’s situations are very delicate; their inclinations, when of the purest kind, lead them to wish to please, and to become an object of love to one amiable and respectable character of the other sex; to one alone their wishes ought to be bounded, and they ever will be so in women that are truly amiable. I am of opinion, that not more than one woman in fifty has it in her power to marry the man whom she would really prefer to all others. Women are to conceal their feelings, although they like any of the other sex, or they will appear bold, and become objects of ridicule; and a lady of delicacy would rather die than first disclose her partiality.”

“Such being the situation of women, I would recommend them to read history in preference to novels, and to cultivate any particular pursuit to which their genius leads them. By having their minds properly occupied, they will be in less danger of forming a romantic attachment; or, if they should be caught in the snare unexpectedly, and should have fixed their affections where they can meet with no return, they may (by calling reason to their aid) have strength of mind sufficient to enable them to drive from their thoughts a person whom it may be necessary for their peace to think of no more.”

I am,

Dear Delia,

Most affectionately yours,



Text 4:

An Essay on Criticism, by Alexander Pope (1711)

‘Tis hard to say, if greater Want of Skill
Appear in Writing or in Judging ill,
But, of the two, less dang’rous is th’ Offence,
To tire our Patience, than mis-lead our Sense:
Some few in that, but Numbers err in this,
Ten Censure wrong for one who Writes amiss;
Fool might once himself alone expose,
Now One in Verse makes many more in Prose.

‘Tis with our Judgments as our Watches, none
Go just alike, yet each believes his own. [10]
In Poets as true Genius is but rare,
True Taste as seldom is the Critick‘s Share;
Both must alike from Heav’n derive their Light,
These born to Judge, as well as those to Write.
Let such teach others who themselves excell,
And censure freely who have written well.
Authors are partial to their Wit, ’tis true,
But are not Criticks to their Judgment too?

Yet if we look more closely, we shall find
Most have the Seeds of Judgment in their Mind; [20]
Nature affords at least a glimm’ring Light;
The Lines, tho’ touch’d but faintly, are drawn right.
But as the slightest Sketch, if justly trac’d,
Is by ill Colouring but the more disgrac’d,
So by false Learning is good Sense defac’d.
Some are bewilder’d in the Maze of Schools,
And some made Coxcombs Nature meant but Fools.
In search of Wit these lose their common Sense,
And then turn Criticks in their own Defence.
Each burns alike, who can, or cannot write, [30]
Or with a Rival‘s or an Eunuch‘s spite.
All Fools have still an Itching to deride,
And fain wou’d be upon the Laughing Side;
If Maevius Scribble in Apollo‘s spight,
There are, who judge still worse than he can write

Some have at first for Wits, then Poets past,
Turn’d Criticks next, and prov’d plain Fools at last;
Some neither can for Wits nor Criticks pass,
As heavy Mules are neither Horse or Ass.
Those half-learn’d Witlings, num’rous in our Isle, [40]
As half-form’d Insects on the Banks of Nile:
Unfinish’d Things, one knows now what to call,
Their Generation’s so equivocal:
To tell ’em, wou’d a hundred Tongues require,
Or one vain Wit‘s, that might a hundred tire.

But you who seek to give and merit Fame,
And justly bear a Critick’s noble Name,
Be sure your self and your own Reach to know.
How far your GeniusTaste, and Learning go;
Launch not beyond your Depth, but be discreet, [50]
And mark that Point where Sense and Dulness meet.

Nature to all things fix’d the Limits fit,
And wisely curb’d proud Man’s pretending Wit:
As on the Land while here the Ocean gains,
In other Parts it leaves wide sandy Plains;
Thus in the Soul while Memory prevails,
The solid Pow’r of Understanding fails;
Where Beams of warm Imagination play,
The Memory‘s soft Figures melt away.
One Science only will one Genius fit; [60]
So vast is Art, so narrow Human Wit;
Not only bounded to peculiar Arts,
But oft in those, confin’d to single Parts.
Like Kings we lose the Conquests gain’d before,
By vain Ambition still to make them more:
Each might his sev’ral Province well command,
Wou’d all but stoop to what they understand.

First follow Nature, and your Judgment frame
By her just Standard, which is still the same:
Unerring Nature, still divinely bright, [70]
One clearunchang’d and Universal Light,
Life, Force, and Beauty, must to all impart,
At once the Source, and End, and Test of Art.
Art from that Fund each just Supply provides,
Works without Show, and without Pomp presides:
In some fair Body thus th’ informing Soul
With Spirits feeds, with Vigour fills the whole,
Each Motion guides, and ev’ry Nerve sustains;
It self unseen, but in th’ Effects, remains.
Some, to whom Heav’n in Wit has been profuse. [80]
Want as much more, to turn it to its use,
For Wit and Judgment often are at strife,
Tho’ meant each other’s Aid, like Man and Wife.
‘Tis more to guide than spur the Muse’s Steed;
Restrain his Fury, than provoke his Speed;
The winged Courser, like a gen’rous Horse,
Shows most true Mettle when you check his Course.


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