Avoiding the Tower of Babel: Week 19 Discussion Reflection

The author of Genesis chapter 11 lays out the story of the tower of Babel: Mankind, in their pride, built a great tower reaching the heavens. God was not pleased with their actions and so He   “confused their language so they would not understand each other”. As a result the tower never got completed since there was no common language anymore. An interesting story about pride and an explanation for the development of language. But imagine if there was a universal language, a standardized form with the potential for adaptability,  think about what we could accomplish.

The potential universality of Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) and its contribution to preventing a scholarship that cannot be collaborative due to the hindrance of language or formatting is an impressive ideal to seek after. The TEI enables greater accessibility and greater movability through the use of tools such as schemas(TEI lingo) or the development of new a schema especially when the source material is unique, since not every source can be standardized. TEI allows and encourages building off existing tool sets and relying on other scholarship rather than reinventing the wheel and doing redundant work. Furthermore, it attempts not to compromise what the text is and or what it will become in the future.

During our in class discussion around TEI in week 14, I asked the question “to what extent can TEI accurately represent a source in a digitized form- what is lost through digitization”? Now, this might be an old and antiquated question but is important to consider and Professor Saurette offered an answer. To summarize his words, the TEI’s purpose is not to create an all immersive experience to replicate, or replace, the physicality and materiality of a source but rather the TEI is focused on creating an online version of the key components of the source. Digitization is not used as a replacement but rather a supplement to the real deal, and even with all the immersive technology, all the sound scaping and the appeal to the senses, there is no way to do away with tangibility. When I was younger I went into Action Packed Comics in Kingston looking for MTG card singles  and I heard a gentleman ask the owner if he thought online comic books would put him out of business. A legitimate question and one that intrigued me. The answer replied with confidence: “It’ll never happen. People love the feeling, the smell and physically owning a comic book and nothing can replace that- the nostalgia is what people pay for more than the stories”. A sentiment that can be applied to DH but I digress and realize this blog post is a buck shot as opposed to a slug.

The point I am making is that the TEI is a great initiative and opens up the possibility of greater accessibility and collaboration between scholars. Professor Shawn Hawkins stated that if he attempted to Encode all of the Roman poet Catullus’ poems and the accompanying commentary, that awkwardly occupies the margins caging the poems, it would take him a lifetime of work but through collaboration he can focus on the finer points of interest. It’s incredible to think about the completion of our final project and how collaborative the journey has been- anyone of us would be hard-pressed to do the work we’ve done all on our own. But as a community of scholars, a class, we began building on the foundation of skills, laid by Professor Saurette, that we developed in first semester and now, in second semester, we’ve built a tower, a mighty Digital Tower… let’s hope we didn’t offend any jealous gods along the way.


One Reply to “Avoiding the Tower of Babel: Week 19 Discussion Reflection”

  1. Hey Matt! I really enjoyed this blog post, excellently written. I particularly enjoyed how you connected the TEI to the biblical story of the tower of Babel and how you used it an example of the current problems facing digital humanities of everyone using a different digital program to go about there work, which makes it very difficult to collaborate with one another, I liked how you explained how the TEI attempts to solve this problem as well as giving some specific historical examples to prove your points. All in all a very well written blog.

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