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Section 4: A Practical Evaluation of XML Technologies and TEI P4 for Archaeological Markup and Multi-layered Presentation

4.2 Implementation: aims and objectives

As initial preparation for the markup exercise, the guidance of the AHDS in the creation and documentation of electronic texts was studied (Morrison et al. 2002). A number of general, and specific aims were drawn up.

4.2.1 The general aims of the markup case-study

a) To preserve an electronic copy of the documents in a non-proprietary format to allow almost exact future replication. The electronic texts should remain viable and usable in the long term, and not be unduly constrained by the limitations of current hardware and software.

b) To use a combination of structural and thematic encoding so that users can perform searches and queries of the documents. Users should be able to find their way through the documents and identify sections of relevance, so that they may reuse the information they contain for a variety of purposes.

c) To use queries of the markup used to produce multi-layered output.

Having encoded the reports, the aim was to experiment with different forms of presentation to demonstrate the potential of the text encoding, using CSS and XSLT (see 4.4 below).

4.2.2 The specific aims of the encoding

Following review of users and their needs (see 4.1.2), three broad categories of user were identified: the general public, the 'curatorial' archaeologist and the specialist researcher. Differing levels of output were considered for each category and these will be explored below.

As has been noted elsewhere, the possibilities for encoding are extensive (see 3.2). Markup can be applied to almost anything and everything within a document. However, within the time constraints of the present study, decisions were made as to what would be encoded based upon the general aims of the project, specific issues arising from recent studies into user needs and the desire to create multi-layered presentation based upon this, including the potential for the extraction of data to populate Historic Environment Records, such as an HBSMR record and OASIS Project records (Falkingham 2004).

The general public

For this category of use, the retrieval of the summary and conclusion sections of the reports was considered the most relevant, along with the ability to view the images within the reports.

Curatorial archaeologists

For this category of use, the retrieval of data suitable for an OASIS Project record and/or Historic Environment Records was deemed appropriate.

Specialist researchers

Analysis of the reports identified that only the Roecliffe example included specialist analyses and these were presented in a series of appendices (Young and Fraser 1998). The ability to retrieve selected appendices of this report was, therefore, considered relevant for a specialist researcher.

Although not something attempted in this case-study, where retrieval has been achieved through encoding of document structure, the author wishes to identify the particular potential of document markup with regard to retrieval of specialist content. At the time of writing, this is of particular relevance as there is current concern within the archaeological profession that whilst information regarding an archaeological event and related monuments and finds will eventually appear in an Historic Environment Record, there is currently very limited provision to include any information about the scientific techniques used or the materials investigated. In addition, these data are rarely included within the project summaries prepared for entry into online databases of recent work (see 2.1.2). As a result, it is difficult for researchers to find such data. There has been discussion between English Heritage and relevant curatorial archaeologists to address this issue by developing a standard for the recording of basic information about archaeological science. This includes two components, an annexe to the MIDAS (Adobe .pdf file) data standard and agreement of a relevant set of terms for inclusion in existing thesauri, and new wordlists for recording archaeological science (Huntley 2004).

In January 2005, an e-conference was held on the FISH email discussion list on the subject of 'Archaeological Science Data and the SMR/HER'. A summary of this e-conference has been made available via the FISH archives, which has links to the email archive for individual messages.

In all cases, the ability to view the full report, as if viewing a standard webpage was also considered relevant, in order to provide users with the option of viewing more detail once they had viewed the summary/partial data identified above.

It must be stressed that this categorisation reflects a stereotypical view of users and the writer recognises that broad assumptions have been made on the basis of the previous user needs surveys (see 4.1.2). In order to define user needs more specifically, a pilot study of user testing and feedback based upon presentation of a wider selection of reports in electronic XML format would be appropriate (see Conclusion).

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