Edited by Kaarina Mikalson
The Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) is a consortium which collectively develops and maintains a standard for the representation of texts in digital form. Its chief deliverable is a set of Guidelines which specify encoding methods for machine-readable texts, chiefly in the humanities, social sciences and linguistics.
In the words of Lou Bernard and C. M. Sperberg-McQueen in their document, TEI Lite: An Introduction to Text Encoding for Interchange:
The Guidelines provide a means of making explicit certain features of a text in such a way as to aid the processing of that text by computer programs running on different machines. This process of making explicit we call markup or encoding. Any textual representation on a computer uses some form of markup; the TEI came into being partly because of the enormous variety of mutually incomprehensible encoding schemes currently besetting scholarship, and partly because of the expanding range of scholarly uses now being identified for texts in electronic form. (2)
That is, encoding your text makes it comprehensible to computer programs. Just as the page you are reading is encoded with html, your text will also need to be marked up before it can appear as a functional digital edition.
There is also a certain amount of freedom with TEI to mark up your texts as you see fit. One editor may choose to mark up person names and place names, tracking people and places through a given text. Another editor may be more interested in variations between editions and will mark up page breaks, line breaks, and words to track how they change from edition to edition. This makes learning TEI both more difficult and more simple: on the one hand, there is a lot of information in many of the tutorials and guidelines that will not make sense to you and your current work; on the other hand, you can shift through the guidelines and tutorials and learn only those elements which apply to your text.
The ideal place to start is the TEI Consortium website, http://www.tei-c.org/index.xml. Here, you will find countless resources for learning and using TEI, including Learn the TEI and the TEI Guidelines themselves (if you find the guidelines overwhelming, check out this page Introducing the Guidelines).
Lou Bernard and C. M. Sperberg-McQueen’s TEI Lite: An Introduction to Text Encoding for Interchange, available in PDF form on the TEI Consortium website: http://www.tei-c.org/Guidelines/Customization/Lite/, is a short, straightforward introduction to TEI. This document is very helpful for those unfamiliar with mark up languages of any kind. It makes use of familiar texts such as Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre to demonstrate TEI in practice.
Another incredibly useful resource is TEI By Example: http://tbe.kantl.be/TBE/. This site provides tutorials, examples, tests, exercises, and tools that allow users to learn TEI by practice. It also provides tutorials specified by content, teaching new users the elements they will need to mark up prose, poetry, drama, primary sources, or for critical editing.