Do <del>not</del> touch the <object>. Extending the <object> element based on the example of the Visual Archive Southeastern Europe

Authors: Galka, Selina / Scholger, Martina / Sagadin, Suzana

Date: Wednesday, 6 September 2023, 4:15pm to 5:45pm

Location: Main Campus, L 1.202 <campus:note>

In its current version, the portal VASE (Visual Archive Southeastern Europe, VASE 2012-2023) gathers historical and contemporary visual material from Southeastern Europe in four region-related sub-projects, focusing on the image as a primary source (Derler 2020). The project has been implemented since 2012 at the Centre for Information Modelling of the University of Graz in collaboration with the Centre for South-Eastern European Studies at the University of Graz and with the University of Basel. Since spring 2022, the portal has been undergoing a comprehensive redesign in cooperation with the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Center for the Study of Balkan Societies and Cultures. The redesign covers the data model, the data curation and the interface.

This paper deals with the question of appropriate modelling of visual material (e.g. postcards and photographs), which is provided with extensive metadata and textual descriptions and can also be a text carrier itself. From the beginning of the project, the development of the data model was characterized by this dichotomy of visual material and text-based descriptions, which ultimately led to the consideration of both the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) standard and LIDO (Lightweight Information Describing Objects) – an XML schema for encoding museum and collection objects (ICOM 2010) – for data modelling. Three of the portal’s projects have been implemented with TEI to allow for deeper indexing of textual descriptions and commentaries, which is not possible in LIDO.

With the introduction of the <object> element in TEI, this shortcoming could now be addressed: In the course of the redesign, the previously semantically weak TEI model, which consisted primarily of typified <ab> elements, was replaced by the semantically more expressive <object> structure. The newly developed data model is based on the TEI element <object>, which was introduced in version 3.5.0 of the TEI P5 Guidelines to describe a “single identifiable physical object” (TEI Consortium 2019). So far, the element basically contains the same content that is available for manuscript description within <msDesc>. Thus, within <objectIdentifier>, country (<country>), place (<placeName>), repository (<repository>) and inventory number (<idno>) are specified. In <physDesc>, the object type (<objectType>) and material (<material>) are encoded within <p> elements. The <objectDesc> contains information on the form (@form, e. g. “Carte de visite”) and dimensions (<supportDesc>) of the visual material.

However, the elements permitted so far within <object> do not yet reflect all our needs. For example, the <objectContents> element (analogous to <msContents>) was defined within the project and contains text-based object descriptions or comments within <ab>.

On the one hand, the paper presents a proposal for an extension of the <objectContents> element beyond mirroring elements from the <msDesc> element, which – drawing on the experience with modelling visual sources gained in this project – will be submitted to the TEI Technical Council for review. This proposal also considers Nelson’s (2017) assessment of the potential for generalizing existing TEI elements describing manuscripts, e.g. <material>, <desc>, <dimensions>, or <objectType>, to make them applicable to objects of any kind. On the other hand, it shows the possibilities of linking text-centric TEI-based modelling with concepts of the object-centric XML standard LIDO in order to establish compatibility with this standard for subject-specific use cases such as the modelling of text-bearing visual sources in continuation of efforts to map the TEI with conceptual models (e.g CIDOC CRM) from the domain of cultural heritage (Ore and Eide 2009).


Derler, Barbara. 2020. “Südosteuropaforschung delokalisiert & digital. Das Visuelle Archiv Südöstliches Europa (VASE)”. In From the Highlands to Hollywood, edited by Siegfried Gruber, Dominik Gutmeyr, Sabine Jesner, Elife Krasniqi, Robert Pichler, Christian Promitzer, 163-180. Wien: LIT.

ICOM. International Committee for Documentation. 2010. “Lightweight Information Describing Objects – LIDO.”

Nelson, Brent. 2017. “Curating Object-Oriented Collections Using the TEI.” Journal of the Text Encoding Initiative, Issue 9 (September 2016 - December 2017).

Ore, Christian-Emil, and Øyvind Eide. 2009. “TEI and cultural heritage ontologies: Exchange of information?” Literary & Linguistic Computings 24 (2): 161–72.

TEI Consortium, eds. 2019. “<object>TEI P5: Guidelines for Electronic Text Encoding and Interchange. Version 3.5.0.

VASE. Visual Archive Southeastern Europe. 2012-2023.

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