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What is the Text Encoding Initiative?

Lou Burnard

Conclusion: what is the TEI?

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1When we talk about the TEI what do we mean? The administrative body which is supported financially by the members of the Text Encoding Initiative Consortium? When we say the TEI sent me this newsletter or we support the TEI we are probably talking about the Consortium as an organization. But when we say The TEI now supports markup of musical notation or The TEI now provides methods for the encoding of genetic editions we are talking about something rather different — the technical content of the TEI Guidelines. And when we say that’s a really TEI point of view (for example, with reference to best practice in the long-term archiving of digital resources) or the TEI exemplifies our approach to open source we’re clearly talking about something more than either a set of technical recommendations or the people who maintain or who choose to use them. Some people talk about the TEI as it were a kind of club or religion, with members and non-believers, to which some aspire and from which others wish to distinguish themselves. Within the noisy market place of the Digital Humanities, the TEI is a kind of senior member, an annoying parental figure for some, a benevolent one for others, something just too old-fashioned even to be considered for others. Yet, over the last decade, it has become increasingly clear that the TEI is part of what makes the digital humanities happen: it has become a part of the infrastructure everyone has to engage with, both technically and socially, once they start thinking about text or other forms of cultural resource in digital form. The TEI provides a toolkit with which to do that thinking, and, most importantly, it also reflects the thinking that is done, both in its preoccupations and its occasional oddities. It is this sense of TEI, as an information architecture, which we have used throughout most of this text. However, it seems appropriate to conclude with some consideration of the TEI as an organization.

2One of the odder things about the TEI, from some perspectives at least, is that it is not a government agency like ANSI, or a well-funded international organization like ISO, or an industrial consortium like the W3C, though organizationally the TEI Consortium has points in common with all of these. The TEI is a not-for-profit membership organization, powered entirely by a small amount of funding from institutions and individuals who care enough about its activities to put money into their support and maintenance and also by a large amount of volunteer effort from institutions and individuals who want to contribute to its continued development. Every year, the TEI hosts a conference where the membership meets to transact the necessary official business of electing officers, and of course to discuss the ways in which the TEI is intellectually strong or weak. The community of those using the TEI and contributing to its continued development is however much larger than the paid-up membership. Any interested person is free to propose modifications or extensions to the system, or to report errors or inconsistencies - and many people do. The TEI maintains an elected Technical Council which is responsible for assessing and acting upon all proposed modifications and managing production of regular new releases. This process is carried out in public, in the spirit of Open Source development. We thus find it natural to refer to the TEI Community, even though the boundaries and constituents of that user community remain largely uncharted. It is that community which owns the TEI, which speaks for it in the larger Humanities community, and which informs and determines its evolution.

3The word evolution is not chosen lightly. The TEI of 2013 is not the same as that of 1998, nor even as that of 2009, although most of the element names are still the same. The organization and flexibility of the TEI as a system architecture enables it to adapt to the changing needs and priorities of its community, in much the same way as other life forms have evolved in response to a changing environment. In Burnard 2013 I have argued that this is the secret of the TEI’s longevity: it is organized in such a way as to ensure that it can be modified simply and effectively, depending on the needs of its users. It seems likely therefore that the TEI will continue to evolve, both in taking on new areas of encoding, and in modifying what has already been proposed to keep up with the changing digital landscape. At the end of 2010, for example, release 2.0 of TEI P5 introduced a whole new way of representing genetic or documentary editions defined over the preceding year by an externally-funded workgroup. A method of making TEI documents interoperable with a new standard for the representation of notated music was introduced at about the same time. More recently, ongoing work in the TEI’s Special Interest Group on Ontologies ensures that TEI encoded texts will continue to be hospitable to emerging best practice in representing Linked Data.

4The TEI as an organization is committed to improving the accessibility and comprehensibility of the TEI as a technical system. In addition to the TEI website, which acts as a complete online reference for the scheme, there is a continual need to provide up to date training materials, and to promote active engagement with those interested in using, developing, and maintaining the TEI by wikis, discussion groups, and whatever other appropriate means emerge in the future. The development of such resources is an ongoing task for all members of the TEI community and beyond. This little book is intended as a modest contribution to that agenda.


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