The Famine Project: Structuring Data

Gary Stringer, University of Exeter


The application of digital methods to large corpora of thematic texts presents some significant opportunities and challenges, which will be evaluated in relation to the “Famine & Dearth” project funded by the AHRC, and drawing on experiences and opportunities in the wider field of historical and cultural studies. Key to this is the application of structures onto a highly diverse dataset, in order to make explicit those features and themes relevant to the research.

The project has chosen to do this through the use of TEI/XML, and this paper will look at how this is achieved, both in terms of the workflow required to transcribe and encode texts, and in the application of modern software practices to ensure consistency, resilience and reliability of the structures. Brief analysis of the decisions involved in standardising these structures, and the advantages and disadvantages of imposing such a flexible yet constraining structure on the corpus will be highlighted.

Finally, the paper will examine options for retrieval, display and visualisation that will be explored and implemented during the remainder of the project’s duration. Clearly, access to the corpus of texts in forms usable and searchable by the researcher are the primary output, but some elements of the literature yield interesting opportunities for graphical analysis, especially within travel narratives and gazetteers, and the opportunities this affords will be explored, with potential new interpretations of the journeys and literary landscapes for a public audience, in addition to the possibilities of new insights in academic study of the texts.


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