The Oxford Experience Project began with the request of a faculty member at Oxford College who teaches a writing class, to use primary source documents in her writing class, and to present the documents and student papers on the web. A consultation team of librarians from Oxford, from the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL), and the Beck Center for Electronic Collections at Emory, met with the faculty and decided to engage the students in text analysis that included text markup in XML.
The team hired a student to gather texts that were interesting from an undergraduate perspective. With the assistance of the staff of MARBL and the Archives, she gathered and scanned images of a variety of letters, diary entries, class lists, and student produced documents of various kinds. The group tested the markup instruction on themselves and made necessary adjustments.
During the semester students selected texts to study and transcribe. They researched the situation that produced the document, and visited the archives to see the original. After some instruction in encoding, they added markup to their document. Finished documents were loaded to the development website for class presentation. Some of the documents at this production site also include papers that the students wrote for the class about their document.
The letters have titles as assigned by the students. The encoding has been normalized to Beck Center practices.
Students used the archive of early photos to research the people who are named in their document.
August 13, 2007
To my fellow students and scholars –
Everything must have a beginning, and this project was no exception. To keep such beginnings from being more confusing than necessary, introductions are usually a good place to start.
Hello! My name is Siobhain Rivera (it’s pronounced “Sha-von”) and I’m a senior in Emory College. I have been helping build this project for the last 3 months, along with Alice, Erika, Naomi, and everyone else in the Beck Center and MARBL who helped make it possible (although, they started this long before May). My job as Student Assistant for this project spanned nearly every step in its creation, and so all of us thought that it might be helpful and/or interesting to record it, in hopes that it might help others with their own work.
The Oxford Experience originally began as a way to help students at Oxford College gain research skills by exposing them to primary source materials; since they don’t have daily access to the vast amounts of information stored in Woodruff Library at the Atlanta campus, a plan was hatched to allow the Oxford students to work directly with primary manuscripts while teaching them research skills and allowing them to assist in furthering the scholarly pursuits of the University and the academic community at large.
The basic idea was fairly straightforward: as part of a class, students do research on a manuscript to discover information about its author and contextual history, i.e., where it came from and why it was written. At the same time, they would also be taught to digitize the documents they had chosen; these would be encoded in XML using the Text Encoding Initiative Guidelines, and would be incorporated into a database, where they would be available to other scholars via the Internet. In this way, the students would gain valuable skills that would assist them beyond their academic careers, contribute to the cause of almighty Knowledge, and hopefully have some fun and learn along the way.
Sound simple? The best ideas usually are. Executing it, now that was another story. For one, it involved coordinating multiple people in several different departments of the University, at both the Oxford and Atlanta campuses. There were so many details and kinks to work out – questions of location, technology, and not in the least, the information itself. But we managed – otherwise, I imagine you wouldn’t be reading this.
My role in all of this, if you look at the encoding examples, was “Student Assistant” which sounds rather bland if you ask me, and in no way encompasses the scope of everything I did. But to start at the beginning…
The title of this project is the “Oxford Experience.” Sadly, our two-year sibling gets a bit overlooked in the hustle and bustle of the Atlanta campus, but Emory began at Oxford, and much of its history is there. Since Oxford students would be working on this project, it was deemed that Emory’s history at Oxford would be a fitting subject.
My first task in all of this was to search MARBL for documents that could be useful. Having a pool of pre-screened manuscripts that the students could choose from was an absolute necessity; we couldn’t just let them flounder aimlessly through the archives. I spent days wading through anything I thought might be useful or interesting pertaining to the lives of Emory students and faculty. When I could not stand to read any more of Young John Allen’s letters to his fiancée, I moved on to William Lyle Bryan’s letters to his mother. I read old issues of the Emory Phoenix, perused yearbooks, and went through untold amounts of papers that were nowhere near what I was looking for. I laughed at people’s jokes and predicaments, was amused by antiquated viewpoints, and at times, not a little frustrated at certain individuals’ inability to write legibly. When I finally finished I had learned a fair amount about Emory’s history, but also about how much the world has changed over the years – and how much people have not. For the purposes of this project, be glad that it was me and not you; that aside, I would encourage anyone interested in history, or even just people, to take a stroll through the archives some time.
When I had found all the documents we thought we would need (about 45), I scanned them at 400 dpi on the MARBL scanner and entered them into the Library’s Digital Masters database. I saved them as .tiffs, but also made .jpg copies, which are smaller and easier to open without crashing a PC.
At the same time, Alice asked me to choose a variety of the shorter documents as samples, and using these, we conducted a workshop explaining the encoding process to all the people involved in the Experience. We were limited on time, so no one that wasn’t already an expert came out of the workshop as one, but everyone had a better idea of what encoding is and what it does.
At this point, I was as inept as everyone else, but after encoding all the example documents (and some of them were slightly tricky), I got the hang of it. If you’ve never done XML before, don’t panic. I’d had limited experience with HTML and Java, and this was easier than either of those. If you have no idea what the previous sentence meant, that’s okay too. XML requires some patience and the ability to follow directions, and the Guidelines that you use are pretty simple to follow, so you should be fine.
After the workshop, I encoded the example documents that you will see on the webdrive. There are a few different types, so any formatting issues you come across should have an example that can help you. If you come across a document that looks very complicated, just remember that encoding is all about breaking a document into pieces of information, and very few things remain complex when they have been pulled to pieces.
There’s not really much more to it – the document images and examples have been uploaded to the server, the wiki tutorial is available, and you have read my introduction. Now, it’s your turn to contribute. I wish you the best of luck. If you need help, get stuck, have a question, or simply want to chat, my contact information is below. Enjoy the Experience!
-- Siobhain Rivera,
Student Assistant, Oxford Experience
Emory College, Class of 2008