TEI Prospects and Practice in France

Attached to both the Institut des Sciences d’Homme and the ENS de Lyon, there is in France an interesting project called MuTEC whose role in life (it says here) is to promote and to share expertise and experience in the digital humanities, in particularly with respect to the creation of digital editions and corpora. Organization of discussion amongst representatives of some of the major users and would-be adopters of the TEI in France therefore seems to fall well within their remit. Their recent two-day event (financed by TGE ADONIS) included presentations on a carefully chosen range of topics with speakers from several different centres, plenty of debate, and two half days of highly concentrated training sessions. And, this being Lyon, a respectable amount of good eating.

Marie Luce Demonet (Bibliotheque Virtuelle des Humanistes, Univ of Tours) was down to talk about the BVH as an exemplary case of how such projects can achieve long life and happiness; the range and variety of activities and output which this project has achieved, and continues to achieve, remain exceptional however, particularly in view of its resources. Discussion focused on the way that the TEI was now being proposed as the glue which held its texts, databases of authority files, documentation, and other resources together, rather than simply one of the possible outcomes from the project. Tours is also organizing another TEI training session later this year, as a part of a “Masters Pro” course.

Bertrand Gaiffe from the Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales in Nancy gave a good overview of the features provided by the TEI for use in linguistic analysis, protesting however that he knew nothing about linguistics (which is manifestly not true). He managed to convey the essential aspects of such arcana as the ISO data category register and the TEI feature structure system in a painless manner, such that even the casual TEI text creator could see why (and how) you might want to use them; no mean feat; I did however have to protest when he asserted that <s> elements could self-nest. (Note to self: must add schematron constraint in P5 to prevent such folly).

The “Intensive TEI Training” parts of the programme consisted of two morning sessions in classrooms at ENS, jointly taught by Florence Clavaud from the Ecole Nationale des Chartes and myself. The plan was to focus on just a few topics in some detail rather than give the usual overview of TEI Super Lite: selection of the topics was carried out in advance by polling the participants for their preferences – which revealed somewhat to my surprise a strong desire to know more about the TEI Header, amongst other things. Each session contained two talks and two hands-on practical sessions and the programme, complete with sample texts (contributed by Florence), talks, and workshop exercises is all on t’web so I will not describe it here. The participants’ expertise varied enormously, but everyone managed to get through the exercises somehow and even seemed to be enjoying the experience.

Alexei Lavrentev from the ICAR lab at the ENS de Lyon gave a presentation about how TEI schemas come into being, with some good material on ODD, and a description of the Base du Francais Medieval project. This sparked vociferous debate, both on the traditional philological issue of what texts should be edited, and on the traditional TEI argument about whether TEI-ALL should ever be used, ever.

Standing in for my Adonisian colleagues Richard Walter and Stephane Pouyllau, I presented a hastily confected overview of the current state of things TEI in France, using a nice map, and making some suggestions about ways in which a francophone TEI network might be further invigorated. I then somehow coerced a seven person panel (consisting largely of provocateurs handpicked from amongst the persons present) into orchestrating an energetic and wide ranging discussion. Although no-one had any concrete suggestions for how we might reclaim the south west corner of the hexagon for TEI, there was a general feeling that we ought to try a bit harder to use such facilities as the tei-fr mailing list, and a recognition that the TEI was very much a part of the new enthusiasm for a Digital Humanities agenda in France.

For the final session of the two days, we heard from Dominique Roux aand Pierre-Yves Buard about ways in which TEI can fit well into both technical and economic models for small academic publishers, based on their experience at the Presses universitaires de Caen, which remains (sadly) unique amongst the numerous small French University presses in actually putting into practice some enlightened views about the role of a university press in the digital age, particularly with respect to the use of XML in the publishing process. This was held in a lecture room basement lecture room converted from a dungeon formerly used by the Gestapo, or so I was told; it felt more like a Turkish bath.

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