The de facto standard

There is this hate/love affaire between DH and the TEI, which seems to me to be best expressed in the way DH scholars call the TEI the “de facto standard”. It’s not the standard you’d wish, but it is recommended, especially by the funding agencies who give money to DH projects. Also, it works, you can actually do things with the TEI that won’t disappear tomorrow. Of course, it is sooo heavy machinery compared to the time and funding you actually get from the funding agencies. But bummer. De facto, it is the standard. 

The keynote by Tara Andrews at the TEI conference yesterday showed this misunderstanding. We heard a DH scholar talk about the TEI, trying to get the best out of the “de facto”, but thinking more in terms of the DH community than in terms of the TEI community.

What is the TEI community? What is it expecting, what does it need, what is it doing with the TEI? Even apart from the overlap with the DH community and the embarrassment it causes), there is probably a discrepancy between the self-perception of the TEI core users, developers, curators and the expectations of the community at large. Although digital scholarly editions are what first comes to mind when the “TEI community” is mentioned, there are many more dimensions to the TEI community. There are other users too who see the TEI as the de facto standard, but in a different sense of the de facto: as a standard that has been chosen and is not half reluctantly accepted like in the DH community. More and more publishers are working with the TEI for instance, in dimensions not comparable with scholarly works. It might even well be that the people who curate the greatest amount of TEI documents are, in fact, not at all represented at the TEI conference. Outreach was the topic of last year’s TEI conference; obviously, we are not completely there yet.

The status of the de facto standard might be perceived as uncomfortable to embrace. You can look at it from the point of view of the responsibilities it comes with and stiffen. But you can look at it from the point of view of the freedom that this recognition offers, see it as an invitation to be open, creative.

As managing editor of the Journal of the TEI, I see things in a rather positive light. The papers submitted to the Journal since I am managing editor cover, I think, the two essential developments we need: simplification and complexification. There is great work being done on the one hand to make the TEI more accessible to people who don’t know and don’t use it yet, and there is great work being done making the TEI more and more able to address very specific and complex textual questions. I hope that the small changes in the journal format the editorial team wants to introduce (and which I will present on Friday afternoon, so stick around!) will allow to give more insight in use cases from other spheres of the TEI community we don’t know so well yet.

And then, hopefully, everybody will drop the “de facto” at some point.


Cite this blog post
Anne Baillot (2016, September 29). The de facto standard. Digital Intellectuals. Retrieved May 28, 2024, from

Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

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7 Responses

  1. I’m not sure that Tara Andrews really meant “de facto standard” for something used reluctantly. Rather, I think she meant it in the narrowest sense of the term: as a standard used not because it is mandated by law but because it is useful ( ).

  2. Arno Bosse says:

    I was focusing on his comments on the importance of outreach, precisely to broaden the TEI’s communities and explain itself to them, which I took to be at the center of Anne’s post as well.

    • Laurent Romary says:

      Well, we all agree we continuously need outreach. I think the paradox (well reflected in Anne’s post) is that we should do inner outreach: knowing better the wide variety of hidden TEI users (and fans) who create millions (I mean it ;-)) of documents without the core TEI players necessarily being aware of the fact.

  3. Laurent Romary says:

    Well, I would have said exactly the contrary. Recognizing the variety of communities the TEI is related to means for instance that we should avoid focussing on the idea of a too simple subset that would make no one happy at the end of the day. Martin’s document seems to see the TEI community through just one perspective.

  4. Arno Bosse says:

    As I read it, Martin Mueller makes much the same points in a recent blog, ‘Whither TEI? The Next Thirty Years’

    • I think Laurent’s comment above was meant as a reply to this comment. I, however, think that Martin recognizes that there are many communities but believes special priority should be given to supporting the needs of the allegedly largest of those communities.

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