Overview of the TEI

Julia Flanders


Motives for Text Encoding

We’ve been talking so far about the kinds of responsibility that document modelling and text encoding express concerning the text itself: to represent it adequately in an intellectual sense

How about the larger context? Why do we need text encoding, socially? What function does it serve in the larger ecology of scholarship?

There are several other important functions text encoding can perform:

This is ultimately why the TEI exists: to provide a long-term, detailed, analytically rich markup system that is understood by an entire community and can be used to create sharable, durable representations of the textual objects that community cares about.

What is the TEI?

Technically: The TEI is a standards organization that exists to create, maintain, and disseminate a standard for humanities text encoding

Organizationally: The TEI is an international consortium whose members are institutions that want the TEI to continue to exist

Socially: The TEI is a community of people and projects who use text encoding in a wide variety of ways, and who communicate with one another about their research and the practical problems associated with it.

The TEI is also, importantly, the set of guidelines and XML specifications that make up the TEI Guidelines.

The TEI Guidelines

The TEI Guidelines are a flexible specification:

Areas of Usage


It’s important to note that the TEI is not a fixed tag set that is written in stone

In fact, the TEI is not really ever used directly in its raw form. In all cases a customized view of the TEI, or a customization is what is used.

When users want to create TEI schemas, they create a customization file that lists the modules they would like to use, the specific elements they would like to add or delete, the attributes they change, etc.

As a result, in actual practice there is both a common core of usage that is more or less universal among TEI projects—the stuff that everyone agrees on—and also beyond it a thinning penumbra of specialized uses and extensions that express the needs of particular groups and projects

There is no single orthodox TEI practice: there are greater and lesser degrees of adherence to a set of central principles and usages

For projects in which consistency and use of a common standard is very important (for instance, digital library collections) there’s greater emphasis on best practices and a tendency to discourage idiosyncrasy, but for projects and individuals where the need for local expressiveness is much greater, specialized TEI methods are very common and arguably essential to good practice

International Use of the TEI

The TEI is intended to serve a wide international community:

Future Tendencies for the TEI

Several directions for the TEI in coming years, now that P5 is done:

Already there are several examples of customizations and detailed documentation being written by particular groups, or by projects that represent the encoding work of those groups:

There are also many others (which are listed at the web site for the seminar). It’s worth looking at these examples; they often explain things in more detail, and also give advice that is more directly aimed at the kind of encoding you’re trying to do or understand

Other encoding possibilities

The TEI is by no means the only encoding language available for humanities scholarship, though it is the most widely used and the most broadly adapted; there are several others that are worth noting because they offer distinctive and useful representational features

Sources of Information

The most important takeaway message here concerning the TEI is that it is adaptable; expressive but requires some thought (in other words, it won’t do the analytical work for you); it’s a tool that has arisen out of certain strands of humanities thought and that carries with it certain assumptions that are worth probing

This grant program (the seminars and the supporting services that accompany them) is intended to encourage faculty and students to learn more about the TEI, and to give them the kinds of information that they will find legible and relevant to their interests