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Pedagogy and Praxis

The TEI Assignment in the Literature Classroom: Making a Lord Mayor’s Show in University and College Classrooms

Mark Kaethler


This article offers methods for implementing what Diane Jakacki and Katherine Faull identify as a digital humanities course at the assignment level, specifically one using TEI in college and university literature classrooms. The author provides an overview of his in-class activities and lesson plans, which range from traditional instruction to in-class laboratory exercises, in order to demonstrate an approach to teaching TEI that anticipates students’ anxieties and provides a gradual means of learning this new approach to literary texts. The article concludes by reflecting on how TEI in the classroom complicates critiques of the digital humanities’ proclivity to endorse neoliberal education models. By challenging simplistic renderings of the field and its tools, and by offering interconnections between TEI and traditional humanities practices, the author aims to supply a conscientious approach to designing TEI assignments to those interested but hesitant to include such assignments.

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1. Introduction

1Any unfamiliar assignment will result in varying degrees of anxiety for students and will pose challenges to instructors who implement it for the first time. Pitched at college and university instructors who wish to incorporate a TEI assignment into their humanities courses, this article provides guidance on how to introduce text encoding to novice users. Although there are several extant guides on XML and TEI that are accessible to first-time users, in my literature classrooms these guides have tended to function better as supplementary readings after students’ initial comprehension of text encoding rather than required readings perused before TEI workshops in class. Since this article examines TEI in the literature classroom rather than a digital humanities (hereafter DH) classroom, I take a basic approach and gradual introduction to TEI, with the goals of conscientiously introducing and integrating a TEI assignment into a course that is not computer-based. To provide strategies for accomplishing these goals, I draw upon my experiences of incorporating a TEI assignment in the winter term of 2016 at the University of Guelph and the fall term of 2017 at Medicine Hat College, and I conclude with some results from the most recent iteration in the fall of 2018 at Medicine Hat College.

  • 1 Henry Giroux and Susan Giroux sum up how people tend to associate neoliberalism with DH automatical (...)

2Extant guides already make the process of teaching TEI manageable. For the purposes of my classes, I initially assigned Kevin S. Hawkins’s “Introduction to XML for Text” because it provides a rudimentary introduction to what XML is and how it is used to mark up texts. Hawkins patiently walks the reader through the thought process involved in text encoding: he begins with the various containers that could represent a full text, and then moves into encoding text at the basic level of a sentence, flagging potential errors with encoding and offering sample corrections of them. Nevertheless, Hawkins’s material became potentially alienating for my students when it broached discussions of HTML or previous metalanguages like SGML. Likewise, although Hawkins returns to a discussion of nesting and tree structure, he ventures into schemas and Document Type Definitions. I appreciate the need to include descriptions of these aspects for a user curious about the discourse of text encoding, its other applications, and its history. For the purpose of my class, however, such information unfortunately disorients the student who is already anxious about trying to grasp what we deal with in a regular literature classroom, which may range from Middle English to mock epic. After conducting laboratory exercises in three different courses, and having just finished a third implementation in the fall of 2018, I have recognized that what I initially believed was the need for a basic introduction to TEI was actually the need for an introduction to TEI that was targeted toward a class that integrated, but was not defined by, DH. This article therefore provides humanities instructors with or without specializations in DH the means to create a similar assignment in their own classes. I also highlight potential pitfalls and challenges such educators may face, and conclude with an ethical consideration of the reasons for and methods by which the TEI assignment is brought into the humanities classroom. These final thoughts aim to assuage biases and instill conscientiousness regarding the association between neoliberalism and DH caused by the perceived marketability of computer science.1 Although the institutional structures of higher education are becoming increasingly neoliberal, this article dissuades readers from automatically associating TEI with neoliberalism. Instead, by showing that my TEI assignment shares the principles of humanities pedagogy, the article provides an evaluation of the merits and value of this assignment to instructors who are interested in developing a TEI assignment.

2. Fourth-Year University Undergraduates

  • 2 Exceptions to this statement include the work of David M. Bergeron (2003) and Gail Kern Paster (198 (...)

3My initial inclusion of a TEI assignment at the University of Guelph in 2016 was developed from a syllabus on mayoral shows. Before I discuss this class, it may be useful to provide an overview of what constituted an early mayoral show. Just as the Lord Mayor of London is still celebrated today through the streets of London, this early form involved a playwright commissioned by the mayor’s livery company to compose dramatic events (in collaboration with a craftsman) that would be staged at various locations in London, including the Thames, St Paul’s, and the Cheapside Cross, among other sites. The printed shows traced a lineage of lord mayors that led up to the present one and provided models of ideal governance to the mayor, his train, and the city. Although previous scholarship has tended to neglect these works,2 Tracey Hill’s recent monograph Pageantry and power has elucidated the underlying topical concerns of the shows through rigorous historical analysis that reveals their “symbolic meanings” (2010, 4). For these reasons, the Map of Early Modern London (MoEML) is compiling the first full anthology of the early mayoral shows in open-access format. My work on this project began when I originally planned out the TEI assignment in Diane Jakacki’s “Digital Pedagogy Integration in the Curriculum” course at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) in 2015. Jakacki’s pedagogy course encouraged participants to devise syllabi that were either entirely devoted to DH or integrated a DH assignment as part of their outlines. People were primarily encouraged to devise a course that included DH, causing it to work, as Jakacki and Katherine Faull put it, “at the assignment level,” and to make it “very different from the design and execution of an intentionally designed course in DH” (2016, 359). The main objective of the fourth-year English seminar course I designed was to cover medieval and/or early modern literature, so its focus on digital facsimiles and TEI attended specifically to the collaborative creation of an early modern mayoral show, specifically Thomas Dekker’s Britannia’s Honor (1628).

  • 3 By distinguishing between a photographic representation of the archive rather than the thing itself (...)
  • 4 As Martin Mueller notes, the quality of EEBO facsimiles inevitably results in transcriptions that h (...)

4Prior to transcribing and encoding the show into TEI, students first worked through lessons on mayoral shows, textual editing, and digital facsimiles. These lessons included several readings on textual editing as well as the remediation involved in the production of Early English Books Online (EEBO).3 Students were also alerted to the inaccuracies of the Text Creation Partnership’s transcriptions of these facsimiles.4 After accessing EEBO through the University of Guelph’s library catalogue, the students were tasked with transcribing directly from EEBO and consulting Fredson Bowers’s print edition of the show when necessary. Before they encoded the transcription, however, I provided detailed lessons and assignments on the production of the original printed text and the potential cruces or problems the text might cause. An example came at the end of Amphitrite’s speech, wherein the verse seems to have ended, but the word “On” appears to the far right of the page on a line unto itself in normal font before a descriptive paragraph follows (sig. A4v). In the liminal space between verse and prose, we had to decide whether this word belonged to the spoken verse, the following descriptive paragraph, or a note Dekker had made and the compositor had dutifully included. Students worked through such matters in groups and presented their findings to the class, strengthening their collaborative dynamics and understanding of the text prior to encoding it.

  • 5 Students used a 30-day free trial of oXygen in order to complete the assignment, as there were no l (...)
  • 6 In recent years, the University of Guelph has developed a series of workshops in May called “DH@Gue (...)

5Before embarking upon laboratory classes in which we practiced text encoding in oXygen,5 students were introduced to XML and TEI through Hawkins’s guide and a guest lecture from Jason Boyd of Ryerson University. I anticipated that the combination of expert guidance and basic introduction would be ideal; for some students it was, but several students expressed disorientation at encountering various terms for the first time. Reflecting upon my own experience of learning XML and TEI immediately after taking Jakacki’s course at the DHSI helped me comprehend and identify with their reactions. After reading several introductory pieces on XML and TEI and watching various introductory videos on these metalanguages, I then read through the slides MoEML uses and received excellent instruction and guidance from Janelle Jenstad and Joseph Takeda. Even though I had all this preparation, I still did not feel adequately prepared to work with XML; it was not until I began working with oXygen that I felt comfortable with TEI and understood these new concepts and software. It could very well be that there is no ideal order for teaching TEI and XML in a non-DH class; these concepts, often entirely new to students in humanities courses, tend to elicit a degree of anxiety from novice users. Despite Guelph’s DH concentration6 and students’ knowledge that the course would be digitally-based, this sense of wariness regarding TEI nevertheless persisted. Therefore, even though the assignment was ultimately a considerable success and students felt comfortable with text encoding by the end of the class, I still wondered how to approach the TEI assignment better in a class that remained predominantly literary in focus.

3. Second-Year College Students

  • 7 At Medicine Hat College, we need to satisfy our current course listings while ensuring that our lea (...)

6The question of how to integrate the TEI assignment into a literature class was in mind again when I repeated this exercise in my college classroom at Medicine Hat College (MHC) a year and a half later. Due to my initial concerns that I was teaching first- and second-year courses and that students would not be familiar with oXygen, I questioned whether to use this exercise at all. To address the first concern, I reduced the length of text for which students would be responsible (i.e., I gave each one a smaller portion of the mayoral show). Anticipating the impact of the second concern, I gradually arrived at instruction in how to encode the text after the students felt comfortable with the bibliographical terminology and abbreviations working with text outside of oXygen and TEI. I deployed TEI as a DH assignment in my second-year course on medieval to eighteenth-century literature in the Fall of 2017. Students would need ample preparation because they would only have had prior instruction in English composition and possibly early English literature. But the time dedicated to this preparation would have to be condensed, as this text would only represent one of five literary eras we needed to cover. The mayoral show satisfied the required seventeenth-century literature component of the class while providing an opportunity to share my research as Assistant Project Director of mayoral shows for he Map of Early Modern London with the students and involve them as recognized contributors to the project.7

7Beyond the fact that it was a second-year rather than an introductory course, this group was selected because over eighty per-cent of the students enrolled were education majors who would benefit from experiential learning. Experiential learning, however, can be a slippery term. As Jennifer Moon (2013) notes, any classroom environment allows for experiential learning, as even the traditional lecture is an experience (1–2). My use of the term stems from a more specific notion of learning through doing; it speaks to Joseph Ugoretz’s adoption of the term doitocracy to discuss the benefits of pedagogy as entailing the making of things and the critical thought that goes into a creation process (2013). The in-class laboratory exercises offered a space to facilitate this process. These exercises took place in groups and followed some initial lessons that this article will elaborate later. This classroom dynamic was modeled on the exercises from the University of Guelph course, but included more laboratory activities to accommodate an earlier year level and students who might not be familiar with the texts or digital tools. The group-oriented setup was also a common classroom template for the education majors; they were adept at and accustomed to this type of work even if the material caused them anxiety. This setup therefore allowed them to experiment with the unfamiliar in a familiar and collaborative learning model.

  • 8 At MHC some courses double as MRU courses as a result of our institutional partnership. Therefore, (...)

8The text we worked with was London’s Jus Honorarium (1631), a lord mayor’s show by Thomas Heywood that had not yet been transcribed for the MoEML project. However, it was not enough that the text satisfied the chronological components of the literature course; the TEI assignment also needed to correlate with the objectives of the course. Although traditional writing assignments were still included in the course outline, I could create a mixed course to include a text encoding assignment because of the critical discernment involved in producing it. To rationalize such an addition, I drew upon Alan Galey’s observation that text encoding, much like close readings, can “lead back to granular engagements with texts that resist, challenge, and instruct us,” thereby satisfying the critical thinking component required of the Mount Royal course (2015, 199).8 London’s Jus Honorarium offered such moments for students’ critical inquiry, including the marginalia that could serve as either subheadings to verses or descriptive passages. Questions of whether or not to include these as marginalia or as headings, and whether our goal was interpretation of the original text or preservation of its material conditions, were discussed and carried on later into the summer of 2018 when the MoEML team was reviewing our encoding procedures and standards.

9With these institutional rationales met, the next step was imagining how to prepare a class comprising students who had no previous exposure to text encoding to undertake a TEI assignment. Meanwhile, given what the Guelph students had experienced, I tried to assuage anxieties that I knew would emerge in this class. This twofold consideration led me to modify the instructional lessons into a less overwhelming and more gradual introduction to TEI. This approach to lesson planning still allows students to have opportunities for gaining a more thorough understanding of the various components of TEI in relation to the wider discourse on text encoding. The importance of this approach became clearer when we neared the unit on mayoral shows. Before the class even broached the topic of TEI, students had already been provided with lessons on book history and textual editing, the content of mayoral shows, and the makeup of a mayoral show.

10The introductory lessons to a mayoral show, book history, and textual editing had to be condensed and focused specifically on the components students needed for the upcoming assignment. For example, whereas the fourth-year honours class could be assigned David M. Bergeron’s article on the nature of the printed shows for in-class discussion, the second-year class needed a condensed summary of its argument: the printed show is a commemorative text rather than an entirely accurate eye-witness account (1998). The idea behind this approach was to instruct students in what they needed to know in order to engage with these texts, without venturing into text encoding until they had developed a sense of familiarity. Prior to embarking on the first of these lessons, however, students began to express concern about the upcoming text encoding assignment. Students regularly confessed their limited knowledge of digital technologies in the weeks leading up to the assignment. These anxieties were often caused by encountering such potentially alienating terms as “text encoding,” “eXtensible Markup Language,” and “Text Encoding Initiative” in assignment guidelines. I made efforts to tell them that past students received their highest grades on this assignment or to direct their attention to the fact that laboratory exercises would allow them to learn together and work on the assignment in class with guidance. However, despite these attempts to reduce anxieties, students dreaded this unknown variable in the course outline.

  • 9 Although software like 18thConnect’s TypeWright could allow the students to accomplish a similar fe (...)
  • 10 Although the project might not fully meet what Dorothy Kim and Jesse Stommel identify as the need f (...)

11Students not only expressed distress over their lack of knowledge concerning the digital aspects of the assignment but also showed that they lacked a firm grasp of literary form. This epiphany came from the ensuing lesson in which students physically marked up the modern-spelling text I had prepared.9 They first identified whether or not blocks of text were verse or prose, two forms that the printed mayoral show oscillates between in its commemorative style. Afterwards, they located unique formatting issues ranging from italics to indentation, and then finished by identifying potential IDs of persons and places that would need to be marked up. Before they even arrived at the more complex tagging units, though, the students needed further instruction in what constituted verse and prose. Although they understood rhyme and meter, the speeches were not sonnets, so they had to be taught that in this case a line group was a physical block of text rather than the stanza’s rhyming unit. The challenge was that students remained focused on the text as a story rather than a medium; when they could not discern a rhyme pattern, they misunderstood a line group as a unit of meaning in a speech. An example that would cause this confusion is when the speaker is done complimenting the Lord Mayor and moving on to a description of the setting. Pointing to the TEI definition of a line group, I led them to discern collectively that a line group was in fact a “verse paragraph” in the case of a mayoral show (TEI Consortium 2018). This shift in perspective speaks to Richard A. Lanham’s conception of the digital as a medium that redefines the text from one we look through in order to discern meaning to one we look at in order to understand (2007). The anxieties associated with the assignment, then, were entirely contingent upon the degree of comfort they had with a digital platform, as no anxieties were expressed with the print media that they were also learning about for the first time. I instructed them more thoroughly that prose is comprised of paragraphs (<p>) and line beginnings (<lb>) and that verse is made up of line groups (<lg>) and lines (<l>). With respect to verse, this method offered them an early lesson in nesting without the immediate immersion into oXygen, as a line group contains lines. TEI offers this opportunity for students to appreciate the form of the text by shifting their perspective to the ways in which the page conveys the narrative. Students, however, first had a lesson on the mayoral show’s symbolic, cultural, and political meanings in order to comprehend what they were examining, which enabled them to move from one form of close reading to another.10

12Our engagement with the printed book carried over into the act of marking up a physical printing of the modern-spelling text of London’s Jus Honorarium I had prepared, offering them a sense of security akin to wading in the shallow end of the pool before plunging into the deep end. Before our lessons on XML and TEI, we first reflected on what we had learned through physically marking the page and then added text encoding into it by understanding that <l> was an element and that we can add attributes and values to this tag. This process reduced students’ fear, as they gradually became comfortable with the concept of a line group by seeing it as the abbreviation <lg>; they first marked where line groups began and ended on the physical page, and then transitioned into oXygen to establish opening and closing elements. Having comprehended what lines and line groups were, as well as where line beginnings occurred in paragraphs, students collectively marked these on a projection of the Google Books digital surrogate of a print facsimile on the whiteboard with markers. For lines, the students were instructed to mark <l> where the line began and then </l> where it ended, without the angle brackets, and performed the same task with other abbreviations to form elements. Having completed this active-learning exercise, the students sat down again, and I asked if they felt comfortable and confident with what they had produced. After they acknowledged that they understood the literary form of the text, I added the previously dreaded angle brackets to the abbreviations to create elements and informed them that it was now encoded. From there, we collectively reflected on where attributes and values would be required, and then moved on to other tags.

13Such tactics in the classroom are not uncommon. Galey describes such a strategy when he discusses “the so-called paper prototyping stage of markup that my students and I undertake when tackling a particularly challenging textual artifact to represent using XML” (2014, 28). Galey’s use of this method is much more advanced than mine, for he uses it in instances where a class approaches a “particularly challenging artifact.” In a DH course, there would be opportunities to concentrate on particularly difficult items, but this luxury of time is not available in sophomore-level English courses. We should reconsider our understanding of perceived difficulty in relation to the situation. Galey is speaking of a class in which digital technologies shape its contours and define its nature, so the students in that class are expected to be adept at, or at least be open to, learning new technologies. The majority of students in my class take the course because it is a requirement of their education program, which focuses on teaching elementary grades, and these students are already wary of the focus on early English literature, let alone a digital project they did not anticipate when they registered in the course. Although Galey and I use similar techniques for text-encoding assignments or lessons, we deploy them for different ends due to the students’ different levels of study and the requirements of the curriculum. It is valuable, then, to reconsider what is challenging for students based upon the scope and nature of the course. Using print initially can be beneficial for prototyping, but a regular course that incorporates a DH assignment allows for conscientious pedagogy through gradual entry into the unfamiliar.

  • 11 As Stella Dee’s study illuminates, a “large numbers of users” refer to “the TEI Guidelines” rather (...)

14This low-stakes atmosphere meant that students in the MHC course were able to adopt a playful approach because they worked from an example XML file in oXygen, as I had transcribed the first sheet (A) and the last leaf (C2v) of Heywood’s printed show, and marked up over a third of the printed book already. Students were encouraged first to understand what they were encoding, and then to look to the example if they did not immediately know from our lessons how to tag the text (performed with a leaf from John Stow’s Survey of London [1598]). If they still could not resolve the matter, they were then instructed to search the TEI Guidelines and consult with me if necessary.11 This process encouraged them to learn how to solve problems on an individual level with the safety net that I was available during these laboratory exercises in case they needed assistance. At times, curiosity extended beyond the parameters of the example. For instance, when a student recognized that she was tagging a list rather than a paragraph, I directed her to the TEI guidelines so that she could locate the list element and its associated elements. Once she had tagged the text, I returned to her to check that the text had been properly encoded, which it had been. The assessment allowed for this kind of experimentation, as only selected components were graded. This approach opened up space for independent learning in a consequence-free manner that transmuted task to play, assignment to interest, and assessment to discovery.

4. Lessons Learned

  • 12 MoEML has since secured funding through a SSHRC Insight grant that will offer high resolution facsi (...)

15Reflecting upon the deployment of a TEI assignment at the University of Guelph and at Medicine Hat College, I found that both implementations were successful, but there were lessons I learned from observing the differences and lingering issues. At the University of Guelph, all students had access to EEBO, so they could view and magnify the early texts they were transcribing and tagging. However, this resource was not available to Medicine Hat College students. Thus, I worked with a mayoral show available through Google Books in open-access format, ensuring that it matched the facsimile on EEBO from the Huntington library, as MoEML policy at this time was to use EEBO facsimiles as the copies to which it links. MoEML has now shifted to using open-access facsimiles whenever possible. With respect to the mayoral show anthology, the team has since secured funding through a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Grant that will offer high resolution facsimiles of the mayoral shows from library collections. This funding will allow institutions without subscriptions to EEBO or the general public to access images of the original texts. When this later stage is finalized, the diplomatic transcriptions will be compared against the scans collected by the assigned editors. That being said, the mayoral show project will still provide links to EEBO so that institutions with access can make comparisons. This affordance means that I will not have to worry about discrepancies between the two copies when editing and proofreading students’ work; ensured that the EEBO copy remains the copytext, I will be able to use EEBO to conduct my final edit of the text.12 An institution’s ability to access the materials, then, will determine the viability of incorporating TEI as a DH assignment.

  • 13 A catchword is used by early modern compositors in the print shop to identify what the first word o (...)

16The students’ level of study should also be kept in mind, as I could safely presume that a fourth-year English class with a DH focus would be able to transcribe thirty-line passages and deal with more complicated matters like page breaks. Students in such a class could view the entirety of the EEBO facsimile and comprehend what they were tagging. For these reasons, I limited the focus of the second-year college and university students to tagging verse, prose, xml:ids, font style, alignment, margins, and non-English languages. These were the only aspects of the encoding process that were graded. As the laboratory exercises progressed under my supervision, I also provided opportunities for those wishing to hone their text encoding skills or widen their knowledge of TEI to tag things like catchwords,13 page breaks, and running heads, and I offered them extemporaneous lessons on what the various elements, attributes, and values associated with these components of the printed book meant. Therefore, what was factored into the rubric for the TEI assignment depended upon the year level of the students, and yet the diversity of levels does not affect the fact that students are assessed by the accuracy of their transcription and encoding.

17The amount of time that can be allocated for group reflection and further dialogue on TEI depends upon the flexibility of the course’s curriculum, as I found out through comparing my two experiences. In the University of Guelph course, we were able to dedicate half a class afterwards to discussing the merits of the assignment, one of which was understanding how digital texts were produced and edited. These conversations allowed students to comprehend or discover the value of the assignment for their personal growth as English majors completing their degree program. The MHC class, on the other hand, could not profit from such reflection. Given that the class had already covered medieval and sixteenth-century literatures and still needed to get to Restoration and eighteenth-century literatures, we did not have time to reflect on or develop post-praxis lessons on the more complex workings of TEI or oXygen. Any follow-up instruction or conversation had to take place at an informal level during office hours or outside of the class schedule.

18Given the time restrictions of the MHC course in regard to required coverage, I learned to be conscious of my goals as an educator, devising lessons that were focused on essentials to ensure that students were aware of their novice level of familiarity with what were new digital (and print) media. The primary goals were helping students understand what a metalanguage was; what elements, attributes, and values were; and how to nest them properly in order to understand better the composition of the online texts they read daily. Beyond these goals, I made sure to cater to students’ zeal for further discovery whenever possible.

19In terms of text-encoding comprehension, these goals align with what Julia Flanders, Syd Bauman, and Sarah Connell appropriately identify as the basics of text encoding ([2010] 2016, 106–110). What we managed to skim within our limited timeframe mirrored what they call the “basics of encoding with TEI”: a general understanding of metadata, the large-scale architecture of the mayoral show, the physical characteristics of the document, and the genesis of the document (110–16). Students in the MHC course were responsible for learning through praxis how to encode linkages, references to named entities, smaller-scale structural components, and the editorial or transcription process. Since in an assignment-level DH course this is as much as an instructor can possibly cover or introduce, in future classes we will read Flanders, Bauman, and Connell’s essay as an excellent basic introduction to TEI. Although my students may not have gained the same robust knowledge that a student might achieve in a DH course, they nevertheless acquired a familiarity with text encoding that could be enhanced in the future, or they at least learned something new.

5. Resisting Neoliberalism

  • 14 With respect to textual editing, the major critique DH has received is David Allington, Sarah Broui (...)

20Instructors may be reluctant to adopt these new technologies, though. The ostensible neoliberal agenda of the contemporary university or college and the ways in which DH work have contributed to or supported this system have been rebuked and defended for some time now.14 Although this article is primarily concerned with incorporating a TEI assignment into the humanities classroom, it is worth considering the possible charge that this assignment’s appeal is based upon a supposedly more useful or direct application to students’ careers than the traditional assignments in the class, thereby confirming the neoliberal values imposed on the design of the TEI assignment and the humanities instructor’s hesitance to adopt this assignment.

21My goals with the TEI assignment, however, do not conform to the typical linear model of neoliberalism, wherein an assignment is valued by its direct transferability to a job market. Rather, I chose this assignment for its potential to generate critical thought. First of all, what made this assignment unique was that MoEML allowed the students to gain recognition as contributors to the diplomatic transcription, which is compiled, edited, and primarily encoded by myself and then reviewed by others. This additional component makes the assignment something the students can reference outside of the classroom, but the added benefits of the TEI assignment warrant conscientious reflection during class time as well.

  • 15 In discussing tech tips for early-career scholars, Matt Thomas identifies how “the embrace of techn (...)
  • 16 As Jenstad and I contend, the complete anthology of mayoral shows is what the current body of schol (...)

22This segment of the essay therefore anticipates neoliberal criticism and offers a defence of TEI in the humanities classroom in order to provide interested but wary humanists a means to see that text encoding can be treated like any other assignment in a course rather than a panacea for the current economic crisis or a means to “save” the humanities.15 The assignment is thus not inherently neoliberal, for the primary concern is knowledge rather than work placement. This view is in keeping with Mathew Kirschenbaum’s citation of Wendy Chun’s remarks at the 2009 MLA session on DH, substantiating his point that DH projects “have ‘extended and renewed’ the humanities and have also helped historicize its activities” (2014, 47). Students learned such lessons through exploring print history and the ways in which the text was transmitted to us, as well as through reflecting on the encoding practice as a critical process. Rather than contributing to what Stanley Aronowitz calls a “knowledge factory” or “production site” that nulls debate and critical thought (2000, 35), the TEI assignment was a rigorous analytical exercise contributing to a meaningful and necessary publication—an edition of Heywood’s show had not been produced in over thirty years, and almost one hundred years before that—that will further knowledge in a field.16 Regarding the assignment as a critical process with a valuable scholarly outcome makes scholarship something to which students can contribute.

  • 17 As Margaret Konkol has indicated, it is important to give students “credit by name” rather than ref (...)

23The TEI assignment is not intrinsically better than the others in the course, but it offers students an opportunity to share their knowledge, work beyond the classroom, and participate in “something bigger than themselves” while retaining individuality (Jenstad, McLean-Fiander, and McPherson 2017).17 As future educators, they were inquisitive of the merits and purposes of producing the text as MoEML had stipulated, questioning practices like encoding a text while preserving conventional early modern spellings and interchanges of letters (v’s for u’s, i’s for j’s, and vice versa). By identifying the benefits of old-spelling diplomatic editions and their publication alongside the complementary draft modern-spelling edition, students gained a further appreciation for their work and a sense of its intellectual merits. Moreover, DH is able to create assignments in classrooms that allow us to extend the parameters of work beyond grades and encourage playful experimentation. This reveals that DH shares the humanities’ principle of producing knowledge for its own sake, and that TEI does far more to promote the merits of digital education for the humanities than to fuel the neoliberal practices of higher education today.

24Echoing the Collaborators’ Bill of Rights and Student Collaborators’ Bill of Rights, the purpose of providing students with this opportunity to receive publication credit was to gain potential, indirect benefits rather than concrete profits. It is only possible to field the likelihood of how this collaboration could function on a resume, not knowing if my students will become digital humanists, text encoders, graduate students, or even professionals in their chosen field of study. Beyond identifying their role in relation to the edition, the collaboration not only signals their ability to learn how to use a new software program and metalanguage, but also provides lessons in print history and editorial practice that might be applicable to their future prospects in a way they cannot currently predict. The oXygen software or the text encoding techniques might not be useful to them at all in their future careers or lives, but the practice of taking the plunge and immersing themselves in these new things offers them a developmental experience rather than merely a deliverable.

  • 18 The subversion/containment debate of new historicist theory in early modern studies explores how su (...)

25The methods by which the TEI assignment was gradually implemented can help to challenge arguments that DH is inherently neoliberal, because these methods illuminate how things like TEI are a branch of rather than an unrooting of literary studies or other humanities disciplines. DH’s attempts to speak to complementary trends in literary studies, such as new formalism, offer stronger interdisciplinary alignments that encourage a wider adoption of TEI pedagogy. In recent years, I have found myself building such bridges into conference papers. For example, in “Brave New World? TEI and Promptbooks,” I compare Julia Flanders’s notion that TEI encourages dissent to the early modern subversion/containment debate in a brief analogy.18 In “Old words, new codes,” my co-editors and I have identified how the MLA’s recent conception of containers parallels the nesting structure of TEI elements (2018, 126). Recent DH scholarship in early modern studies by Hugh Craig and Brett Greatley-Hirsch (2017) has likewise made clear efforts to link statistical data to trends in literary criticism. TEI thus educates us about its alignments with a liberal rather than consumerist or production-line models of education, encouraging us to reconsider the value of our praxis. As Alan Liu advises, it is valuable to be mindful of the significance of both the digital and humanities in order to “resist today’s … neoliberal … flows of information-cum capital” (2012). Therefore, this article has offered educators looking to include a TEI assignment some methods or perspectives of resistance in the hope that they can evaluate the merits of attempting a TEI assignment for themselves rather than adhering to predetermined judgments of DH as inherently neoliberal.

6. Conclusion

26As a result of the gradual immersion into the concepts and terminology of TEI by moving from familiar toward unfamiliar media, no student sank. Having recently incorporated a third TEI assignment this term, the lessons I learned as an instructor helped me better prepare the students for success. The new problems I mentioned, however, illuminated that my own education was ongoing. My previous classes at Guelph and MHC comprised fifteen students, whereas the group this term at MHC had twenty-three students. The larger enrollment meant that more consultation was required outside of class and the students could have benefited from more in-class laboratory activities. While students still did well on the assignment, incorporating the TEI assignment into a humanities course requires the instructor to reflect and improvise regularly in order to prepare for the challenges that one would not have to deal with for a traditional essay assignment. As Diane Jakacki has noted, DH causes instructors to embark upon a “second education” (2016), and that education includes improving the ways we incorporate DH assignments into our classrooms and enhance student learning.

SVN keywords: $Id: jtei-cc-ra-kaethler-168-source.xml 820 2019-09-06 00:35:47Z ron $

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1 Henry Giroux and Susan Giroux sum up how people tend to associate neoliberalism with DH automatically, as higher education institutions tend to “privilege intellectuals in technological sciences whose services are indispensable to corporate power” (2004, 235). More recently, Richard Grusin (2014) has identified the result of this model in terms of how institutional funding for DH has created tensions within humanities disciplines. Grusin sides with Laura Mandell’s claim in an interview that “the digital humanities at its best furthers humanities questions” and identifies how a knowledge of humanities research is equally beneficial to students in the job market (quoted in Dinsman 2016).

2 Exceptions to this statement include the work of David M. Bergeron (2003) and Gail Kern Paster (1986).

3 By distinguishing between a photographic representation of the archive rather than the thing itself, Diana Kichuk’s study of EEBO demystifies the database’s illusion of authenticity (2007).

4 As Martin Mueller notes, the quality of EEBO facsimiles inevitably results in transcriptions that have error “clusters” (2014).

5 Students used a 30-day free trial of oXygen in order to complete the assignment, as there were no licenses in place at either institution at the time.

6 In recent years, the University of Guelph has developed a series of workshops in May called “DH@Guelph.” These classes offer participants training in aspects of DH, including pedagogy.

7 At Medicine Hat College, we need to satisfy our current course listings while ensuring that our learning outcomes and content overlap with the cross-listed courses at Mount Royal University.

8 At MHC some courses double as MRU courses as a result of our institutional partnership. Therefore, the course I taught was simultaneously ENGL 300 (MHC) and ENGL 2210 (MRU), with students enrolled in one or the other.

9 Although software like 18thConnect’s TypeWright could allow the students to accomplish a similar feat through the digital medium, this would involve an additional lesson in a new software when the students were already new to oXygen, and would undermine my efforts to help them establish comfort with the material through print before they plunge into oXygen.

10 Although the project might not fully meet what Dorothy Kim and Jesse Stommel identify as the need for disruption of “the seamless products of the neoliberal academy” (2018, 23), these lessons entailed discussions of blackness and early forms of white supremacy in the content of mayoral shows. The assignment and the anthology thus contribute to ongoing critical studies in the humanities through the digital.

11 As Stella Dee’s study illuminates, a “large numbers of users” refer to “the TEI Guidelines” rather than other tools when learning how to tag (2014). The fact that the students regularly consulted the TEI Guidelines when they were developing text encoding skills exemplifies Dee’s findings.

12 MoEML has since secured funding through a SSHRC Insight grant that will offer high resolution facsimiles of the mayoral shows from library collections. This funding will allow institutions without subscriptions to EEBO or the public at large to access images of the original texts. When this later stage is finalized, the diplomatic transcriptions will be compared against the scans collected by the assigned editors.

13 A catchword is used by early modern compositors in the print shop to identify what the first word on the ensuing page will be in order to ensure that printed pages are properly ordered.

14 With respect to textual editing, the major critique DH has received is David Allington, Sarah Brouillette, and David Golumbia’s “Neoliberal Tools (and Archives): A Political History of Digital Humanities.” In it, they align DH with Fredson Bowers’s contribution to the New Bibliography approach at the University of Virginia (2016). Various responses to this piece can be found in two segments of editorial round-ups on Digital Humanities Now (Schneider 2016a; 2016b).

15 In discussing tech tips for early-career scholars, Matt Thomas identifies how “the embrace of technology as a category for solving problems inevitably and regrettably aligns one with neoliberal forces” (2018, 211). The problem seems to be the attitude toward DH as cure-all rather than as a novel method to conduct research that benefits both computer science and the arts.

16 As Jenstad and I contend, the complete anthology of mayoral shows is what the current body of scholarship lacks, and its digital nature will provide new insights into how these performances and ceremonies were played out in the city’s streets (Forthcoming).

17 As Margaret Konkol has indicated, it is important to give students “credit by name” rather than referring to them as “some undifferentiated mass” (2015). Although MoEML refers to the group as a whole (“MHC ENGL 300/2210 Class,” for example), I am part of that community instead of being a separate entity; the user can identify each individual contributor who belonged to the team.

18 The subversion/containment debate of new historicist theory in early modern studies explores how subversive behaviour in early modern drama regularly occurs but is ultimately contained by the dominant and traditional authorities (Fortier 2002, 138). Flanders sees a similar dynamic at work with TEI wherein the guidelines appear to impose an order, but unlike a divinely appointed monarch, these rules are amenable when warranted emendations are suggested (2016, 74).

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Electronic reference

Mark Kaethler, “The TEI Assignment in the Literature Classroom: Making a Lord Mayor’s Show in University and College Classrooms”Journal of the Text Encoding Initiative [Online], Issue 12 | July 2019 - May 2020, Online since 10 June 2019, connection on 01 June 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Mark Kaethler

Mark Kaethler teaches early English literature in the university-transfer humanities department at Medicine Hat College. He serves as Assistant Project Director of Mayoral Shows for the Map of Early Modern London at the University of Victoria and is a co-editor with Janelle Jenstad and Jennifer Roberts-Smith of Shakespeare’s Language in Digital Media: Old Words, New Tools (Routledge, 2018). His work has appeared in Digital Studies/Le champ numérique, Upstart, Ludica, and This Rough Magic.

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For this publication a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license has been granted by the author(s) who retain full copyright.

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