In a 2014 CEA Critic issue dedicated to digital humanities pedagogy, Amanda Gailey’s “Teaching Attentive Reading and Motivated Writing through Digital Editing” offers a thoughtful discussion of how TEI can be integrated into undergraduate classrooms to offer students a new method of examining texts thoroughly and creatively. Gailey (2014) quickly outlines the “hyperbolic claims about the perils and promises of using computers in the study of literature” (p. 191) before launching into her own thoughts about the drawbacks and benefits of this type of study. Although Gailey (2014) recognizes that text encoding is “labor-intensive [and] time-consuming” (p. 191), and requires expensive software, it is invaluable for the teaching of literature; “students must pay careful, consistent attention to the text; they learn to understand the cultural record as malleable; they feel a clear sense of purpose, audience, and expertise when writing; they leave with transferable technical skills” (p. 191).
In this article, Gailey (2014) repeats what has become a well-known refrain in LIS 9372—digital humanities is a “broad term”, a “buzzword” (p. 192) and when it comes to pedagogy, there is “not a very clear indicator of what any class in digital humanities might entail” (p. 192). While students of LIS 9372 have been grappling with these same blurry distinctions, Gailey (2014) focuses on text encoding in her classrooms. Gailey (2014) outlines the differences between HTML and XML clearly and uses an accessible example to explain XML; Gailey (2014) suggests thinking about an XML-encoded text “as [being] divided into Tupperware containers” with bottoms and lids (p. 192). Reading this description that draws on everyday life instead of technical gobbledegook, I was impressed by Gailey’s approachable prose and suspect that she does not exaggerate when she discusses how students coming into her classroom with no previous coding experience are able to learn quickly and complete text encoding projects.
Gailey (2014) absolutely “nails it on the head” when discussing how TEI offers “a refreshing alternative to writing a term paper” (p. 194) and how traditional term papers give students the opportunity “to cherry pick textual evidence and wait until the last minute, circumventing the goals of extended, thoughtful engagement with the text” (p. 194). From personal experience in writing term papers about poetry and actually going through the process of producing a critical edition of a poem with peers, I can absolutely attest to the truth in Gailey’s words; editing cannot be done last minute and requires sustained and thoughtful interaction with every line. Gailey’s (2014) example of how students who came to a text with very different life experiences and produced a creative critical edition demonstrates how the collaborative nature of text encoding projects in the classroom give students an opportunity to combine their strengths and draw on their unique experiences of the world to create innovative projects.
Too often during open house events for prospective students and their parents, humanities departments come under fire with questions from parents such as “But what can you do with an English degree?” Gailey (2014) highlights how the inclusion of text encoding in her classrooms offers students transferable skills, as learning HTML and CSS gives “professional currency to students” (p. 198). As Gailey (2014) demonstrates through her article, although teaching students text encoding requires considerable effort, students benefit immensely from learning new skills and meticulously examining texts.
Gailey, A. (2014). Teaching attentive reading and motivated writing through digital editing. CEA Critic, 76(2), 191-199. Doi: 10.1353/cea.2014.0011