Who’s Talking About Wilde? Encoding Dialogue in the Texting Wilde Project

I am new to the Digital Humanities environment and am very pleased to have the opportunity to write about my experiences thus far for this year’s Day of DH.

Wildes AgainI have been working under the supervision of Dr. Jason Boyd for three months on his Texting Wilde Project (TWP), which works to develop computer assisted methodologies for the analysis of large bodies of biographical texts relating to the life, works, and aesthetic philosophies of Oscar Wilde. So far I have worked on transcribing two documents that I extracted from the Internet Archive: People I Have Met: Short Sketches of Many Prominent Persons (1890) by Mrs. Mary Watson and The Aesthetic Movement in England (1882) by Walter Hamilton. I have marked up the texts using Dr. Boyd’s customization of the Text Encoding Initiative’s P5 Guidelines. Most of my work can be said to focus on the Personography of the texts in relation to Wilde’s life: linking notable people, places, organizations, and sources to the corpus of Wilde’s biography.

Though I faced minor encoding problems in Watson’s People I Have Met, —nothing Dr. Boyd wasn’t able to help me work through—I was conceptually challenged with one section of Hamilton’s dense text. In The Aesthetic Movement in England, Hamilton fails to cite his sources adequately, making it difficult to align the speakers and dialogue. This is integral as the TWP has a goal in how we want to mark up conversations, and this is a particularly tricky situation that challenged our encoding process. What was deduced from Hamilton’s work is that he is quoting a piece in a British newspaper that is reporting on an article in an American newspaper which is full of conversations between a New York by-line speaker and Wilde, and then concludes with Wilde talking about himself. The headers in Hamilton’s work include “Oscar Interviewed,” “His Aesthetic Philosophy,” and “He Speaks for Himself”; however, Hamilton never elucidates who is speaking or reporting the conversation. I thought at one point, “Why is the Herald reporter talking about himself in third person?” In fact, it’s actually the British reporter talking about the New York Herald.

I hope I am not confusing you when writing this; you can imagine how we felt when we attempted to encode it. Dr. Boyd and myself found a solution as the TEI guidelines were compliant enough to allow that each of the headers—outside of the initial header “Oscar Interviewed”—to be encoded with label tags (<label>He Speaks for Himself</label>). While this is not ideal, it allows the document to be free of error. Moreover, this strange situation prevents the TWP from tracking down and encoding both the British and American sources, which would allow us to analyze any textual variations.

Lately I have been working on fine-tuning the transcription of the Hamilton document, finishing up some front matter. I have really enjoyed my time working with Dr. Boyd and my peer Phoenix Simms on the TWP. As someone whose first passion is in literature, I am finding this experience with DH to be exciting, sometimes challenging—in a good way—and really eye-opening. With the advent of DH projects like TWP, the transcription of historical archived documents can be better analyzed and edited for use of literary theory and biographical research, among other areas.

Bryn McDonnell

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