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Contextual Encoding PDF Print E-mail
Written by Henriette Roued-Cunliffe   
Thursday, 06 November 2008 14:02

Vindolanda tablets

Over the last year I have been working on the XML encoding of the Vindolanda Ink tablets. The second publication of the Vindolanda Tablets (Bowman and Thomas 1994) which also incorporated some of the tablets from the first publication are available online as a resource, which allows users to search and view the tablets.

The online resource is attached to a set of XML documents (one for each tablets). These are available to download as a batch but they have no real use in the build of the website. 

At first I has assigned the task of figuring out how best to add the third Vindolanda Tablets publication (Bowman and Thomas 2003) while updating the existing XML to the newest EpiDoc Schema. The EpiDoc Schema is built on the TEI (Test Encoding Initiative) Schema, which specifies how to encode texts with XML. The EpiDoc Schema produces a framework to encode ancient documents with XML.

Leiden Convention

The EpiDoc Schema allows for a division of paragraphs mimicking that of a standard edition (i.e. Description, Transcription, Translation and Commentary). The previous XML had already incorporated this. However, I was looking to encode the new XML for the third publication documents with a more detailed granularity. In the previous XML the Leiden Convention symbols had been left in the text as such:


The new XML encoding marks these up with the relevant tags as such: 

<supplied reason="lost" ulo</supplied>

This has the huge advantage since while most experts use the Leiden Conventions as you will see in the following example there are different versions of the Leiden conventions. With XML encoding this means that the document can stay the same but still be transformed with XSL into different outputs. 

The Vindolanda and EpiDoc style Leiden conventions with the backgroupd XML

Contextual Encoding

To get into a further detailed granularity of the XML a system of Contextual Encoding was employed. Hippersley (2005) wrote his dissertation on the Contextual Encoding of the Vindolanda ink tablets. The system is based on the indices in the publications. These consist of word lists that covers areas such as: people, words, places, military terms, abbriviations and dates. The idea behind Contextual Encoding is simply to mark up each word in the transcription with the relevant key words.


In the above case the word found in the text is 'pulli'. In the index this word occurs with the lemma  'pullus'. This instance is the first occurrence of the lemma 'pullus' in the next as indicated by the attribute 'n'. If there is more that one instance of 'pullus' in the text this small measure helps us identify them in the text and gives an easy way of counting them. The encoding of each word gives the opportunity of writing a script (PHP) to extract the words with their attributes and ad them to a database table. By being able to identify the words in the text it allows the the XSL transformation to make the words into links which can link to and from a database of the words. 


So how is this all useful. Well at the end of the day it will allow a more flexible and interactive Vindolanda Tablets website. The encoding of the Leiden Conventions allow the user to choose the way they want to view the transcription and the rest of the edition. This may be very useful in the development of the Interpretation Support System (ISS) where the final product will be a standard edition of the document. The user will on this basis be allowed to choose the way that they want the edition and the transcription to be displayed. 

The Contextual Encoding will allow for a more smooth and interactive search of the indexes with direct links to the specific words in the text. The words in the text can at the same time link back to the database. I have already built an initial system to show how this can be done. At the moment I am hosting it on my own website but it can easily be re-worked and added to a new version of the Vindolanda Tablets Online.

This small web application consists of two pages. The Vindolanda Tablet Viewer  allows the user to display any of the tablets in the list in one of four ways. The first is 'EpiDoc with the new Vindolanda style, which is a style that I have created to show the capability of the Contextual Encoding and display the transcription in the same manner as the Vindolanda publications. The second 'EpiDoc with new Papyrus style' is the XML transformed with the XSL which came from the EpiDoc project. The third 'Vindolanda Website Style' is an unfinissed attempt to show how the XML can be used to create a website that looks a lot like the Vindolanda Tablets Online. The last 'EpiDoc XML' is simply the actual XML. From this page it is also possible to 'view a list of the tablets'  if this is choosen instead of 'Retrieve a tablet' under operations.

The second page is the Index Searcher, which  allows users to search through the different indice. This search engine is incorporating Ajax LiveSearchwhere each letter added in the search box will generate a number of suggestions below. The suggestions are formatted as in the indices with the exception that they include the number of instances of certain words in a tablet next to a link to the tablet in question. The link will take the user to the new Vindolanda view mentioned above and highlight the first instance of the word. 


Vindolanda Tablet Viewer: http://www.roued.com/vindtab/vindo_viewer.php

Vindolanda Index Searcher: http://www.roued.com/vindtab/index_searcher.php

Bowman, A. and Thomas, D. 1994. "The Vindolanda Writing Tablets (Tabulae Vindolandenses II)", London: British Museum Press

Bowman, A. and Thomas, D. 2003. "The Vindolanda writing-tablets (Tabulae Vindolandenses). Vol.3", London: British Museum

Hippisley, D. 2005. "Encoding the Vindolanda tablets: an investigation in contextual encoding using XML and the EpiDoc standards." MA Dissertation submitted for the MA in Electronic Communication and Publishing, School of Library, Archive and Information Studies, UCL.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 June 2009 16:02