The Dynamic Table of Contexts: A Tool for Rethinking Scholarly Publishing in the Digital Age

Screen Shot 2013-07-12 at 10.41.03 AMPROJECT ORIGINS

CWRC’s first conference, Canadian Women Writers: Connecting Texts and Generations, in Edmonton in the fall of 2010 and co-organized with the Canadian Literature Centre/Centre de littérature canadienne, gathered scholars and writers from across and beyond Canada to discuss the significance of women’s writing. Marie Carrière and Patricia Demers are editing a selection of the papers–including the keynotes: Nicole Brossard, Louise Dennys, Lucie Hotte, and Rosemary Sullivan–recently published by the University of Alberta Press in print and by CWRC in an online edition using the Dynamic Table of Contexts (DToC). The publication is entitled Regenerations/Régénérations: Canadian Women’s Writing/Écriture des femmes au Canada.


The Dynamic Table of Contexts Browser is an online reading environment for digitally encoded texts that allows for complex searches combining the table of contents with semantic tagging, index items, and free-text searching.

The Dynamic Table of Contexts developed from the question of how best to leverage the kind of tagging or semantic markup used in the digital humanities to publish born digital scholarship involving long-form argumentation of the kind found in scholarly books. The browser, which resembles an e-book interface of the kind encountered at websites such as, combines tagging of the structure of the text with the tagging of named entities (people, places, organizations, titles) and with search functionality. Together, these provide users with a unique environment for browsing and navigating through the digital book, one that combines the Table of Contents with the Index. The result is a dynamic browsing environment in which the user can see where the materials that interest her are located within the structure of the volume.

Our slides for DH 2013 are available here.

A version of the DToC Interface with our prototype text is available here. 

The digital publication of this scholarly essay collection will bring the capacity of the Dynamic Table of Contexts browser to render semantically encoded text together with the expertise of the professional indexer to consider how semantic markup and traditional print-oriented indexes can most effectively interact within an online reading environment. The Table of Contexts Browser has also recently been integrated into the Voyant Tools suite, which provides text analysis tools within reading environments, so this will also constitute an experiment in the effectiveness of providing text analysis tools within a scholarly reading environment.


The DToC now has the added functionality of “curator mode,” a setting that enables users to create customized tag lists and to determine the organization of the table of contents. By providing access to the “backend” markup, curator mode encourages users to manipulate the XML encoding of a text.

We are still in the process of gathering feedback from end users regarding the usability of curator mode. Our presentation for DH 2014 will summarize our findings from our usability study.

To learn more about curator mode, watch this video:


• The Implementing the New Knowledge Environment Project (INKE) – funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
Voyant Tools (Stéfan Sinclair and Geoffrey Rockwell)
• The Department of English, University of Alberta
This project is the result of collaboration between the University of Alberta Press and CWRC. 

Participants in the creation of the Dynamic Table of Contexts edition of Marie Carrière and Patricia Demers, ed., Regenerations/Régénérations: Canadian Women’s Writing/Écriture des femmes au Canada:

  • Nadine Adelaar, Mark-up and Usability facilitator, Researcher
  • Monica Brown, Usability Testing
  • Susan Brown, Lead Researcher
  • Teresa Dobson, Usability Testing and Researcher (DH 2012 Panel)
  • Ruth Knechtel, Mark-up Lead and Researcher
  • Andrew MacDonald, Developer
  • Brent Nelson, Researcher
  • Ernesto Peña, Usability Testing
  • Geoff Roeder, Usability Testing
  • Stan Ruecker, Lead Designer
  • Stéfan Sinclair, Lead Developer
  • Jennifer Windsor, Designer
  • Olga Ivanova, Tagging
  • Samantha Fitzner, Tagging
  • Kaarina Mikalson, Tagging