Democracy in Encoding

To be honest, I’m still confused about the differences between XML and TEI and all of the other loud, angry, high-tech acronyms that this reading shouted out at me. I looked up videos on YouTube to try to clarify things, and I found a few useful basic introductions (, but I still don’t fully grasp all of the concepts and examples provided by the reading. I reread sentences and tried to transform my mind from a human brain into a robotic intellect. I somehow expected to immediately understand and remember every little aspect of encoding. But learning these metalanguages seems to very closely resemble learning any language; at first glance, it seems impossible to comprehend, but then once you start to learn the basics and gradually progress into more complex territory, suddenly it all starts to make sense (or so I’m hoping). I’m fascinated by this new behind-the-scenes look into the world of computers and software. I want to learn how these metalanguages work and how people have been using them. I’m eager to apply these skills to the life histories that we have been entrusted with. But first I have to realize that I won’t immediately get all of this overnight, that this is a whole new way of thinking that has been invisible to me for years.

The TEI Consortium seems to contain democratic ideals. Its “four fundamental principles” include the requirements that “The TEI guidelines, other documentation, and DTD should be free to users,” “Participation in TEI-C activities should be open (even to non-members) at all levels,” “The TEI-C should be internationally and interdisciplinarily representative,” and “No role with respect to the TEI-C should be without term.” These principles are impressive with their out-right focus on open access and widespread representation. Yet my mind goes back to a previous week of class, in which we discussed whether or not coding should be taught in schools, and if so, to what extent. How democratic can these metalanguages be if I barely knew they existed until now, in college, an institution that many people don’t have easy access to? How many people actually put in the effort to learn these skills, and how useful are they in the everyday world, regardless of one’s career? Computers are everywhere; should most of those who use them also know the behind-the-scenes aspects of them, such as encoding?

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2 Responses to Democracy in Encoding

  1. Nicole Martin says:

    Hi, Krista!

    It sounds like we experienced similarly overwhelming introductions to the digital world of TEI and XML this week. Like you, as I moved from section to section, I became frustrated, struggling to follow the technical terminology and patterns. As you noted, markup is a language (fun fact: my dad tells me that when he was studied Computer Science during the early 1980s, NC State allowed him to count his software courses towards the university’s foreign language requirements). Just as I wouldn’t expect to pick up a textbook on Japanese and immediately feel comfortable writing crafting the characters, I have to remind myself that understanding TEI will take practice. The process will likely be challenging, but, in response to your final questions, I believe that it will be worth it and that everyone should look beyond seeing computers as black boxes. Not only does learning to encode develop critical thinking skills, but it also makes users more aware, and possibly in control, of the forces which affect their daily lives.

    It was a pleasure to read your blog post!


  2. Thomas Alexander says:

    I definitely feel for the plight of the confused TEI learner. (I had enough trouble understanding the readings, let alone actually applying them. I’m hoping it gets easier as you go.) Your point about the democracy of the TEI Consortium is also interesting. It made me think about the state of democracy in the United States. Voter turnout in the United States has hovered between 50 and 60% for the past century or so, which isn’t great. (Although initial primary data shows a possible improvement. Yay!) For the most part, that’s a conscious choice by individuals not to participate either because of laziness, long lines at voting stations, political frustration, etc. The democracy of TEI also has a low turnout though. However, its turnout isn’t linked to individuals usually, but rather systems of education. Before this class, I couldn’t tell you anything about TEI and I think that’s an issue. I like the idea of the TEI Consortium being based upon democratic principles, but it seems to fall apart if TEI, or coding in general, isn’t taught in schools or made widely available through other means. Although, that isn’t really the fault of the TEI Consortium but a failure of society as a whole.

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