Social Knowledge Creation/Gamification

A diverse range of fields, from marketing to pedagogy to human resources, apply, study, and discuss gamification. Consequently, it is no surprise that an array of definitions and descriptions of gamification cause confusion as to what the term really means. While some offer a fairly broad definition of gamification in relation to game mechanic principles to engage users in activity, others differentiate gamification from similar approaches by defining it as the broader adoption of game elements in contexts beyond gaming; here, scholars consider gameful design, game-design thinking, and game-inspired approaches to refer to the suggested broader use of game-related methods and strategies in non-game environments. There is some debate about terminology, especially because the word “gamification” holds negative connotations associated with marketing tactics; many scholars argue for alternative terminology to distance academic uses of gamification from controversial or exploitative examples.

Game-Design Models in Scholarly Communication Practices and Digital ScholarshipEdit

“Game-Design Models in Scholarly Communication Practices and Digital Scholarship” considers how game-design-inspired engagement, task-definition, goal-orientation, and collaboration practices can offer new ways of tackling the changes taking place in the humanities. Within the realm of digital scholarship, scholars have begun to consider digital editions as unique spaces for gameful design to be applied. For instance, rather than suggesting the simple placement of game-design elements—like points systems or badges—into a social edition environment, the sources below offer critical and conceptual considerations for approaching social knowledge creation from a game-design perspective.

Game-Design-Inspired Learning InitiativesEdit

The entries in the “Game-Design-Inspired Learning Initiatives” category look at different learning spaces in relation to game-design inspired approaches and models from game environments (such as MMOGs and MMORPGs) to demonstrate how they can create collaborative, engaging, and goal-oriented interactive learning environments. The instructional potential of and possibility for learning through games is not a new concept in the realm of pedagogy and teaching. Scholars and teachers have long recognized that engaging students in certain gameplay activities can capture attention, encourage focused and strategic thinking, and teach skills and knowledge. Beyond playing of games, however, game-design thinking can also contribute to the structuring of successful learning environments.

Game-Design Models in the Context of Social Knowledge Creation ToolsEdit

This category outlines a select overview of gamification and game-related approaches in particular tools and environments. It contains a sampling of texts on and examples of social knowledge creation tools, social networks, game platforms, game types, and social literary-analysis environments. This category aims to offer an overview of applications and practical insights on the potential of game-design models in the development of social knowledge creation tools. Covering an array of environments, the selections below indicate not only how gameful design can incite user engagement and participation, but also the possible interoperable effects of game environments in the context of social knowledge creation. As Johanna Drucker, Steven Jones, Alan Liu, Jerome McGann, and Geoffrey Rockwell indicate, game interfaces can inspire critical awareness, enable learning by doing (or by modeling, as Jones notes), and integrate otherwise disparate components and interactions, thus leading to deeper forms of collaboration.

Defining Gamification and Other Game-Design ModelsEdit

The fourth category discusses the much-debated terminology and definitions of gamification and related approaches. A wide range of fields, from marketing to pedagogy to human resources, apply, study, define, and discuss gamification. While Zicherman and Cunningham (2011) offer a fairly broad definition of gamification as “game-thinking and game mechanics to engage users and solve problems” (p. XIV), Sebastian Deterding et al. (2011) differentiate gamification from similar approaches by defining it as “the use of game design elements in non-game contexts” (p. 9). For the purpose of specificity in the context of this bibliography, the text follows Deterding’s definition and use gameful design, game-design thinking, and game-inspired approaches to refer to our suggested broader use of game-related methods and strategies in non-game environments. The definitions below and their relation to similar approaches provoke debates about terminology, especially because the word “gamification” holds negative connotations associated with marketing tactics. Many scholars, including Deterding and Ian Bogost, argue for alternative terminology in order to distance academic uses of gamification from controversial or exploitative examples.

Although games are a prevalent part of children’s learning, only recently have academics begun to explore the academic value of gaming. Since games encourage the acquisition of important skills—goal setting, strategizing, and abstract thinking—they can serve as a valuable learning tool. Furthermore, gaming techniques and skills serve as the building blocks of digital activism—they teach individuals how to strategize, achieve goals, implement initiatives, and solve problems.

While the term “game” is often defined narrowly (most commonly as board games), games can take on a variety of shapes and forms. Some games involve props and tools whereas others deal solely in abstract ideas. Some games involve multiple players while others are based on individual accomplishments. Some games are physical while some are intellectual. Such a broad range of gaming activities can make it difficult to classify or theorize about the role of gaming in classroom instruction.

To address this issue, Karl Kapp seeks out a definition of “games” that highlights the commonalities among these activities. He begins by reviewing other scholars’ definitions of “gaming,” paying particular attention to Ralph Koster, who defines a game as “a system in which players engage in abstract challenge, defined by rules, interactivity, and feedback, that results in a quantifiable outcome often eliciting an emotional reaction” (Koster). Karl Kapp builds upon this definition, noting that “games are the ideal learning environment with their built-in permission to fail, encouragement of out-of-box thinking, and sense of control. The addition of game elements on top of traditional learning environments is a way of leveraging the power of engagement and imagination” (xxii). He goes on to state that nearly all games involve challenges, rules, interactivity, feedback, quantifiable outcomes, and emotional reactions (8). These elements promote effective learning environments for students.

Kapp advocates for the “gamification” of education, which he describes as “a careful and considered application of game thinking to solving problems and encouraging learning using all the elements of games that are appropriate” (15-6). Gamification is a process by which conventional schoolwork—readings, lectures, and projects—is revamped to include the elements common to most games: goal setting, strategizing, problem solving, and interactivity.

Examples of gamification vary widely. One prominent example Kapp discusses is the gamification of exercise in a Stockholm subway station. A group of individuals in Sweden noticed that people often took the escalator in subway stations rather than the stairs. Since this choice promotes a more sedentary lifestyle, the group decided to make a game out of taking the stairs. To do so, they transformed the stairs into a keyboard. Doing so dramatically increased individuals’ use of the stairs, as can be seen in the video below. By “gamifying” the process of taking the stairs, this group was able to quickly and effectively promote exercise.

Gamification also is a successful tool for conveying academic content. By sharing knowledge through gaming—trivia, scavenger hunts, role playing, etc.—instructors provide an environment in which students can experiment, play, and question key topics in depth.

Kapp describes the process of gamification as one that motivates action, promotes learning, and solves problems through carefully constructed prompts (12). The goal of these games is not to win, but rather to learn. He notes that gamification is not about accruing points or badges, but about providing students with a method of hands-on learning that is exciting, motivating, and positive. Doing so often creates a more positive learning environment than occurs with traditional pedagogical strategies.

Geoffrey Rockwell builds upon Kapp’s theory of gamification by undertaking a case study of the Ivanhoe project—a platform for textual play that is hosted by the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia. In particular, he promotes a “framework for the implementation and playing of […] games” (4). To create this framework, he explores the commonalities shared by educational games, which he describes as follows:

1. Playful Purpose – the game itself invites the act of play.

2. Isolation from the Real – the game is an escape from the realities of everyday life.

3. Goals and Rules – the game encourages players to set goals and problem solve.

4. Props – the game requires specifics items or pieces be used to achieve these goals.

5. Repetition and Rapture – the game encourages repeated behaviors that lead to success.

Each element combines to create an ideal learning environment for participants. Rockwell, therefore, provides a base set of criteria by which to evaluate the success and effectiveness of gaming assignments.

While Rockwell’s analysis of gamification ends here, Liz Losh further examines the significance of gamification in her essay “Hacktivism and the Humanities: Programming Protest in the Era of the Digital University.” In this piece, Losh discusses how strategies used in gaming also play a prevalent role in social protest. Hacktivism—activism that relies heavily on computing—is similar to gaming; both activities have specific goals, disrupt “the real,” and have a playful (albeit often serious) purpose.

One example Losh discusses in depth is the Electronic Disturbance Theater, which staged virtual sit-ins to “facilitate direct access between macro-networks and non-digital networks.” By mirroring large-scale protests in a digital forum, this group is able to include more protestors in its political activism. Hacktivism, therefore, engages individuals in social activism through the use of digital media. In a sense, hacktivism is a form of gamification—it creates an alternate and experimental space by which to engage in problem solving activities. As such, it is important to place hacktivism in conversation with gaming—both teach participants how to be responsibly engaged in the issues around them.

Hacktivism, however, raises some interesting issues in the academy. As with gaming, hacktivism challenges traditional notions of scholarship by highlighting the need to integrate the public into academic life. Losh notes that “the academy [is] too often oriented around the self-interest of academics needing tenure rather than the shared interests of world citizens defending the dignity or survival of others.” Thus, hacktivism points to the need for academics to consistently engage with community partners and local activism and, for that reason, it pulls gaming out of the world of the imaginary and into the realm of the real.

Exemplary Instances and ResourcesEdit


  • Kapp, Karl. The Gamification of Learning and Instruction. 1st ed. Hoboken, NJ: Pfeiffer, 2012. Print.
  • Losh, Elizabeth. "Hacktivism and the Humanities: Programming Protest in the Era of the Digital University." Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University Minnesota Press, 2012. Web. 13 November 2015.
  • Rockwell, Geoffrey. "Serious Play at Hand: Is Gaming Serious Research in the Humanities?" Text Technology. 2 (2003): 1-9. Web. 15 November 2015.

Game-Design Models and the Digital EconomyEdit

“Game-Design Models and the Digital Economy” discusses certain key concerns and risks associated with current socioeconomic structures and cultural habits. Within academic discourse, gamification has provoked heated debates and strong criticism. This is not surprising as videogames, and particularly the objectives of gamification, epitomize the play/labour dichotomy. The texts below offer varying views of the digital economy with the aim to engender critical approaches to potential implementations of gamification. While some scholars are highly skeptical of gamification, game-design models can be used in an ethical and transparent manner. Rather than applying game approaches in an exploitative manner, game-inspired design practices offer methods that encourage self-reflexivity, critical thinking, and creative engagement. The digital economy in general, and videogames in particular, often bear challenges as to how to engage scholars and the public in an ethical manner—especially concerning the blurring boundaries between labour and play, entertainment and payment. Furthermore, social shifts in the value and forms of attention are taking place (see Jonathan Beller and N. Katherine Hayles), and the study of game environments is being reformulated and problematized by approaches such as object-oriented ontology and procedural rhetoric (Ian Bogost). Taking these discourses into consideration, the challenge will be to develop uses of gameful design that not only overcome these issues, but contain responses and solutions to them.

Game-Design Insights and Best PracticesEdit

Building on the critical base of the previous sections, the final focus on “Game-Design Insights and Best Practices” consists of a selection of game-design related approaches and practices intended to inform the more practical requirements of developing social knowledge creation tools and environments that incorporate game-design-inspired approaches. The selections cover game-design approaches, best practices, models, and how-tos. Salen and Zimmerman’s Rules of Play, Bjork and Jussi’s Patterns in Game Design, and Galloway’s Gaming offer extensive overviews of video game studies and game design, providing insights to practices from game studies and the gaming industry. The selections of this section of the annotated bibliography, Game-Design Models for Digital Social Knowledge Creation, aspire to provide a broad overview of examples, instructions, and approaches to inform practitioners of the possibilities of game-design thinking in social knowledge creation tools and environments, and to assert that game-design-inspired approaches have the potential to offer critical responses and solutions, if applied conscientiously.


Citations are referenced to Arbuckle, Alyssa, Belojevic, Nina, Hiebert, Matthew, Siemens, Ray, et al. (2014). Social Knowledge Creation: Three Annotated Bibliographies. Scholarly and Research Communication, 5(2): 0502155, 120 pp.

Games, Gamification, and LibrariesEdit

In 2011, Liz Danforth wrote a brief column, “Gamification and Libraries” (2011), in Library Journal that suggested the potential gamification, “the application of game play mechanics in nongame settings” (84), might have for libraries. In the years that followed, there was a period of deep interest and experimentation accompanied by great optimism around the promise of gamification to cultivate engagement and a motivation to learn and use library resources. A body of library literature emerged, including an issue of Library Technology Reports (2015) by Bohyun Kim devoted to the topic, and "Accidental Technologist: Gamification in Libraries” (2015) by Kyle Felker—but within this literature, there is a frequent lack of clarity between games and gamification. Interest in gamification eventually waned, in part due to vocal critics not convinced that “students…would redouble their efforts in pursuit of digital badges and virtual trophies” (Hughes and Lacy 311).  More recently, in “‘The Sugar'd Game before Thee’: Gamification Revisited" (2016), Michael Hughes and C. Jeff Lacy surveyed existing literature and revisited the topic as part of a larger movement returning to the once buzzed-about concept. By considering articles written between 2011 and 2016, this section traces the emergence, embrace, and critique of gamification and gaming in libraries to consider its promise and limitations.  

Danforth’s “Gamification and Libraries” introduces gamification by suggesting that though the word is new, the principle is not; gamification is a familiar concept in the form of marketing incentives like rewards-based programs. She emphasises that execution is crucial for the application of gamification in education. There is a difference for Danforth between a shallow application of game play mechanics and the deeper value of more substantive games, citing the example of BiblioBouts, which allows students to strengthen database skills while enjoying the online game. Danforth introduces the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. She cautions that extrinsic motivators – like the badges, points, and rankings associated with ramification – lack the sustainability of intrinsic motivators like autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Danforth remains skeptical of the hype around gamification and calls attention to the frequent lack of distinction between games and gamification.

In contrast, Felker and Kim share a tendency to obscure or neglect a strict distinction between gaming and gamification, though Kim does acknowledge the blurring of boundaries between gamification and serious/educational games. They share a sense of promise, optimism, and potential. In “Gamification in Education and Libraries,” Kim suggests that “libraries are naturally interested in using gamification for the purpose of improving the pedagogical efficacy of library instruction as well as both raising library patrons’ awareness of available library services and resources promoting their use” (23). Felker argues this interest comes from the engagement challenge faced by libraries in the information era. Gamification “can be both a strategy for engagement and a framework for immersive learning and play” (20). In the sentence that follows, Felker slips from gamification to gaming, arguing “well-designed games can offer compelling, educational experiences that can foster positive user interactions with the library” (20).

Felker’s definition of gamification echoes and extends Danforth’s with a new emphasis on engagement “as the process of applying game mechanics and game thinking to the real world to solve problems and engage users” (20). Felker identifies two broad ways the concept is applied. The first, where a game-like structure is applied to existing systems, he suggests is relatively easy but often less meaningful. In contrast, learning experiences can be designed from the ground up as games, but this takes significantly more time and energy. Hughes and Lacy critique this distinction, arguing the first describes gamification, while the second, for all extensive purposes, describes games themselves. Felker’s argument for games in libraries (under the label of gamification) is persuasive despite the slippage. In his broad definition, “gamification may involve leaderboards, badging, or points. Or it may involve none of those things” (20).

He describes gamification as a teaching strategy citing research demonstrating that active participation in the learning process improves learning, particularly when knowledge is contextualized and applied. Felker suggests that “games may offer an avenue for teaching users important concepts like evaluation, currency, or open access in a way that is not only fun but deepens the learning experience” (20). He turns to libraries that have begun exploring the potential for engagement that gamification and games offer and suggests it could be applied in diverse areas such as library orientation, resource usage, and reading programs. Examining the challenges of gamification, Felker argues most games fail because they are not fun and the most fundamental problem of education gaming is “that the educational goal takes precedence at the expense of a fun gaming experience” (21). Like Danforth, Felker turns to the issue of motivation, describing the same two basic philosophies: extrinsic motivators, like prizes and money, and intrinsic motivators, such as the desire to learn or explore. Extrinsic rewards are notably time and resource intensive, while intrinsic rewards are difficult to design. Felker concludes with key issues to consider when designing a successful game, noting that “balancing player motivation with your educational objectives is one of the most difficult parts of game design, so it’s important that you keep sight of both in the development process” (23).

Hughes and Lacy offer a valuable critique to temper the initial idealism around gamification. They especially highlight the tendency for library literature to conflate games and gamification and call attention to the many ways the latter falls short. Instead, they suggest, much of the promise predicted for gamification in libraries may lie in games themselves. Hughes and Lacy point to other technology engagement trends in libraries that have come and gone before discussing gamification in library literature from Danforth to Felker. They discuss how “many authors use three different concepts interchangeably: gamification, gamification defined as process by which non-game is made into one, and games as such” (318). They suggest the confusion over what gamification is and how it should be implemented in libraries is tied to this lack of clarity. For Hughes and Lacy, the difference between games and gamification is more significant than semantic quibbling.

Hughes and Lacy state “gamification efforts fail precisely because they misunderstand what games are and how they work on player psychology to produce motivation, diligence, and learning” (319). They cite student feedback about BiblioBouts; tellingly, feedback indicated that rather than motivating students through fun, the semi-mandatory nature of the experience and the grade in question took precedence over the extrinsic motivators of the gamification scheme. Based on student responses, BiblioBouts ultimately failed to engage because it is not fun. Whereas Felker stresses how successful gamification depends on finding an appropriate balance of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, Hughes and Lacy suggest that gamification can only ever be an extrinsic reward scheme. Well-designed games, on the other hand, “do not operate exclusively along the axis of external motivation but instead act on one set of intrinsic motivators (curiosity, playfulness) to encourage others (the satisfaction of overcoming challenges, the pride of skill or mastery” (322). They conclude that it is games as learning environments, rather than shallow gamification, that hold promise for libraries because “provided a game is fun, players are neurochemically motivated to keep playing… Play is an appealing way to learn, one that is neither coercive or prescriptive” (323). In the future, libraries may benefit by shifting away from a focus on the often contradictory discourse of gamification to consider how the development of games might be utilized to foster engagement and inspire interaction with library resources.

Exemplary Instances and Open Source ToolsEdit

  • Lemontree: “Lemontree automatically gathers information about your activities within the library when you link it to your library card. So when you visit library, when you bring books back or even when you log in to an e-resource, your actions — provided you’ve registered with us —will register on Lemontree and earn you points!” As of 2017, Lemontree has been archived. There is still a record maintained. See
  • BiblioBouts: “this open-source game teaches students research and information literacy skills. The game takes place online, so faculty do not have to set aside precious, in-class time for students to practice and develop these skills.” Like Lemontree, it is no longer active. There are records that describe what BiblioBouts was like. See
  • Library Quest 2.0: “Library Quest 2.0 is a quest-based game app designed to teach students about GVSU Libraries spaces and services.  As you play, you earn points that you can trade in for prizes, including entries in a drawing to win an iPad! All GVSU students are eligible to play.  Download the app from the Google Play or IOS App stores today!” See
  • Librarygame: “Librarygame is a bespoke library enhancement product that adds game elements directly into the library experience to make it more fun, engaging and delightful. As well as giving your library patrons a fresh social discovery interface, Librarygame also provides useful metrics on how your library is being used.” See


  • Danforth, Liz. “Gamification and Libraries.” Library Journal, vol.136, no.3, 2011, 84–85.
  • Felker, Kyle. "Accidental Technologist: Gamification in Libraries." Reference & User Services Quarterly vol. 54, no. 2, 2015, 19-23.
  • Hughes, Michael, and C. Jeff Lacy. “‘The Sugar'd Game before Thee’: Gamification Revisited." portal: Libraries and the Academy, vol. 16, no. 2, 2016, 311-326.
  • Kim, Bohyun. "Gamification in Education and Libraries." Library Technology Reports vol. 51, no. 2, 2015, 20-28.

Games, Gamification, and Game-Based LearningEdit

This section first uses two scholarly essays, the first by Sebastian Deterding, Dan Dixon, Rilla Khaled, and Lennart Nacke, and the second by Fabian Groh, to define "gamification" and outline a series of principles for understanding how a successful "gamified" application might work. This essay then takes this definition of gamification processes and applies it to educational knowledge-based scenarios, referencing the recent work of Dimitrios N. Karagiorgas and Shari Niemann, with the goal of understanding how gamification processes specifically create and disseminate knowledge.

In "From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining 'Gamification'" (2011) Deterding et al. briefly define "gamification" as "the use of game design elements in non-game contexts" (10). The authors continue to unpack this definition in the subsequent sections. Importantly, "gamification" deals with "gaming," referring to structured play that often involves rules or competition and a movement toward a goal or outcome, rather than "playing," which refers to a freer and less structured experience (11). Deterding et al. also note that the boundary that exists between the application of game elements into a non-game context can be blurry (11), distinguishing between the two must involve either an understanding of the designers' intentions or the users' experiences (14).

Groh picks up Deterding et al.'s definition of gamification in "Gamification: State of the Art Definition and Utilization" (2012), adding a consideration of principles for what he refers to as a "good gamified application" (41). Groh uses self-determination theories to influence this criteria and argues that gamified applications should do more than involve a point or leaderboard system (41). He builds on the work of other scholars (in the field of game studies and beyond), breaking the principles into general categories of relatedness, competence, and autonomy. Groh describes relatedness as the need for meaningful content beyond the game elements and real benefit that exists beyond the rewards (42). Competence refers to the need for users to feel challenged (usually in terms of solving or building a skill), but not overchallenged or underchallenged; also, there must be some way of providing feedback (42). Finally, for a sense of autonomy to be present, players must feel as though they are volunteering to participate (43).

In "Gamification and Game-Based Learning" (2017), Karagiorgas and Niemann explore the use of both gamification and serious games in specific educational contexts. While Karagiorgas and Niemann do expand this conversation to include an analysis of non-educational games in non-educational settings, this Wikibook entry focuses on their discussion of gamified education. First, Karagiorgas and Niemann discuss the adoption of gamified practices through the public middle and high school Quest to Learn (Q2L)-a school in New York City that teaches the general subjects (arts, math, etc.) as a type of game that involves badges, quests, and levels (503). They argue that this "gamification-based pedagogy has allowed students to theorize, and validate ideas in an effort to discover fundamental truths about life, relationships, and to explore the complexity that exists in their own everyday lives" (503). In terms of Groh's consideration of necessary components of relatedness, competence, and autonomy, Q2L serves as an interesting example for a brief case study. In their "7 Principles," Q2L lists "constant challenge" and "constant feedback" as necessary, closely aligning with Groh's discussion of competence. "Failure" is also listed as a principle, also closely aligning with Groh's argument of failure being desired, as it improves the experience (42).

While the discussion of Karagiorgas and Niemann's work and the analysis of Q2L was brief, this section aimed to show how knowledge can be produced and disseminated through the application of gamification in educational settings, primarily by situating it in the ongoing discussion of what gamification is and what it should serve to do. Karagiorgas and Niemann conclude, in reference to both education-based gamification processes and games in general, that games are powerful tools that can engage and motivate learning, and nonentertainment industries will likely continue to adapt gamified practices. Notablt, in both Deterding et al. and Groh's essays, they emphasize that "gamification" does not only refer to digital technology (Deterding et al. 11; Groh 40). While this section has primarily focused on digital examples of gamification practices and experiences, other iterations of the term outside of the digital should also be considered.

Exemplary Instances and Open Source ToolsEdit

  • Quest 2 Learn (Q2L):
    • Q2L is a public middle and high school that emerged in 2009 in New York City. The school utilizes gamification and game-based learning in their education practices, arguing that these processes can provide rich learning experiences.
  • StackOverFlow
    • A website that focuses on users asking questions and getting answers. Groh argues that this is a good example of a gamified application because “even after removing all points and badges from the platform, there would still be meaningful content” (Groh 42).
  • Health Munch
    • An application that attempts to make the move towards a healthier lifestyle more engaging and rewarding through the use of gaming elements. Uses personal goals, creates a community of users seeking similar outcomes, ability to help other players (by "reviving" them if they miss a goal), and provides interesting and meaningful challenges (group and individual) (Groh).
    • An online learning environment that encourages greater collaboration between students and educators utilizing game elements and Web 2.0 capabilities (Simões 7).
  • Khan Academy
    • Provides users with free resources with goals on both a community and individual level. Includes game elements such as badges and achievements (Simões 3).


  • Deterding, Sebastian, Dan Dixon, Rilla Khaled, and Lennart Nacke. "From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining 'Gamification.'" MindTrek'11, 28-30 Sept. 2011, pp. 9-15.
  • Groh, Fabian. "Gamification: State of the Art Definition and Utilization." In Naim Asaj et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 4th Seminar on Research Trends in Media Informatics, pp. 39-46. Ulm, Germany: Institute of Media Informatics Ulm University.
  • Karagiorgas, Dimitrios N., and Shari Niemann. "Gamification and Game-Based Learning." Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 45, no. 4, 2017, pp. 499-519.
  • Simões, Jorge, Rebeca Díaz Redondo, and Ana Fernández Vilas. “A Social Gamification Framework for a K-6 Learning Platform.” Computers in Human Behavior, 2012.

TEI and Extensible ScholarshipEdit

Near the beginning of her 2011 article “Knowledge Representation and Digital Scholarly Editions in Theory and Practice,” Tanya Clement sets out the key prescription for digital scholarship: “the work that scholarly editors undertake in a digital environment must take into account, not only traditional textual scholarship, but theories in computation.” (Clements 2) Digital scholarship must define for itself what changes it represents from traditional scholarship, what advantages and disadvantages there are to new concepts and practices, and, most importantly, how digital scholarship can change the way we acquire, curate, and interact with knowledge. Focusing on Extensible Markup Language (XML) and the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), this section will examine how digital editions and transcriptions practice are advancing and affecting digital scholarship, and what it means to have “singularly digital text environment that requires the reader to ask, how does this environment work? How is it constructed? What new and traditional modes of textuality are at play and at risk here?” (Clement 14)

First, Extensible Markup Language, or XML, is a computational markup language. Both XML and Hypertext Markup Language come from the same root language, Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML). The purpose for the development of SGML was to create a machine-readable language. HTML and XML developed as the digital demands upon markup languages changed. HTML is used for building web pages and web content. HTML constructs everything from images to forms to links, often including scripting languages such as JavaScript and CSS to create an interactive page. XML was created as a simplified form of SGML which was focused on the markup of text. XML encodes documents so that all aspects of their data are readily available, but in a way that allows them to remain readable as well.

In 2004, a group of scholars, John G. Keating, Denis Clancy, Thomas O'Connor, and Mary Ann Lyons, published a paper, “Problems with Databases and the XML Solution,” outlining their plan to use XML to improve digital historical databases. This is a perfect example of how XML has become an indispensable tool of the formation of digital humanities. XML allows a database to have its data “marked up” so that it becomes mutable. XML can easily turn data into HTML for an interactive website, PDF’s (Portable Document Format) for distribution, and PNG (Portable Network Graphics) for visual representation (Keating 274). Furthermore, because XML is extensible, categories and classifications can be user-generated as needed, so the possibilities for meta data are, quite literally, endless.

However, XML is primarily concerned with language, and it is in literature that XML has the potential to create the greatest change. For example, Early English Books Online (EEBO) is a collection of every extant Early Modern text printed in Great Britain and British North America between 1473 and 1700 and “contains more than 130,000 titles and more than 17 million scanned pages as listed in 4 collections - Pollard & Redgrave's Short-Title Catalogue (1475-1640) and Wing's Short-Title Catalogue (1641-1700) and their revised editions, as well as the Thomason Tracts (1640-1661) collection and the Early English Books Tract Supplement.” (EEBO website) These texts are original and are in a typography which is no longer in use, such as the long s and the double v. However, all these texts are scans of microfilms, and often are difficult to read or completely unreadable. Coupled with the typography, and the rare nature of the texts, this places restrictions upon scholarship (Powell). If you want to know what a certain text says about St. Paul’s Cathedral, you cannot search this text, so you’d have to look through the whole thing. Or if you wanted to know which texts mentioned Thomas Dekker, you’d have years worth of work ahead of you. XML represents the solution to these issues. The goal is for every text in the EEBO database to be transcribed into a XML marked up version, easily readable and searchable. Twenty years ago, a student would have had to physically go to the British Library to see the last surviving copy of the first edition of Beware the Cat by William Baldwin. Ten years ago, you could look at a grainy microfilm version. Ten years from now, XML will have turned Beware the Cat and every text like it into a completely accessible, searchable database, and you will not only be able to read Beware the Cat, but to see annotations on the marginalia, see how it fits into Baldwin’s other works and William Griffith’s publication history, and how it compares to later editions.

In their own words, “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.” (TEI website) TEI and the projects it has spawned represent the possibilities that XML has in terms of not only digital scholarship, but in accessibility, knowledge curation, and critical editions.

Exemplary Instances and Open Source ToolsEdit

Projects Using the TEI


  • Clement, Tanya. “Knowledge Representation and Digital Scholarly Editions in Theory and Practice.” Journal of the Text Encoding Initiative, vol. 1, 2011, pp. 1-17.
  • Keating, John G., Denis Clancy, Thomas O'Connor, and Mary Ann Lyons. “Problems with Databases and the XML Solution.” Archivium Hibernicum, vol. 58, 2004, pp. 268-275.
  • Powell, Kathryn. “XML and Early English Manuscripts: Extensible Medieval Literature.” Literature Compass, vol. 1, no. 1, 2004.