Closer Look: Close Reading and Prosopography

The process of tagging and marking up the Travel Journal of Christian Froehlich and Jasper Payne to Maryland and Virginia was a dissection process resulting in a deeper understanding of the text. Details that previously were not explicit became plainly clear through the decisions of our editorial board.


These decisions were made as a group to establish consistency throughout the text. However, the team was unable to eliminate biases from our choices.  As  Elena Pierazzo said in her article, “A Rationale of Digital Documentary Editions,” “The process of selection is inevitably an interpretative act: what we choose to represent and what we do not depends either on the particular vision that we have of a particular manuscript or on practical constraints” (Pierazzo 465). Pierazzo emphasizes that the choices made by editors will influence the reader’s understanding of a piece. The travel journal, for example, is represented through the choices we made about what to classify in different ways.


For example, our editorial board decided to categorize “Holy Spirit” under <persName type=”deity> (as shown in the below image).

This is an excerpt of the marked-up XML file from page 7 of the Travel Journal.
This is an excerpt of the marked-up XML file from page 7 of the Travel Journal.

We discussed the option of making “Holy Spirit” and related words such as “Lamb”  objects, however decided that persName made the most sense for this text. This decision, will impact the way that the readers ultimately come to interpret the text. In this way, as written by Pierazzo, “Perhaps then we should simply say that the notion of objectivity is not very productive or helpful in the case of transcription and subsequently of diplomatic editions” (Pierazzo 466). Had we been objective, very few tags would have been made and even fewer trends would be able to be detected by readers.


After tagging the XML files in Oxygen, we were able to link our content through a CSS file to make a webpage. Through the CSS file, we could manipulate the appearance of tagged words or the entire text– color, text style, and text weight were all variables we would alter. I made my decisions based on what I thought would be important for readers to gain out of the text. As stated by Pierazzo, “From the editors’ interpretation of the text and of the author(s) intentions it is necessary now to consider the readers of the edition and ask what must be added to the edition itself to satisfy their needs and expectations” (Pierazzo 470). In my answering of the question “What do the readers want/need to know from this text?” I thought back to both the purpose of the text and what readers would likely be using it for. As the text was written as a travel journal, I decided it was important to highlight the places the men traveled. I also determined that the people the men interacted with and the various roles of these people (Justice, Priest, Brother, etc.).



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Above is an example page of the color-coded text. I also made the decision to italicize the words that were misspelled in the text.

In order to make these things explicitly clear for the readers, I had the titles appear in green, the names of people appear in blue, and the places appear in purple (as shown to the left). Color-coding the text allows readers to easily make connections between people and places. In addition, this was extremely helpful to find mistakes or untagged words; it can be difficult to find words to code in the XML format in Oxygen and this cleaner version made errors jump off the page.