To theme or not to theme?

After the November EC/ASECS conference and the Thanksgiving holiday–as well as working on other projects, like my Kinski paper–I’m now back to work on the database. While I have a basic working model, I still need to put it online, and there are several other issues I’m trying to work through before I need more help from people who know more than I. I am currently working on adding basic references and personography details, and rethinking the thematic markup. Each time I think I have a thematic schema, something emerges to undermine, complicate, or destabilize it. Any thematic assessment is necessarily interpretive, and I am not sure how elaborate my interpretive additions should be. As Jerome McGann and Dino Buzzetti have aptly noted, “Markup…is essentially ambivalent” and it “should not be thought of as introducing—as being able to introduce—a fixed and stable layer to the text. To approach textuality in this way is to approach it in illusion.” This is especially evident when attempting a thematic markup, but it is also an issue when identifying what to note in, for instance, a personography. The questions that I have, or rather, that I think students will get meaning out of without overly biasing or directing their engagements with the texts, will emerge as more or less evident given how I structure and mark up the materials. Thematic markup has the real potential to take agency away from the student reader, rather than helping the student reader place the excerpt in a larger material context, which, despite our efforts at informational literacy, still eludes many. Additionally, the fulltext search feature is generally sufficient for keyword thematic analysis. For the time being, therefore, I have chosen not to incorporate thematic analysis in the XML, but I do want to explore issues of personography, bibliography, allusion, reference, and structure.

Some of the next steps are to determine what needs to be removed from the header information (that is, what I can put in a separate file or elsewhere, so as not to duplicate it in each file); identify key names/dates/places/references and consider how they may best be marked up;  and adapt the XQL to account for some of these changes (those that affect display). Then, a big project I hope to have some help tackling is upgrading my server, installing eXist-db (and other necessary packages), and installing a live working copy!

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