Experimenting with the TEI system was a very interesting learning process. Using this program simplified the idea of ‘coding’ and made iit accessible to a person who is not very computer science-literate (i.e., me). Most of the challenges that Isabel and I had during the TEI process were due to ‘invalid’ lines of code; the program is very specific and finicky – lots of troubleshooting/experimenting had to occur before solving an issue and moving onto or finding the next one. The letter we encoded for this project became more layered in [potential] as we went on with it. Interpreting the handwriting and sometimes archaic or stylized prose of the letter revealed certain qualities of the soldier writing it, as well as of the era he came from. Beyond that, the background and contextual research we conducted to pair with this letter revealed different social norms and deviancies — for example, that the soldier may have followed an etiquette guide (such as Gaskell’s Compendium of Forms) in handling a possible rebuke from Lizzie Johnson herself, or (as a deviance from the social norm) that Lizzie never responded to the soldier’s first letter.
Once again, we see that etiquette and the form of correspondence reveals a type of discourse in which a particular style of expression is necessary. This is something Farge touches on, the idea that a particular form necessitates a particular type of language or expression. Furthermore, there is a more individualized level of expression going on in the J.M. Bunnum letter: we chose to add the element ‘distinct’ for any irregular, notable, or (possibly) archaic phrases, capitalizations, and grammar. Some of these instances may have been common at the time of writing (1862), while others may simply have been a result of Bunnum’s own personal writing style. The real challenges in interpreting the letter (and before that, deciphering the handwriting) itself came when there was an apparent junction of these two elements: when Bunnum’s near-poetic prose was met with an expression or concept that has since fallen out of fashion. These were the most impenetrable to determine, but the overall context of the letter helped ground them in meaning.
The encoding and color-coding of the letter illuminated all the difficult concepts and themes running throughout it; often these points would converge: “history” and “death” tags seemed to overlap each other, as the soldier mentions battles, being on the field, a specific military entanglement at Yorktown, etc. Other moments where themes overlapped were those of etiquette and gender; at times, it seemed that the soldier must be genteel, both because he was an honorable and noble soldier, and because he was writing to a woman. Both of these situations required a kind of delicate code, which creates an interesting tension throughout the letter, one that remains clear in interpreting it now.