6. Making Manuscripts Digital: The Transcribathon Approach

Kathryn Harvey (University of Guelph)
Jennifer Munroe (University of North Carolina Charlotte)
Hillary Nunn (The University of Akron)
Amy Tigner (University of Texas Arlington)

This course is aimed at those who wish to learn more about intersections between manuscript culture and digital texts. The seminar will model the decisions, large and small, involved in creating digital surrogates for manuscript texts, using household recipe manuscripts of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as the basis for discussions. Relying on a Transcribathon model, which we have experience leading, this seminar will offer hands-on practice in transcription, encoding, and editing. By the end of the four-day course, the group will have produced multiple keyings of a manuscript cookbook from the Una Abraham Collection, held at the University of Guelph Special Collections.

The seminar will explore how manuscripts were created and discuss how digital practices reflect a book's origins and historical context as well as its content. Early on, we will focus on ink making and paleography to consider how such factors challenge not just readers but transcribers and encoders. We will also discuss the choices that editors face when deciding how to transcribe and render searchable the features of a manuscript's format. Recipe collections, for example, often contain marginal notations naming the sources for individual recipes. These notations create a complex system of intertextual links resembling our own digital models, but they also challenge editors' ability to represent them onscreen and in searchable text. The course will address issues involved in creating usable and sustainable digital text as we discuss image technologies, editing practices, encoding standards, and metadata creation.

Using the Folger Shakespeare Library’s DROMIO interface (which is in the beta stage but we have ready access to now), participants will devote their afternoons to hands-on work in transcription, tagging, and vetting of manuscript text. We aim to complete a first draft of an online presentation of two manuscript recipe collections held at Guelph and belonging to one family, XM1 MS A117046 and XM1 MS A117045. By working in DROMIO as we will, participants will not only become versed at these skills, but they will also be contributing to the Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) database, which will be housed at the Folger. As such, they will help create a concrete product with a lifespan that exceeds the time constraints of the workshop itself.

Our model for this process will be the Transcribathon, which allows participants to delve heavily into the cooperative work of transcription and vetting during a concentrated time frame. The completed text will be available via the Guelph library site, and it will become a permanent part of the EMMO’s growing database of searchable recipe manuscripts. Participants will be listed as editors of the online edition.