My New Inspiration with the Help of a TEI File in ENGL 340

I was excited, yet very nervous when I signed up to take this course; mainly because computer technology was not one of my strengths. Yet, the sound advice from American author Neal Donald Walsch resonated with me, gently reminding that “life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” And, so I took his advice that I had already carried with me into college and decided to give Digital Humanities a shot. Nearing the end of this semester along with this course, my class was given an assignment to edit our own TEI files. Little did I know that I would find myself enjoying it and have this new experience inspire my self-confidence as a student and an individual.

Before I explain how editing our own TEI files compelled this newfound sense of inspiration in me, it’s important to explain what this process is. As we’ve grown up reading, we’ve become familiar with the various words or terms to describe a given piece of text. For instance, a book is composed of a title with a series of chapters each with their own chapter headings. This is the terminology we used to classify texts. Through this course I’ve come to learn that this set of terminology represents a form of metalanguage, a kind of ‘specialized vocabulary’ in the digital humanities world. TEI, or Text Encoding Initiative, is a form of metalanguage. To help broaden this understanding it might be best to compare TEI to HTML which individuals may be more familiar with, and serves as yet another form of metalanguage. HTML, or Hypertext Markup Language, enables web browsers such as Safari and Chrome to ‘deliver a properly formatted document to your device screen.’ This is what we’re used to seeing on a daily basis when we browse the web. However, unlike HTML, TEI is not involved in formatting. Instead, its primary purpose is to make statements about a text. One use of TEI, which I practiced doing in my assignment, was to translate the normalcy of what we see of a certain text (i.e. titles, chapters, paragraphs) into a language of symbols.

In my assignment, I translated a manuscript page from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden which consisted of various markups and revisions on his part, and translated the words into a TEI file consisting of various symbols representing this new form of metalanguage, and matching the text itself. This experience for me at first was a struggle because I had to remain frustratingly patient throughout the whole process. For me personally, I compared this experience to the actual means of translating the language we speak into a different language in order for the person on the receiving end to understand exactly what we are trying to tell them. TEI essentially does the same thing; it involves the translation of one language into a whole different new language; and making a mistake, no matter how little, involves the potential loss of translation and understanding. I found that despite the intense level of patience and attention to detail this assignment required of me, I found myself thoroughly immersed within this new knowledge that had never been available to me previously before this class. With this experience and new mindset uncovered as a result, I’ve come not only to share a deeper, more meaningful appreciation with ENGL 340 as a whole, but also have grown in self-confidence as a student and individual.

My biggest fault coming into this course was that I already assumed and made up my mind that anything to do with computer technology was not meant for me. This misconception unfortunately follows students other than myself, especially when it comes to college and choosing a major. Many of us forget that college is a time for new experiences, individual growth, trial and error, successes and failures, pursuing our passions and areas of interests, but also discovering new ones too. These all help shape me into the person I will be at the end of my four years at SUNY Geneseo.

This particular assignment and Digital Humanities as a whole have reminded me of this case yet again. Before taking this course, I never knew what a TEI file was, or ever imagined myself enjoying the material in this course as much as I do now. The takeaway from this blog post is this: Never stop exploring. Never stop testing the limits of your comfort zones. Even if Digital Humanities is not the class that will help inspire you to develop a new perspective on life, I encourage whoever reads this to try something new. It never hurts, and good things will come out of it, just like my journey throughout this course. Who knows? Something as simple as editing a TEI can change your perspective on life.

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