WWP The Project Newsletter Archive Volume 2, Number 1 Developments on the Electronic Frontier

Developments on the Electronic Frontier

by Ana Porter, Encoder

The character of our electronic textbase has changed radically over the course of the last nine years. This change has been the result of the recent advances in text encoding technology as well as a shift in our conception of the mission of the WWP.

In the early days of the WWP, texts were transcribed with all their salient features described in raw Script commands: instructions to the mainframe computer describing the appearance of the page. At that time, the WWP emphasized traditional print publishing, through arrangements with Oxford University Press. Literary features within the texts were described only insofar as they affected the word processing of the document. Texts encoded in this way were system-dependent in the sense that they could only be used on one computer system.

The next stage in the evolution of the textbase involved a shift from a system-dependent encoding method to one best described as "almost-SGML." During the years 1989 to 1992, the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) was publishing the early drafts of its Guidelines for Text Encoding. At the same time, WWP's SGML Programmer, Syd Bauman, and others at the WWP, were attempting to gradually bring our textbase into compliance with at least the spirit of SGML, if not the letter. Texts were transcribed with SGML-like pointy-brackets and literary features were encoded regardless of whether they affected printout.

Today, we are in the third stage of textbase development. By making all WWP texts completely conformant to the third published version of the TEI guidelines, we are converting the entire textbase to "real SGML." This process has been a slow one, but it has been facilitated by the use of SGML software which allows us to validate each text against ever more rigorous DTDs. A DTD is a "Document Type Definition," and as its name suggests, it describes the structure and constituent parts of a given type of document and how these parts relate to one another. Our DTDs and texts are now almost completely SGML-conformant.

At the WWP we are constantly debating the philosophical issues that arise over text markup. The questions raised at the WWP address issues that lie at the heart of text-encoding debates worldwide. As our staff has increased in size we are becoming more thorough in our documentation of these debates and the subsequent decisions that we reach. This documentation is accomplished through electronic discussion lists such as WWPTAG-L and through a database maintained by Julia Flanders, Textbase Editor. Within a month, we plan to begin encoding fresh texts, this time in complete conformance with SGML standards from the outset. In this way we hope to maintain a rich and ever-growing body of women's literature that is system-independent and has all the functionality and advantages of a true SGML textbase.

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