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This wiki space contains archival documentation of Project Bamboo, April 2008 - March 2013.

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Electronic Piers Plowman

Collection Date: December 19, 2008

  • Name: Terrence A. Brooks
  • Email: moved to restricted page
  • Title: Electronic Piers Plowman
  • Institution/Organization: Information School, University of Washington
  • Field of Study/Creative Endeavor: English literature and Information Technology

Collector Information

  • Name: Terrence A. Brooks
  • Email: moved to restricted page
  • Title: Associate Professor
  • Institution/Organization: Information School, University of Washington

Notes on Methodology:

I am the author of the Electronic Piers Plowman program.  I worked with Professor Miceal Vaughan of English and Comparative Literature, University of Washington.


  1. Participants - Potentially all scholars involved in study of the Middle English poem Piers Plowman would be involved.  A wider circle of potential participants would be the digital literature community and anyone interested in the engineering of literature using extensible markup technologies.
  2. Scholarly benefit - By digitizing the Middle English poem, it is then made available for re-purposing, editing and display in any format by anyone.
  3. Audience Scholars, students, readers and short anyone interested in the reading and use of this Middle English poem
  4. Single process My Piers Plowman editor would be the only tool that Professor Vaughan can use to edit the electronic Piers Plowman archive.  My editor permits Professor Vaughan to edit the poem and produce HTML or paper versions.
  5. Sharing and automation My editor is "free-ware" that could be shared by any scholar, as are the various Passus (i.e., poem chapters) of Piers Plowman that Professor Vaughan is editing.  The Piers Plowman editor could be used with any poem marked up using the current XML Schema of Piers Plowman. 


Keywords for Bamboo working group:

  •   Education
  • Scholarly Networking
  • Stories
  • Tools and Content Partners


Additional keywords

  • Electronic literature



Piers Plowman Background  Piers Plowman is a Middle English poem attributed to William Langland.  It is written in unrhymed alliterative verse into sections called Passus.  It stands next to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales as one of the great early English poems.  A large number of versions exist.  Professor Miceal Vaughan is an expert on the "A" version of the poem.  The most popular version and the one found widely is the "B" version of the poem.  Some indication of the various texts and fragments of texts can be seen at Harvard University's Piers page at

Early Vaughan digital copy  About 10 years ago Professor Vaughan and a graduate student wrote an HTML version of Piers Plowman and mounted it on Vaughan's website.  It was publicly available for student use and teaching.  This file featured custom JavaScript and style code.  With the development/change of HTML browsers, by 2006 the HTML version of Piers Plowman no longer worked in Internet Explorer.  In short, to continue to use Piers Plowman in teaching, a new digital version was required.

Motivation of a new digital version  Vaughan wished to re-edit the poem with new commentary, and produced both paper and a new HTML version.  In effect, however, his earlier electronic version was being held hostage by the HTML presentation technology.  Vaughan received a grant from the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the Unversity of Washington for support of his re-editing efforts, but the grant stipulated that he work with another faculty member at the University of Washington.  He contacted Terrence Brooks of the Information School and requested technical support in his project to produce a new digital version of the Piers Plowman.

Structuring a middle English poem  The first task was the development of an XML Schema for the poem.  The following diagram outlines some of the complexity of the structural model of the poem.  This chart illustrates that the Prologue of the poem can be composed of many individual lines and that each line may contain many words.  Each word could fall into three categories: Old reading/New reading/both.  Individual words could appear with a gloss term of explanation and a Middle English spelling.  Any given line of the poem could also have numerous footnotes.

Capturing the poem contents  Following the development of a schematized poem structure, the actual contents of the poem had to be extracted from the antiquated HTML documents holding the poem Prologue and its thirteen Passus.  Brooks wrote a series of parsers that eventually liberated the poem contents from the HTML and structured the contents as XML documents.  To provide some taste of the resulting XML documents, the following represents XML markup for the first line of the Prologue of the poem.

<unit value="In" glossterm="null" midEngSpelling="null" oldReading="null" modernSpelling="null" space="yes" special="indent" />
<unit value="a" glossterm="null" midEngSpelling="null" oldReading="null" modernSpelling="null" space="yes" special="no" />
<unit value="somer" glossterm="spring" midEngSpelling="null" oldReading="true" modernSpelling="summer" space="yes" special="no" />
<unit value="somyr" glossterm="spring" midEngSpelling="null" oldReading="false" modernSpelling="null" space="yes" special="no" />
<unit value="seson" glossterm="season" midEngSpelling="null" oldReading="true" modernSpelling="season" space="no" special="no" />
<unit value="sesoun" glossterm="season" midEngSpelling="null" oldReading="false" modernSpelling="null" space="no" special="no" />
<unit value="," glossterm="null" midEngSpelling=" ." oldReading="null" modernSpelling="null" space="yes" special="no" />
<unit value="whanne" glossterm="null" midEngSpelling="null" oldReading="true" modernSpelling="when" space="yes" special="no" />
<unit value="whenne" glossterm="null" midEngSpelling="null" oldReading="false" modernSpelling="when" space="yes" special="no" />
<unit value="softe" glossterm="null" midEngSpelling="null" oldReading="true" modernSpelling="null" space="yes" special="no" />
<unit value="was" glossterm="null" midEngSpelling="null" oldReading="true" modernSpelling="null" space="yes" special="no" />
<unit value="the" glossterm="null" midEngSpelling="Þe" oldReading="true" modernSpelling="null" space="yes" special="no" />
<unit value="sonne" glossterm="sun" midEngSpelling="null" oldReading="true" modernSpelling="sun" space="no" special="no" />
<unit value="I" glossterm="null" midEngSpelling="null" oldReading="false" modernSpelling="null" space="yes" special="no" />
<unit value="south" glossterm="null" midEngSpelling="souþ" oldReading="false" modernSpelling="null" space="yes" special="no" />
<unit value="wente" glossterm="null" midEngSpelling="null" oldReading="false" modernSpelling="went" space="no" special="no" />
<unit value="," glossterm="null" midEngSpelling="null" oldReading="false" modernSpelling="null" space="yes" special="no" />

 Piers Plowman editor  Brooks created an editor that permited Vaughan to load in an XML passus and edited it word by word and line by line. The editor permits Vaughan to create both HTML documents and MS Word documents of the poem.  The following screen shot shows the editor in use.  The screenshot illustrates the editing of line 2 of Passus 4.  The line has a commentary by Vaughan:



 Stylings of Piers Plowman Professor Vaughan continues to work editing Piers Plowman.  Example HTML stylings for the Prologue can be found at; This page provides the XML source code for various versions "New reading", "New reading/Middle English", "New reading/Modern spelling", "Old reading", and "Old reading/Modern spelling".

Future of the Piers Plowman editor and the digital XMl documents  Scholars and students interested in working with this version of Piers Plowman are invited to use both the editor and the XML documents.  Given that the source documents are constructed as XML documents, they are transformable into any other format that might be required for future use.