Venturing into versions: strategies for querying a TEI apparatus with eXist

When encoding a critical edition in XML, one of the challenges facing the text encoder is finding a way to represent multiple versions of a work in a sensible way. As usual when it comes to the electronic representation of texts in the field of the humanities, such a sensible way is provided by the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). Actually, three ways are offered, though this post will focus on the so-called parallel-segmentation method (for extensive reference, the reader is directed to chapter 12: Critical Apparatus of the TEI Guidelines). In short: this method allows an encoder to represent all text versions of a work within a single XML source, where places with variant text are encoded as an inline apparatus (<app>), in which the distinct variants are identified as readings (<rdg wit=”[sigil]”>), whose @wit attribute links them to (an) identified version(s) of the work. At this point, a lot more could be said about both edition and markup theoretic aspects, but this won’t be the focus of this post.

Instead, this post will focus on a topic I saw myself confronted with when developing an application (i.e. a web interface) for such an edition: how do you search within such ‘multiversion’ texts? Most probably, users of the edition would want to focus on one (or a selection of) text version(s). Of course, when version 1 contains the word ‘hope’, which in version 2 had been changed to ‘despair’, (only) the right readings should be retrieved for the respective text version.

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Rendering footnotes in tables and lists with FOP

[UPDATE: Meanwhile, FOP-1.0 has been released, which fixes the bug that informed this post. The workaround described below thus is only relevant for users of FOP versions 0.92 to 0.95. For the happiest FOPping experience, stop reading here and grab your copy of FOP-1.0!]

[…or skip the discussion and just download the files]

The reason

During the past couple of years, I’ve gathered some experience working with XML and related standards (XSLT, XSL-FO, XQuery). Part of our professional document production chain involves rendering PDF output from XML sources. I’ve grown into a big fan of Apache’s open source FOP processor since its now ancient version 0.20.5. Although the FOP code has been substantially revised and improved long since, the versions up to version 0.95 were haunted by one serious bug, which kept me from switching to an up-to-date version of FOP: footnotes inside lists or table cells got swallowed in PDF output.

On the other hand, FOP’s XSL-FO compliance rate has risen substantially in the recent versions, prompting me to find a way of dealing with this nasty show-stopper. Of course, I hope the FOP developers will be able to resolve this issue soon. In the mean time, I think I’ve found a way of circumventing (or at least alleviating) the problem (at stylesheet level; not at Java code level). Moreover, I think this approach might help other users as well, and other users might help improving this approach where it doesn’t.

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