Teaching with TAPAS: The Kit Marlowe Project

Guest Post by Kristen Abbott Bennett (Project Founder and Director of the Kit Marlowe Project, Framingham State University)

The “Mini-Archive” on The Kit Marlowe Project (KMP) has been indebted to TAPAS for hosting undergraduate-generated TEI encoding projects since 2017. The project has twice been selected as one of a few competitively chosen Digital Exhibits at the Shakespeare Association of America Annual Meeting in 2017 and in 2023. KMP is a public-facing, student-generated digital resource dedicated to the study of Christopher Marlowe in the context of early modern English literature and history. Simultaneously it is a site of knowledge-making and experimental digital pedagogy in action. Students contribute original research and DH-driven projects including previously unpublished TEI-encoded, semi-diplomatic editions of early modern works. One recent and exciting encoding projects has been Reginald Scot’s 1584 work, The Discovery of Witchcraft.

Teaching students transcription and encoding practices surrounding early modern works is challenging on several levels. First, orthography was still highly irregular and “reading” itself becomes a real challenge. Students need to think not only about what they are reading, but about how language itself works so they can make useful deductions about a given word or a character on a page. Semi-diplomatic editions require one to make detailed observations and capture everything on a page to the best of their ability. This kind of “slow reading” also attunes students to their own reading practices. Many have reflected that these experiences make them more attentive to details overall, and that has helped them with critical thinking across academic disciplines. Scot’s text offered students an intriguing topic that sustained them as they learned how TEI functions to describe the elements of a text.

Scot’s text was quite popular at the turn of the seventeenth century and one recognizably consulted by writers including Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nashe, and William Shakespeare, to name a few. However, student-friendly digital editions are hard to come by. The British Library’s exhibit may be the most user-friendly, but omits the opening paratexts that provide rich resources for understanding the cultural, theological, and political underpinnings of this important work.

Starting in Fall 2021, students enrolled in an Honors Introduction to Digital Humanities Course at Framingham State University took the first pass at transcribing and encoding the dedicatory epistles that preface Scot’s work. Two students got hooked on encoding and added the first three chapters of the text itself. Rarely is work produced by students in a single semester ready for publication. But by force-multiplying student collaboration across semesters and inviting advanced students and DH interns to help, we have been able to streamline production and publish “good-enough” mini-editions annually (see Bennett, “Collaboration”).

Students worked with a schema provided by The Map of Early Modern London (MoEML). TAPAS has provided a key platform for testing code and for proofreading. When students see their work on the TAPAS site, weeks of painstaking attention to opening and closing elements, attributes, and values in pointy brackets are transformed into a well-formatted, readable work. It’s always a class highlight! As for Witchcraft, Spring 2022 KMP Project intern Kelsey Rhodes spent a semester cleaning up her predecessors’ work, posting and reposting on TAPAS checking her work until she had produced several “good-enough” editions that were ready for publication.

Once the encoding work is complete, students write an introduction to the text at hand. In the course of researching Scot and his dedicatees, a biographical connection between dedicatee Sir Roger Manwood and Marlowe inspired her to take a deep dive. Marlowe had written an elegy for Manwood upon his death, but little else was commonly known about their relationship. Rhodes’ detective work suggests that Manwood may have contributed to Marlowe’s scholarship while he attended the King’s School in Canterbury (see “Who was Sir Roger Manwood?”). Had she not spent so much time with Scot’s work, this tripartite network would have gone unnoticed.

The lessons learned from publishing TEI-encoded texts on the TAPAS platform are many, but some of the real take-aways are how students’ reading practices change, as well as how they think about accessibility and online knowledge bases. When they realize themselves as producers of knowledge, they tend to become far more critical and thoughtful knowledge consumers. Showcasing their work and our teaching methods at the Shakespeare Association of America has been an added bonus.