Key project: TAPAS as application and as community

I made a late switch for my key project reflection. I was originally planning to review the “Mapping Texts” project, which is interesting to me in part from my work on Viral Texts, as both projects make use of data from the Chronicling America project’s set of digitized newspapers. Instead, I’ve chosen TAPAS, which I identify as a possible repository to host a collection of TEI texts produced in a hypothetical composition course that may be my dissertation project (see my post here on the perils of DH pedagogy). With this in mind, I’d like to lay out the scope of TAPAS as it currently stands. Keeping in mind that the platform was only officially released on October 7th (a week ago!), I will also spend some time laying out what TAPAS aims to become. Finally, in the spirit of self-interestedness, I’ll talk a bit about how TAPAS does (and doesn’t) fit the needs of my potential project.

TAPAS

TAPAS is a TEI publishing and repository service that aims to provide that oft-forgotten element of DH projects—infrastructure. This is not the case at Northeastern (due in large part to the growth of the Digital Scholarship Group), but many institutions do not have the infrastructure to support DH projects—server space, IT personnel maintaining that server space, etc. This is especially if those projects require not only server space, but that the materials remain accessible for long periods of time. As a result, there are countless well conceived TEI projects that, after their initial publication, have disappeared or are no longer accessible in their intended form. Whether this is from lack of resources or simply lack of time maintaining a site, this is a discouraging factor for adopters of the TEI. TAPAS seeks to address this issue by providing the necessary infrastructure and expertise required to publish and maintain TEI projects.

I’ve already used TAPAS, in a sense, to teach a TEI workshop to Prof. Cordell’s undergraduate Technologies of Text course. To be more precise, I used a collection of TEI encoded letters that is published and stored on TAPAS called the Dorr Rebellion Project as the basis for the in-class workshop. I had the students transcribe and encode a series of Dorr’s correspondence working from printed facsimiles of the original letters. Then to underscore the particular choices the students made as editors, I had them compare their own transcriptions with those on the Dorr Rebellion Project. [For those interested in learning more about a fascinating time in Rhode Island history, I recommend you check out the project’s external site]. It was this experience that inspired me to examine TAPAS further through the lens of pedagogical potential. I argue that TAPAS has the potential to make a meaningful contribution to the field of DH in two primary ways: as an application, and as a site of community. I stress potential here because it seems to me that a platform like TAPAS is only as good as its users, and how it reacts to the needs of early adopters. I hope this will become clear as I get into more detail.

TAPAS as an application

As briefly mentioned above, infrastructural and technical support are the primary benefits a particular project can expect by using the TAPAS platform. First, TAPAS provides the infrastructure for people to publish their TEI. This includes all-important server space. The platform will recognize the All-TEI schema, and provide very basic visualization of valid TEI. Importantly, and in addition to the infrastructure, a key feature of TAPAS is

to provide data curation services … includ[ing] automated migration of TEI data to future versions of the TEI, and basic format migration of any image files. We will also offer the option of more detailed hand curation for data that cannot be automatically migrated, probably for an additional fee. (According to their FAQ page)

To me, this is the primary technical contribution of TAPAS. Using TAPAS to publish your TEI ensure that this work will be accessible for the long term. Changes in the TEI guidelines, HTML markup, or any other issues which normally cause a web project to become inaccessible will be dealt with by TAPAS curators. It is important to note here that TAPAS is a paid service (through paid membership in the TEI Consortium). Here, they hint at a yet-to-be-defined premium fee structure for special projects requiring additional curation.

TAPAS as a community

The impact of TAPAS should not be measured through technical features alone. Rather TAPAS is meant to function as a community space on and through which to build, share, and collaborate on TEI projects. TAPAS enables this community in several ways. First, the TAPAS Commons provides a space for those without membership in the TEI to try out TAPAS before making the initial investment. These collections are publicly accessible. Any good platform is only as good as its documentation and forums (see WordPress and Omeka for excellent examples of what a forum community can look like). The Forums are made up of the community of people using TAPAS, where questions can be posed and expertise shared. Finally, the TEI project visualizations provide spatial (see map for an example) and tempScreenshot 2014-10-13 at 4.36.02 PMoral ways of accessing the growing repository of TAPAS. A major goal of TAPAS is the sharing of TEI—aimed at fostering the growth of textual encoding as a method of scholarly production. The geographic and temporal visualizations of are ways for entrants and established scholars to find relevant projects as models or sources of collaboration. Obviously in this early stage these visualizations are a bit sparse, but will grow in size and usefulness as TAPAS is adopted by more projects.

Personally, I am interested in how TAPAS could function as a repository for publishing and hosting TEI files created by students. As it stands, I don’t think TAPAS would work, but there are encouraging developments in the works for subsequent releases (all of this information is available on the FAQ page). First, future iterations of TAPAS intend to allow for the use of custom schema, something I think will be a necessity for my project (as I mentioned in a previous post, the schema would ideally be designed in conjunction with the students in the class). Second, the TAPAS interface is significantly limited in terms of visualization options. Neither do they support user-generated stylesheets. These are both aspects of the platform they plan to remedy in future iterations. An important aspect of teaching a class centered on TEI as a tool for composition is the ability for students to design the ultimate presentation of the text. This is a significant sticking point, as I believe XSLT is too large a topic to broach in a course that is already introducing XML/TEI. A publishing repository like TAPAS that incorporated WYSIWYG transformation tools would be an amazing boon to this hypothetical course. At the bare minimum, I would think that user-generated stylesheets would need to be supported (and probably produced by me). As a final entry on what is shaping up to be my wish list, it would be ideal for students to actually compose the encoded texts on the site. Some kind of integrated text editor would eliminate the need for Oxygen subscriptions (which are only free for 30 days), and mitigate the potential costs of a TEI-centered course.


I hope that TAPAS develops some of this functionality sooner rather than later. And since I happen to be a student at Northeastern (which houses TAPAS), I may just be able to influence development of those features that would meet my needs. I’ve talked to some of the people working on the project (Julia Flanders and Ben Doyle), and I have a meeting set up to talk about my potential project and whether TAPAS could serve as my principal platform. Regardless, it is an exciting project that bodes well for the adoption and proliferation of the TEI. As the initial temporal and monetary investment of beginning a TEI project are reduced, one can imagine a (relative) boom in text encoding. Lowering the barriers to entry should help graduate students, junior scholars, and scholars at smaller universities lacking infrastructure; this should lead to better and more diverse scholarship.

 

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