Wilde Coding: The Challenges and Potential Innovations of TEI

TextingWildeI work on the Texting Wilde Project as an RA for Jason Boyd. My job is to help encode and proofread Oscar Wilde biographies that are part of a pre-1945 corpus that will eventually be an open-access online resource. Using TEI code to mark up the texts so that significant information is searchable and comparable across biographies. Having said that, a lot of my work consists of identifying and marking up mentions of Oscar Wilde (both direct and indirect) and of those individuals who are influential in his life and work. This sounds like a simple task at the outset, but there are some pretty interesting challenges in attempting such a scheme.

For one thing, some of the most renowned biographers of Wilde, such as Robert Harborough Sherard who wrote Oscar Wilde: The Story of An Unhappy Friendship, are notoriously coy about their use of vague pronouns to refer to noteworthy individuals. Most of the marked up mentions of obscure yet influential people in the Personography, a compilation of all the unique tags for people marked up in the texts, are due to Sherard’s casual writing style. A woman who could very well be Sarah Bernhardt according to her profession, connection to Wilde during specific dates and so on may only be referred to in An Unhappy Friendship as “a great French actress” or even just “she” in some instances. If there is more than one unidentified individual being spoken of in certain passages, the mark up can become complicated rather quickly, as research is needed to determine not only who these unknowns might be, but whether their role was a direct and personal or indirect and merely inspirational for Wilde. Seeing as Wilde ran the gamut of connections within social, artistic and political circles, it is important to be meticulous in researching background information. After all, only those who influenced Oscar Wilde’s work and his social life (which tragically affected his work towards the end of his life) are the mentions worth marking up. Luckily, Oscar Wilde’s popularity as a subject of study in the humanities means there’s a wealth of knowledge available about him online as well as offline. Influence and inspirations are not limited only to singular mentions of people however, and I would like to briefly bring up the matter of marking up groups and objects as well.

There are currently no standard TEI code elements or idiosyncratic mark up strategies to deal with significant groups and objects mentioned in the Wilde biographies. If a group of individuals, such as the men who were outside of the courtroom during Wilde’s famous three trials against Lord Alfred Douglas, were to be marked up, one would first have to determine whether it is better mention all individuals by individual codes and then find a way to group those unique codes under another element that identifies all the individuals as one mentioned unit, or if it is only important to mention those of note within the group. But how do we mark up a group when none of the individuals can be identified by discrete details other than connections to Wilde? With objects it is a similar problem of having no code element that can approximate the mark up of individuals, except with objects there is also the issue of whether there are enough objects of influence mentioned across Wilde’s biographies worthy of being marked up. These are fascinating challenges because they push the boundaries of what TEI code is capable of for digital humanists. This is why I enjoy working as an RA on the Texting Wilde Project, for the chance to contribute to an ambitious digital humanities project that has the potential to discover new lenses to analyze the different layers of a corpus of texts like the Wilde biographies.

Phoenix Simms

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *