Forms of Law and Digital Editing

By Dr Lizzy Williamson (Digital Humanities Lead)

In 2019, Nandini Chatterjee, Elizabeth Thelen and Dominic Vendell began the text encoding work that will result in the online publication of a selection of early modern Persianate legal texts. As Digital Humanities Lead on this project, I am enabling this work through training the editorial team in text encoding, developing the editorial guidelines and encoding schema that we will follow, and creating the resulting online edition, which will allow users to browse and search these fascinating documents, in original and translated formats where possible. We are using TEI XML, which stands for the Text Encoding Initiative, and is the recognised standard for publishing digital editions in the Humanities today.

Text encoding is a way of making a document both human and machine-readable: it is the fundamental processing of a text that will lead to eventual publication, but it also enables scholars to delve deep into the meaning of a document, forcing them to identify elements of theme and structure that would otherwise remain implicit. Text encoding is a great way to close read a text. In due course, we will publish a small resource of a selection of these complex, multifaceted texts, to share them with the wider world and encourage their use in both research and teaching.

This is exciting and challenging work, particularly since I do not read any of the multiple languages seen in these texts. This means that a close working relationship with those doing the encoding is essential, and we have already had several productive half-day workshops to tease out the intricacies of these texts. As well as eventual publication online, we will also share our methods of encoding these complexities, so that others can build on our work in the future.

I may not have worked with these languages before, but I am an early modernist, and so I’m attuned to the peculiarities of manuscripts and archival study. As a Research Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Exeter, I’ve been involved in multiple digital editions, including for example a teaching resource on Early Modern Court Depositions. Prior to joining Exeter’s DH Lab in 2017, I was the Encoding Fellow for Early Modern English Drama at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and before that, Digital Project Manager for Early Modern Letters Online. My own research interests include the practical and theoretical concerns of the Digital Humanities; textual scholarship and digital publication; and early modern archives and epistolary culture, especially in a diplomatic and governmental context, which is the subject of my forthcoming book (Elizabethan Diplomacy and Epistolary Culture, Routledge, 2021). As someone who enjoys the process of translating between textual artefact and digital object, I look forward to learning more about these fascinating texts.