MASTER: Resources to be made
This page was written for the Centre for Technology and the Arts (the predecessor to the Centre for Textual Studies) in 2000 and describes the resources developed for the MASTER project. Many of these--for example the project's Microsoft Access database--have been superseded by more recent technologies, but the core principles established by the project are now embodied in the latest (P5) version of the guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), the world's leading standard for encoding literary and historical texts.
MASTER is a European Union funded project to create a single on-line catalogue of medieval manuscripts in European libraries. This project will develop a single standard for computer-readable descriptions of manuscripts. It will create software for making these records, test the standard and the software on at least 2000 manuscript descriptions, and mount the records in a single networked catalogue, available to everyone. The catalogue will also include images of many manuscripts. MASTER is funded under the Framework IV Telematics for Libraries call.
MASTER project is developing two kinds of resources, to help create and implement a standard for making manuscript descriptions in electronic form. The first kind of resource is the standard itself, with supporting documentation:
- A Gentle Introduction to the standard. This explains the background to the standard and gives an outline introduction of the standard itself. It discusses why we chose Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) as the base for the standard, offers an outline description of the main features of SGML, and explains the thinking behind the design decisions which led to the standard itself. We also describe here the process of meetings, debates and collaborations which shaped the standard, especially the partnership between MASTER and the TEI workgroup which is responsible for the formal definition of the standard
- The Formal Reference Documentatin for the standard, prepared by the standards subcommittee of MASTER (led by Lou Burnard of Oxford University). Understanding this document will require some understanding of SGML. If you are not familiar with SGML, the Gentle Introduction provides an outline of the main features of SGML relevant to this work.
- The Standard Generalized Markup Language Document Type Definition (DTD) used to validate the encoding. If you are planning to make your own system for creating and validating manuscript records according to the standard, you will need this (and you will need considerable knowledge of SGML also!)
- The above documentation describes the MASTER standard, as determined by a meeting of the MASTER partners in Prague, from 17-19 September 1999. This DTD and associated documentation will form the basis of the first testing and implementation phase of MASTER (1 November 1999 to 29 February 2000). Since this Prague meeting, a meeting of the TEI workgroup on manuscript descriptions in Berkeley, California (October 13 to 15, 1999) has suggested certain alterations to this DTD. These alterations will be incorporated in the revision of the MASTER DTD, to be discussed at the review meeting of the MASTER partners following the end of the first phase of testing and implementation.
- While the SGML DTD provides a measure of formal control, groups of cataloguers might wish to agree on matters which the DTD cannot enforce: for example, the precise manner of referring to names of places, or the range of technical vocabulary to be used in the descriptions. Such agreements should be expressed in sets of 'cataloguing rules'. A draft set of cataloguing rules agreed by the MASTER project participants, has been prepared by Richard Gartner.
The second category of resources made by the project consists of software tools designed to make it easier to prepare manuscript descriptions conformant to the standard. We are well aware that SGML encoding is challenging, and that many people are intimidated by it and by the difficulty of many of the most-used SGML tools. Therefore, we have tried in MASTER to prepare tools which permit creation of manuscript records to our SGML standard by cataloguers with very little or no knowledge of SGML:
- The easiest of these tools to use is a Microsoft Access database, prepared by L'Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes (IRHT). You can make records in this database, and the database will export them directly into the project's SGML format. If you use this database, you can make records which conform to the MASTER SGML format without having to know anything of SGML at all. We expect that this database will be an efficient means for making relatively simple manuscript descriptions, as in manuscript inventories or prelimary catalogues.
- To make very complex and richly-detailed manuscript records, it is likely that you will need to create SGML manuscript descriptions directly. That is: you will need to make them directly using an SGML editor, rather than indirectly using the IRHT database. One could use a 'generic' SGML editor for this, capable of editing any SGML document. However, these editors can be rather awkward to use. Therefore, we have tried to simplify matters by customizing an editor for making manuscript descriptions, conforming to the MASTER DTD, alone. We have used as a base for this the NoteTab text editor. This is both widely-available and a very effective 'Windows' based editor, and has been customized by the Arnamagnaean Institute, Copenhagen (AMI) for this work.
- We have set up an online SGML parser (James Clarke's SP package). You can send files over the Web to this parser, which will try and give you rather more meaningful explanations of any errors than does the standard SP package. It is also set up to use the current version of the DTD, so that using this will ensure that your manuscript records do parse correctly against the current MASTER DTD.
- We have set up an online SGML viewer to permit you to preview the manuscript descriptions you have made. This is a preliminary version of this tool only: we will be replacing it by a fully-featured online catalogue, with more sophisticated search and browsing facilities, later in the project.
Associate partners may (on application) join our testing and implementation phases. This commits partners to making trial records using the software and standard, and to send us, every week during the testing phases, a report on the use made of these. We estimate this will take several hours of commitment each week for one person at each associate partner for the periods 1 November 1999 to 29 February 2000 and 1 June to 30 September. In return, partners will gain access to the MASTER discussion list, and have a chance to shape the developing standard and tools. They will also be able to contribute records to the prototype online catalogue which the project will be developing at a later stage.