A Problem of Standardisation

            My project has a problem. It is one I discovered while researching the Iconclass tags for the Christian deity. Specifically, the issue is whether or not the “single mark-up scheme” – in this case Iconclass – has been applied “thoroughly and consistently” (Cohen and Rosenzweig). In my first post, I praised the thoroughness exhibited in the tagging of an emblem; now I offer one where that level of thoroughness is lacking. This emblem is complex,[1] and at least one element I am interested in has not been tagged in the “Iconclass Headings” section: the tetragram (Hebrew letters representing God the Father – Iconclass tag 11C13) found top-centre near the Holy-Spirit-as-dove. Additionally, there can be multiple tags for similar things: The tetragram could also be tagged 12A111 indicating its use in Judaism.[2] The crucified Christ in the upper-left corner (labeled C in the emblem itself) could be tagged under symbols of Christ (11D) or in images of the Passion (73D), as done here.[3] So, I am relying on the choices and mistakes of others if I use their tags; and I am concerned that this could compromise my results.

            However, there may be no other (expedient) way.[4] Both John Lavagnino and Matthew Jockers offered insight into this problem as I was thinking about it; the latter quite indirectly. Lavagnino writes about how text is different from the elements of a painting (“The Nature of Texts”).[5] He argues you can break text down into “discrete parts”: words or letters. Then you can search through a text, for example, by counting the use of those parts. BUT: “There is no easy way to decompose digital images into anything like an alphabet” (“The Nature of Texts”).[6] Iconclass deals with this ‘searchability’ issue to a certain extent, though the tags are more akin to abstract notions and ideas rather than words or sentences, because Iconclass allows one to tag an image with its associated meaning (see the section on “keys” here, for example). Still, given that one cannot search parts of images directly, that makes the issue of thorough and consistent application paramount. Jockers, quite indirectly, indicates my problem.[7] Writing about TEI, Jockers states “the amount of metadata available [using the TEI markup scheme] is only limited by the encoder’s willingness to modify the documents” (section 10.2). Iconclass is different, but that statement holds true for it as well. Different projects (and different individuals within a project) can have different standards. One project could just tag full human figures for example, while another may get into body parts, positions and expressions. Since I am using metadata from many projects, I cannot guarantee that the Iconclass tags have been applied with the same standard of thoroughness and consistency. Therein lies the problem.


Works Cited

Cohen, Daniel J., and Roy Rosenzweig. “Becoming Digital: To Mark Up, or Not To Mark Up.Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web. Center for History and New Media, n.d. Web. 2 Jan. 2016.

Contents of Iconclass. Iconclass. RKD, 2012. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.

Jockers, Matthew L. Text Analysis with R for Students of Literature. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2014. Print.

Lavagnino, John. “Digital and Analog Texts.A Companion to Digital Literary Studies. Ed. Ray Siemens and Susan Schreibman. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

Stäcker, Thomas et al. Emblematica Online: Resources for Emblem Studies. University of Illinois and Herzog August Bibliothek. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.



[1] Click on “View scanned image of Emblem” to open the image in another tab.

[2] However, such a tag may be inappropriate here given the Christian context.

[3] I might add that I believe the latter was the correct choice, given the specific options.

[4] I could tag all the emblems myself, if I had the time. Of course, there would likely still be errors, as I could very well miss elements or incorrectly tag things.

[5] This is a section heading of the online text.

[6] I should note that Lavagnino uses this observation to argue that unsearchable elements, such as font selection and page spacing – that is elements of form – also potentially have importance for the “aesthetic dimension” of the text.

[7] I wish to note that I quite enjoyed Jockers’ book “Text Analysis with R for the Students of Literature” as it excited me with the possibilities for using DH tools. However, most of my responses to Jockers were based on analogy/simile from what he was discussing to what I wanted to do. For example, Jockers wrote about the coding needed to show that multiple text files held works written by the same author, thus creating the “vector of author names” (section 12.7). In the margins of the section, I wrote “I need a way of showing that Iconclass subcategories [analogous to individual text files] are types of the primary categories [analogous to the vector of author names]; but unlike this instance I want both the larger category and the smaller specific type.” I include this to show that my mindset while reading Jockers’ text was not that of following him to the ‘t’; rather I let my mind wander using his text as a springboard to problems and ideas for solutions. Hence the tenuous connection I’ve included in the main blog post.

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