Image from teaching journal, July 7, 2016

This project, founded by English PhD student Kevin Smith, studies the writing and experiences of students as they compose XML markup in a series of writing classes taught at Northeastern. In addition to writing their assignments in XML (using Oxygen), these courses engage students in a semester-long, collaborative writing project: the design and implementation of a custom XML schema that structurally and rhetorically models a range of genres of writing. This approach—using XML to produce texts—represents a shift from the mimetic roots of XML and its primary use in humanities research, the TEI. Despite interest amongst digital humanities scholars regarding the meaning and rhetorical capacities of markup, markup in the authorial realm remains little used and even more rarely studied in a systematic way. This project represents just such an attempt—a sustained study of an experimental approach to XML as a technology for authoring.

The questions guiding this research are relevant to both digital humanities and writing studies audiences. They include: How does markup function rhetorically when used for authorship? Does writing in XML and designing schemas for authoring contribute to students’ understanding of their writing and reading processes? Do reading and writing practices in the markup classroom transfer to other contexts? Adopting a teacher research methodology, this project adapts qualitative research methods from writing studies, education, and ethnography to gather data on student writing, reading, and thinking processes. Data was gathered from direct participant observation, reflective journaling, qualitative interviews (three interviews each with nine case study students), survey, and the collection of student writing (normal prose and XML, including version control logs for all XML files). Preliminary results point to the surprising mediating and rhetorical roles played by the markup in students’ writing and reading processes—and indeed in the space of the classroom itself—and will generate new insights at the intersection of writing studies and the digital humanities.


“(Data) Modeling Understanding: The Rhetoric of (XML) Markup in the Writing Classroom,” Digital Praxis Poster, Conference on College Composition and Communication Convention, Portland, OR. 16 March 2017.

“The ‘Productive Unease’ of Teacher Research: Collaborative Research Through Writing in XML” Conference on College Composition and Communication Convention, Houston, TX. 7 April 2016.

(Re)Orienting XML/TEI in Composition,” Keystone Digital Humanities Conference, Philadelphia, PA. 23 July 2015.