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Next-Gen Manuscript Descriptions: A Case for the Reconsideration of the Manuscript Description Module of the TEI Guidelines

Katarzyna Anna Kapitan; N. Kıvılcım Yavuz

Abstract

The application of TEI-XML in manuscript studies has increased dramatically in recent years, as attested by projects such as the Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland, Digital Catalogue of Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts in Sweden and the renewed manuscript catalogue of the Bodleian Libraries. This creates a need for training on and tutorials and resources for the TEI msDesc module, including examples of best practices. While there are detailed examples for msContents as part of the Guidelines and elsewhere, the physDesc as well as history and additional information are not as developed nor detailed.

Although general outlines for these elements are provided as part of the msDesc module of the Guidelines, and ENRICH and MASTERS projects advanced significantly the application of TEI in manuscript studies, recently SIGs have been focusing mostly on digital editions and publishing. Furthermore, at several points the Guidelines assume that the information that will be encoded already exists and leaves it up to the encoder whether it should be “marked up simply as a series of p elements.” Such a description, however, will not allow one to apply digital tools and methods for the extraction and analysis of information in order to ask and answer new research questions.

Drawing on our experiences in teaching TEI-XML to manuscript scholars, we propose to create a new SIG devoted specifically to manuscript descriptions, focusing especially on 10.7 Physical Description, 10.8 History and 10.9 Additional Information of the TEI Guidelines. We suggest reconsidering existing elements and expanding these sections as necessary by creating new elements and attributes with examples. We believe these can then be easily incorporated by manuscript cataloguers as well as in teaching programs, especially if there are freely available XSLT for conversion into HTML and data extraction, as well as a basic schema.

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