Manus Christi Height

By Monterey Hall

Wellcome Manuscript 169, fol. 25r

As indicated by Katrina Rutz to the introduction to the Bulkeley Project, Elizabeth Bulkeley’s A boke of hearbes and receipts contains a section that tells the reader how to recognize five different sugar “heights” or boiling temperatures, a section common to many pre-nineteenth-century recipe books (Hess 225). The third height, known as manus christi height, is a bit of an enigma in the culinary history world. “Manus christi”—or “hands of Christ” in Latin—refers not only to a stage in the candy-making process, but also to an expensive medicinal hard candy that first appears in medieval recipe books and continues on until its abrupt disappearance in the early nineteenth century (Davidson 493). However, despite their shared name, manus christi the candy and manus christi the candy-making height seem to be entirely at odds with one another (493).

The vast majority of authoritative sources on pre-nineteenth-century candy-making, including The Oxford Companion to Food, refer to culinary historian Karen Hess when discussing manus christi height. In Hess’s book, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, she states that manus christi height refers to the point at which boiling sugar has reached 215°F (Hess 227). This temperature is a little bit cooler than the stage of candy-making now known as the thread stage; sugar at this temperature is used to make syrups and is characterized by the appearance of loose, non-balling threads when the sugar solution is dropped into cold water (“The Cold Water Candy Test”). It is likely the current moniker “thread stage” that led Hess to believe that manus christi height refers to this boiling temperature: the instructions for manus christi height in Washington’s cookbook read “When your sugar is at manis Christi height, it will draw betwixt your fingers like a small thrid, and before it comes to that height, it will not draw. & soe use it as you have occasion” (Hess 226). Bulkeley’s instructions read similarly to Washington’s: “When your suger is in a full sirrup let it boile till it doth drawe betwixt your fingers like athred and then it is a manuus Chrie height” (Digital Image 169/41). These along with other books describing manus christi height almost always contain a reference to it “drawing between the fingers like a thread.”

The presence of the word “thread” in most of the instructions for manus christi height probably led scholars to believe that it is the equivalent of the thread stage in today’s candy-making terminology. This would put manus christi the height at odds with manus christi the candy: hard candy requires a much hotter temperature to form, and so Hess and other scholars have postulated that manus christi candy and manus christi height are unrelated. However, Hess might have been incorrect in her original statement, and thus this postulation might also be incorrect.

Wellcome Manuscript 169, fol. 26r

Wellcome Manuscript 169, fol. 26r

The assumption that manus christi height is the same as today’s thread stage ignores the fact that instructions for manus christi height specifically state that “it doth drawe betwixt your fingers like athred” (Digital Image 169/41, emphasis added). Sugar in today’s thread stage will not draw between your fingers. It will create threads in a bowl of cold water, but those threads will not maintain their structural integrity outside of water (“The Cold Water Candy Test”). The stage in which sugar will draw like a thread in one’s hands in today’s candy-making lexicon is the hard ball stage, which falls between 250°F and 265°F (“The Cold Water Candy Test”). In this stage, “the syrup will form thick, ‘ropy’ threads as it drips from the spoon” (“The Cold Water Candy Test”), threads which would be strong enough to maintain their integrity if drawn between the fingers.

Probably the most convincing evidence that manus christi height refers to today’s hard ball rather than today’s thread stage is its position within the sugar section. Manus christi height falls in the middle of the candy-making section, just like today’s hard-ball stage falls in the middle of current candy-making tutorials. The next step to figuring out the exact temperature of manus christi height is to further explore the other stages of candy-making. If we can find recipes that refer to specific heights in the candy-making process, we will get a better idea of what these heights looked like, and consequently we will be able to more accurately correlate them with our own current candy-making stages.

Works Cited

Bulkeley, Elizabeth. A boke of hearbes and receipts. 1627. Wellcome Library MS 169.    Web. 11 April 2016.

“The Cold Water Candy Test.” The Accidental Scientist: Science of Cooking. National Science Foundation Exploratorium, 2016. Web. 20 April 2016.

Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Ed. Tom Jaine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Print.

Hess, Karen. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery: And Booke of Sweetmeats. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995. Print.

Hopkins, Kate. Sweet Tooth: The Bittersweet History of Candy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012. Print.

____________________________

Monterey Hall is a student at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She worked with the Bulkeley manuscript during a course on Digital Research Methods in Historical Recipes with Professor Rebecca Laroche.

Health as Goodness, Not Wellness

By Jonathan Powers

While contemporary discussion of “health” revolves around one’s dietary and physical habits, recipe-writers of the 16th and 17th centuries held a much more serious understanding of health and its preservation. To be “healthy” was not a physical matter, but a spiritual one: to have “health” often meant aligning oneself with God and abdicating sin. The word “health” was also used analogously with a Christianized notion of salvation, which stipulates that belief in Jesus Christ’s divinity and message yields entry into heaven. This analysis explores how receipt-writers discussed the concept of health, which will provide a better sense of what the authors originally meant to convey when they wrote about sustaining one’s health during this time period. Maintaining health was exceedingly more important to these writers than our current standards of preserving health – doing so was a matter not just of wellness or sickness, but of salvation or damnation of the soul itself.

Although health is currently understood as “Soundness of body; that condition in which its functions are duly and efficiently discharged,” (“health, n.1”) the meaning of health for writers of the 16th and 17th centuries referred more to “Spiritual, moral, or mental soundness or well-being; salvation” (“health, n.4”). Here, the OED demonstrates that our modern understanding of health is that which is constricted to the body, to the “soundness” of the body; but the archaic definition of the word illustrates a transcendence of the corporeal to the spiritual, in such a high degree that having “health” means having salvation – a spiritual, Christian sense of salvation. One example of the importance of health in this context derives from Anne Wheathill’s A Handful of Wholesome (Though Homely) Herbs, in which she prays that “Wherefore in thée my hart shall be joifull, and in thy saving health, which is thy sonne Christ our Saviour and redéemer” (Wheathill sig. B5r). The phrase “saving health” occurs three times in this text, while the word “salvation” or words referring to God often appear alongside the word “health.” This treatment of “health” indicates a heavily spiritual connotation drawn from the word. In this passage, “thy saving health” is equated directly to Christ and his status as savior.

Wellcome MS 169, fol. 23r, Digital Image 38.

Wellcome MS 169, fol. 23r, Digital Image 38.

Health not only constitutes salvation, though, but also represents a spiritual notion that one must strive for, to retain a connection with God. In her A Booke of Hearbes and Receipts, Elizabeth Bulkeley includes a recipe titled “A Speciall meanes to preserve health.” This recipe provides metaphorical directions that exemplify how one can develop a better connection with God. In the format of a recipe, the text instructs readers to undergo a variety of spiritual experiences to become more Christ-like, so that they can:

rise from syn willinglie, take vp Christes Crosse
boudlie, stand to gut mornfullie, bere it pacient,,
lie & rest thankefully & then shalt thou lyve ever,,
lastinglie & come to heaven safelie vnto whiche
place hasten vs lord speedilie Amen / (MS Digital Image 169/38).

Preserving health, here, illustrates an end goal of acquiring salvation and entry into heaven. Throughout this recipe, readers are called to commit themselves to various acts of worship in order to relinquish worldly desire and vice for the end goal of attaining redemption. These acts are represented as if they were ingredients in a recipe, with materials such as a “quart of Repentance of Ninyvie” or a “spoon of faithfull prayers,” and the recipe not only confirms a spiritual understanding of the word “health,” but also serves as a creative way of instilling guidance for those who want to preserve their spiritual salvation (MS 169/38).

It is also important to contextualize this analysis with the fact that many recipes of this time, including recipes in Bulkeley’s manuscript, were meant to stave off the plague. Due to a limited understanding of the plague at the time, people were often led to believe that this disease was the result of God exacting punishment upon sinners of the world. In having this belief, the relationship between one’s moral purity and one’s physical health becomes much clearer and more intimately intertwined. By preserving one’s moral sanctity, one would be alleviated from a divinely inspired punishment against humanity and would thus be able to survive during the plague. By indulging in sin, though, one risked being struck down with the life-threatening Black Death.

While these texts provide compelling evidence for the spiritual connotation derived from the word “health,” the word was still fairly versatile and retained its current definition in other usage. In her analysis of Caterina Sforza’s Experimenti, Meredith Ray points out that “[a]t the turn of the sixteenth century, Caterina recorded over four hundred recipes for beauty and health,” and further discusses how Sforza’s manuscript focuses on the physicality of beauty and health (Ray). Thus, health retained its current definition in other usage during this time, while the largely spiritual dimension of the word has greatly dissipated as the centuries have progressed. Despite the evolved nature of this word and its multifaceted use, the important takeaway is that many authors of the 16th and 17th centuries utilized the word “health” in a far different way, equating the word to salvation. Understanding the contextual cues of this word in reading literature of this time period will enable individuals to better distinguish if the text is discussing matters of the body, of the soul, or both.

Works Cited

Bulkeley, Elizabeth. A Booke of Hearbes and Receipts. 1627. Wellcome Library MS 169.   22  Apr. 2016.

“health, n.1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 22 April 2016.

“health, n.4.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 22 April 2016.

Ray, Meredith K. “‘The Alchemist’s Desire’: Recipes for Health and Beauty from Caterina         Sforza.” The Recipes Project. 03 Mar. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2016.

Wheathill, Anne. A Handful of Wholesome (Though Homely) Herbs. London, 1584. Women  Writers Online. Women Writers Project, Northeastern University. 22 Apr. 2016.

Jonathan Powers just received his B.A. in English from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. He worked with Professor Rebecca Laroche in a course on Digital Research Methods in Historical Recipes.

The 1st Annual EMPS Transcribathon

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 1.30.15 PM

The officers of the Early Modern Paleography Society at UNC Charlotte have been (very) busily preparing for our first annual EMPS Transcribathon!

The Transcribathon will take place on Friday, April 8th, 2016 from 10 am – 3 pm EDT. Our main headquarters will be on the campus of UNC Charlotte, in the Student Union rooms 340C&F, but if you can’t make it to Charlotte, we’d love for you to participate remotely! As of right now, we have transcribers planning to participate both nationally and internationally – from Colorado Springs to Berlin!

Our main goal is to completely transcribe an anonymous 18th century manuscript recipe book that the Folger has set aside for us. We’ll need all the help we can get, so we welcome all participation, whether it’s for the entire day or just half an hour.

We also have various activities planned throughout the day to attract potential new transcribers: there will be games, transcription sprints, and prizes, as well as a panel discussion about the importance of transcription, early modern recipes, and what it’s like to grow ingredients and cook from the recipes we transcribe (among other topics) with panelists from UNC Charlotte, UC Colorado Springs, and UNC Chapel Hill. We’ll also have plenty of coffee and snacks throughout the day and will be meeting afterwards for a wine social at the Wine Vault across the street from campus.

In preparation for the event, our university greenhouse grew angelica, seen below in its abundance:

Angelica

And we got together to candy the angelica for the event, so if you come, you’ll be able to taste:

AngelicaCooking

Angelica2Cooking

If you have any questions or would like to circulate our flyer to your contacts who might like to participate, feel free to send me an email: bward30@uncc.edu.

You can also stay up-to-date on the happenings by “liking” our page on Facebook (facebook.com/empsociety) and following us on Twitter (@empsociety)! Or, for the event, you can use #empstranscribathon2016.

“A medicine to Clarifye the Eyesighte.”

By Monterey Hall

In my previous post, I discussed Mistress Vernam and her contribution to Lady Frances Catchmay’s Booke of Medicins (https://f.hypotheses.org/879).  I had run across a single possible match for Mistress Vernam in the genealogical database Ancestry.com: the search pointed to Jess Cox, a woman who was married to John Vernam in Hardwicke, Gloucestershire in 1613 (Ancestry.com).  Despite this find, however, I was hardly closer to discovering her connection to either Lady Catchmay or seventeenth-century medical practice.

I used the result from Ancestry.com to try and locate Mistress Vernam in other contemporaneous medical books.  Unfortunately, her lack of genealogical records makes Jess Vernam’s possible medical connections difficult to pinpoint.  There are quite a few references to various doctors named “Cox” in several early modern databases; but without a record of Jess’s birth, there is no way to know if these doctors were related to her.  Rather than continuing to search for Mistress Vernam by her name, I decided to look for her through her recipes.

At the present moment, searching for recipes across texts is a messy and imperfect process due in part to the fact that we as a scholarly community are still in the earlier stages of transcribing and coding these early modern books.  As this process comes closer to completion, it will be much easier to search through them in a thorough and efficient manner.  What the Wellcome Library has transcribed into their database thus far, however, is absolutely invaluable: I was able to look for Mistress Vernam’s recipes via their titles by breaking each title into its keywords and searching for their variant spellings.

My search revealed a link between the penultimate recipe within Mistress Vernam’s medicines and a recipe in MS 373.  Mistress Vernam’s “A medicine to Clarifye the Eyesighte” instructs to “Take the gaules of swine, of an eele, & of a cocke, temper them well together with honney & fayre water & keape it in a cleane glasse, for your vsse: when you haue neade annoynte the eyes therwith” (MS184a/34)

Wellcome MS 184A/34.

Wellcome MS 184A/34.

MS 373/121 contains a nearly identical recipe called “To Clarifie the Sight”:

Wellcome MS 373/121.

Wellcome MS 373/121.

MS 373 belonged to and was written by Jane Jackson in 1642 (MS 373), meaning that it was compiled almost twenty years after Lady Catchmay’s Booke of Medicins.  Unfortunately Jackson does not give any attribution for this recipe, nor does the book contain any of Mistress Vernam’s other medicines.  Still, this find suggests one possible connection between Mistress Vernam and the wider medical community.  With this new insight, the next step would be to find out who Jane Jackson was and whether or not she was connected to Lady Catchmay and Mistress Vernam.  And if she was not, then what might Jackson and Vernam’s common source have been?

This line of inquiry is outside the scope of this post, although it is certainly one that should be pursued at some point in the future.  For now, I will leave you with this: it is likely that I missed several matches for Mistress Vernam’s recipes and thus I likely also missed several connections.  Although I only found two iterations of the above recipe in my own searches, it is quite possible that versions of “A medicine to Clarifye the Eyesighte” appear in other manuscripts beyond the two mentioned here.  I encourage my fellow scholars to look for this recipe elsewhere so that we can discover more connections between Mistress Vernam and the medical community.

As evidenced by the two recipes above, titles can vary between sister recipes both in terms of spelling and phrasing; it is simply not possible for a single person to account for every variation.  A much more detailed method of search would look not only for titles, but also for ingredients.  Searching for uncommon ingredients would help scholars to find connections between medical texts, their authors, and their contributors.  This type of search will not be possible for several years yet.  When it is possible, it will be a powerful tool for piecing together an accurate picture of the vast early modern medical community.  Searching for recipes in addition to names will allow us to see connections and relationships within the medical community that might not have been apparent otherwise.  And it will hopefully some day allow us to find out the true identity of the mysterious Mistress Vernam.

Monterey Hall, is an undergraduate at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and is a student of Rebecca Laroche.

Works Cited

Ancestry.com. Ancestry, 2015. Web. 10 Dec 2015.

Catchmay, Lady Frances. A Booke of Medicins, preserues and Cookerye. 1625. Wellcome Library MS 184a. Web. 2 Nov 2015

Jackson, Jane. Booke of Medical Receipts. 1642. Wellcome Library MS 373. Web. 16 Dec 2015.

Monterey Hall is a student at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She worked with Professor Rebecca Laroche in an independent study on the Catchmay Manuscript in Fall 2015.

This is How My Grandmother Cooks: Manuscript Recipes in the Composition Classroom

By Samantha Snivley

This past summer, the relationship between early modern recipes and teaching undergraduates was on everyone’s mind at the “Teaching Early Modern Recipes in the Digital Age” workshop at Attending to Early Modern Women. How could we bring manuscript receipt collections into our classrooms, and what could students learn from them?

Manuscript recipes raise questions of form, genre, and purpose, and these questions are key to undergraduate writers’ development of academic writing skills. Most of the ideas proposed in June were intended for literature or history courses, but as a graduate student teaching a standardized composition syllabus, I wanted to know: What could manuscript recipes teach an introductory composition course about writing?

I ran the experiment this winter in my UWP001: Expository Writing class, and it turns out that manuscript recipes are perfect texts to think with in a composition classroom. I incorporated selected manuscript recipes into a unit on rhetorical analysis, and a day on “Genre” seemed most germane for my class to discuss the ways that manuscript recipes intricately combine genre and form with audience concerns. I wanted my students to realize that formal, generic, and linguistic choices are vital to constructing rhetorical messages.

I used two recipes from the Wellcome Library’s digital collections: a recipe for “biskett bread” from the 1686 recipe book of Elizabeth Godfrey & others (MS 2535, folio 14) and a recipe for “ginger bread cake” from the 1699 manuscript of Edward & Katharine Kidder (MS3107, folios 19 and 20). I paired this with a recipe for “French Bread” from Hannah Woolley’s 1672 The Exact Cook (142).

Slide05Slide07

However, it would be cruel to make a group of undergrads read 17th-century handwriting, so I transcribed the manuscripts for our discussion. I then asked my students: Based on these texts, what are the formal conventions of a recipe? How does the genre change over time, or among rhetorical situations? And what do these genre conventions suggest about audience expectations and expertise?

My students were bemused by the diction, phrasing, and imprecision of the 17th-century recipes, but quickly inferred audience expectations from the genre conventions they observed. They noted that the form of a manuscript recipe required a variety of literacies in its audiences, and from there were argued that manuscript recipes also assumed a body of experiential knowledge acquired prior to reading the recipe.[1] We then discussed the reciprocity of this relationship: if you can infer qualities about the audience from a text, how might a writer use genre conventions to interact with their audience?

At first, my students had some difficulty articulating the complex way that recipes both required and contributed to a shared culture of experiential knowledge. They found the injunction in Woolley’s recipe to “let not your Oven be too hot,” odd in a text intended to teach its audience a new skill. However, they were able to navigate this question by retracing these ideas through their own experiences interacting with recipes. A number of students noted that “this sounds like the way my grandmother describes her recipes/makes her food,” and we discussed the way that genres function as a contract between writer and reader.

Using recipes to think about the ways an audience for a piece of rhetoric is partially determined by form was a productive exercise for my composition students. Not only were they able to watch a genre develop and change over time—thereby realizing the social nature of written genres—they were also able to think about their own abilities to control and work with genre conventions to further their own rhetorical message.

Samantha Snively, Graduate Student, University of California, Davis

Works Cited

[1] Wendy Wall describes this as “kitchen literacy” in “Literacy and the Domestic Arts.” Huntington Library Quarterly 73.3 (2010): 383-412.

Networking Recipe Writers with “Networking Early Modern Women”

By Melissa Schultheis

There are few events that could put me to work before 8 A.M. on a Saturday with a smile on my face, but Networking Early Modern Women was certainly one of them. Networking Women and the subsequent “add-a-thon” trained participants to add early modern women and their relationships to the site Six Degrees of Francis Bacon, a digital humanities project that represents early modern social networks. As moderator Christopher Warren explained, women made up half of the population during this epoch but make up only 6% of entries in Six Degrees’ main source, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Networking Women aims to complicate such a male-centered view of history by representing the networks in which early modern women participated: “news networks, print networks, food networks, court networks, literary networks, epistolary networks, support networks, and religious networks,” the event’s “Rationale” explains, “in short, all networks.”

Tracking recipe writers’ and compilers’ networks will be tremendously helpful to our work: perhaps we will be able to say more about a recipe’s movement, evolution, and original location. We may be able to analyze more accurately disparities in early modern healthcare based on the social status, education, and wealth of writers and compilers. Or we may be able to draw parallels from the popularity of recipes and ingredients to a burgeoning global pre-capitalist society. The Recipes Project and EMROC have found another great ally, and I am thrilled to be a young scholar at a time when a myriad of disciplines can collaborate easily and share in the labor of representing the historically un- and misrepresented.

Of course, digitally reconstructing the social fabric of early modern society comes with both pitfalls and advantages. Racial and social-status diversity can be difficult to clearly represented due in part to language, cultural, and educational disparities. And representing women and their relationships has been problematic for contemporary researchers since, as Amanda Herbert notes in her keynote, “less scholarly attention has been paid to the way that women’s networks helped constitute and maintain a growing British empire in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.” Additionally, even when we broaden archival work to include hand-worked objects such as clothing and jewelry or traditionally overlooked pieces of historical writing such as account and recipe books, we run into masculine apparatuses that obscure women’s identities and thus their role in the period.

For example, as I added female recipe contributors mentioned in Aletheia Howard’s Natura Exenterata (1655), I struggled to identify these women elsewhere due, in part, to marriages and subsequent name changes—not to mention the possibility of alternative spellings for both maiden and married names. As you can see in the image of my entry for Lettice Pudsey, trying to locate the same early modern woman in more than one currently searchable source requires many open tabs: OED, ODNB, EEBO, Six Degrees, The Recipes Project, Luna, Google Docs and Google Book searches. While not an extensive search, the pursuit of more biographical information on Pudsey came up short that day, and with one relationship (to Mrs. Risley, who may be related to Thomas Risley (1630-1716) who practiced medicine) the node is floating in a network that I hope will one day have more to say about the woman it represents.

Lettice Pudsey Node

Traditionally, identifying early modern women has depended on identifying their relationships with and to men. And with so few early modern women in contemporary databases at this time, we will inevitably rely on early modern men to identify many of these women. So while Six Degrees now allows me to represent Howard’s relationship to recipe contributor Lady Cook and Coventry and gives Pudsey a place in this digital recreation, I can hear Hillary Nunn’s inquiry buzzing in the back of my mind: “If only that means we could say for sure who these people are.”

Of course, the paradox here is that as we add women and track their lineage, often through their relationships with and to men, we will begin to see more clearly the complexity of women’s networks, more accurately articulate their dependence on and independence from men, and better understand who these people are, while continuing to complicate narratives that portray early modern women only as victims of patriarchal apparatuses. Six Degrees is a tremendous resource for this work with the potential to grow with and adapt to contemporary research that augments the historical canon of the period.

Fundamentally interdisciplinary and collaborative, Six Degrees will be most helpful when working in a similar manner. The day of the add-a-thon I worked from a list of names compiled by Hillary Nunn and a transcription of the Natura that she shared with me. I worked from Google Docs with other contributors. I watched enthusiastic Twitter users discuss the day’s talks. I went from being two degrees from the project, to one. The day gave me a new support system, a new network, through which I can more easily learn who these early modern women are, while sharing that information with other scholars. As with any project that aims to shed light on underrepresentation, for Networking Women to more accurately represent early modern women’s social networks, it demands much from its contributors. We must look in margins and notes, as Amanda Herbert recommends, and search for women’s work in material items. We must think both creatively and together as we reconstruct the past, working with the conviction articulated so well that day by @DanAShore on Twitter: “Obviously #networkingwomen isn’t just about a single website. The hope is that inclusion in one resource leads to wider inclusion as well.”

Melissa was part of the EMROC (Early Modern Recipes Online Collective) contingent who participated in Networking Women. She is an M.A. student at the University of Colorado-Boulder. This post is cross-posted at The Recipes Project and was originally published at her own blog.

EMROC’s Coming Up Roses in 2016

By Rebecca Laroche

Roses

Once again, EMROC enters a new term filled with exciting discoveries and steady progress toward our collective goals. Through our teaching and research, we look to transcribe, vet, and tag as well as present our findings and our progress in various conferences in North America and Europe. This work reinforces EMROC’s aims in forging links between individual and collaborative research and connecting both with our energizing classrooms.

This semester, three EMROC members are linking the project with their classes. At North Carolina State University, Maggie Simon is integrating recipes from Constance Hall’s collection into a discussion on country house poems in her course “Delighting in Disorder: Seventeenth Century Poetry and Prose.” The unit abuts another on verse miscellanies, and she anticipates that the juxtaposition will fit nicely with considering other types of manuscript transmission, collaboration, and compilation. In a course entitled “The Global History of Food, 1450–1750,” Lisa Smith at the University of Essex considers with her students how recipes fit within global culture as commodities and as transmitted texts as they transcribe into DROMIO. Concurrently, Rebecca Laroche appropriately connects her online students with Digital Humanities questioning as they explore recipes from Margaret Baker’s and Elizabeth Bulkeley’s collections. Combined, these courses are engaging the minds of more than sixty students with EMROC’s purpose and goals.

Students previously energized by their classroom experience continue to “spread the love.” On April 8, members of the Early Modern Paleography Society (EMPS) at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte who participated in the fall International Transcribathon, will be hosting the first student-run transcribathon. They are looking at the recipe book of Lettice Pudsey (Folger v.a.45) as their possible focus. Continue to monitor this space for further details.

While graduate students at the University of California-Davis, University of Maryland, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of Texas-Arlington chip away at the transcriptions of Catchmay, Hall, and Granville this spring, research assistants at the Max Planck Institute, the University of Essex, and the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs will be vetting and tagging the Winche manuscript completed during fall’s transcribathon. The goal is to get the transcription fully database ready as a model for other texts that are reaching triple-keyed closure.

In these first months of 2016, it is clear that EMROC has fully entered the scholarly conversation. Early in January, Rebecca Laroche participated in a roundtable at the Modern Language Association about the “Myth of Post-Canonicity,” highlighting EMROC’s potentials within the larger Digital Humanities arena, while Elaine Leong presented research on paper as an ingredient for “Working with Paper: Gendered Practices in the History of Knowledge” project, research that she was able to complete because of the St. John and Winche transcriptions. Hillary Nunn has organized a recipes team for the “Networking Early Modern Women” day for the revisions of the Six Degree of Francis Bacon DH venture and has attained a place at the Folger’s “Digital Agendas” roundtable on Scholarly Conversations & Collaborations as part of the Renaissance Society of America’s April meeting in Boston. She and Jennifer Munroe have been invited to represent EMROC at the Shakespeare Association’s Digital Showcase in New Orleans at the end of March and have also committed to sharing EMROC’s work at a conference on cookbooks in New York City in May.  Speaking to the German Shakespeare Association in April in Bochum, Amy Tigner will discuss EMROC’s work and its connection to early modern culinary gardens.

As CFPs and course schedules circulate for the 2016-17 academic year, the collective can only anticipate that its efforts will grow and its presence will intensify. The logic of the task is so clear, the feedback from classes and presentations so positive. With many thanks to all who participated in the collective in 2015, all look to continuing this work with enthusiasm and dedication. If you would like to be a part of the conversation, EMROC now has a listserv; just send an email to contactemroc@gmail.com with the expressed desire to join.

 

 

 

Medicine in the Granville Family Manuscript (Folger Va 340)

By Amanda Torres

With a receipt titled, “A Receipt to take away the red spots out of the Face after the small pox are gone,” one has to wonder the intention behind offering such a promise. Was this particular disease proliferated by festering spots left untreated, or was the receipt’s intent driven by cosmetic ritual, simply to rid the face of unsightly blemishes and ghastly disfigurement. First we must identify what these incremental ingredients signify or stand in for. “Tansey water” was likely derived from the tansy plant, an invasive and flowering sort. Regarding tansy, the Oxford English Dictionary states that “all parts of the plant have a strong aromatic scent and bitter taste”; therefore the plant would be better suited for medicinal application rather than ingestion.

“Sulphur vivum” means “native or virgin sulphur,” an active, bacteria-killing ingredient typically used for the treatment of skin conditions in the form of topical ointments. “Leamons” or lemons are also employed for their cleansing properties. Recurring in the Granville and Winche receipt books is the mention of “camphire,” or camphor, which The OED defines as a “whitish translucent crystalline volatile substance, belonging chemically to the vegetable oils, and having a bitter aromatic taste and a strong characteristic smell.” The OED also states it was formerly regarded as an “antaphrodisiac” and therefore used to combat venereal disease. Modern science endorses camphor for its soothing and decongestant properties.

All of these units combine to absolve a patient from the aftereffects of a horribly painful disease. Billed between a receipt for “possett” and a “plaister for the spleene,” alleviating “smallpox spots” reinforces the critical anxieties of the early modern period, as disease and plague indiscriminately conquered countless lives. The recipe’s main goal seeks not to cure the disease itself, but to create a solution for the “pustules,” or blistering pus-filled sores that covered a victim’s face and body. Sores would often leaving scarring and permanent damage, so the Granville entry remains a hopeful fix. Also important to note is the category of ingredients called for, as lemon, sulfur, and camphor are still in use today for their antibiotic properties. The use of proven antibacterial ingredients suggests a scientific understanding of how these ingredients worked, a knowledge that if not formally acquired, was established through trial and error.

My uncertainty still lies with “Cemitary water,” which seems to suggest a contaminated product, marred by disease or death. Despite these connotations relating to the nature of smallpox, I’m unsure of how this ingredient fits in with fighting against the disease. Following my primary receipt of study is “Another Receipt” which suggests a variance on treating smallpox sores. The key difference in this receipt happens with the use of “milke.” On the next page we see “An ointment to take the spotts out of the Face after the small Pox” and “A very good ointment for a tetter or any Itching.” The physical appearance of disease is aggressively targeted specifically in this set of receipts. The topicality of these receipts parallels the humoral notions of early modern health we’ve discussed, as internal strategy plays a significant role in guiding food and medicine across this period.

Amanda Torres is an MA student at the University of Texas, Arlington and a member of Professor Amy Tigner’s “Culinary Shakespeare” class.

“Mistress Vernams Medicens”

By Monterey Hall

Mistress Vernams Medicins

Wellcome MS 184a, fol. 32r. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library.

Inset within Lady Frances Catchmay’s Booke of Medicens (Wellcome MS 184a) is a group of recipes attributed to one Mistress Vernam. This individual contributed thirty-two recipes to the manuscript spanning from folios 32r to 33v, making her Lady Catchmay’s single biggest outside contributor. These recipes are also prefaced by a marginal note stating “Mr:s: Vernams: medicens:” and appended by another marginal note stating “The End of Mr:s: Vernams medicens:” (Catchmay), making her the manuscript’s only contributor to be differentiated by any sort of individualized heading. And yet, despite having contributed a large amount of material to Lady Catchmay’s Booke of Medicins, Mistress Vernam appears nowhere else in any early modern database.

The sheer volume of recipes that Mistress Vernam contributed to MS 184a implies that Lady Catchmay had a great deal of respect for her. There are two possible reasons why Mistress Vernam has so many recipes within the manuscript: this collection might be a starter manuscript like those discussed by Elaine Leong; or, more likely, Lady Catchmay might have collected these recipes during the manuscript’s original compilation. The lack of other such sections in the book seems to discredit the theory that this particular collection could be a starter manuscript. If Lady Catchmay had left blank sections open for starter manuscripts, then we would expect to find several different collections like Mistress Vernam’s. Since this collection is entirely unique within the manuscript, it is far more likely that Lady Catchmay collected these recipes during the book’s original compilation.

Lady Catchmay must have had a close relationship with Mistress Vernam to have collected and included so many of Mistress Vernam’s recipes in her manuscript, but discovering the nature of this relationship has proven challenging. Mistress Vernam did not have an official title, so she could not have been of the same social status as Lady Catchmay. She might have worked in the Catchmay household, but it is difficult to say this for certain without a written record detailing as much. In order to find out what Mistress Vernam’s relationship to Lady Catchmay might have been, I looked for her in other contemporary manuscripts with the help of Dr. Rebecca Laroche. If Lady Catchmay respected Mistress Vernam enough to accumulate four whole folios’ worth of her recipes, then I thought that surely Mistress Vernam must appear in another medical text. Dr. Laroche and I searched for every variant of the name “Vernam” that we could think of on the Folger Shakespeare Library’s HAMNET catalogue, the Wellcome database, and the Luna database without finding a single hit. I continued to search for her on my own within these same databases, and I also perused the Defining Gender database with just as little success. Even a simple Google search turned up nothing. Each of these failures to find her only served to make me even more curious about Mistress Vernam’s identity.

I then turned to the database Ancestry.com to try to find Mistress Vernam in genealogical records. An individual would have to meet three criteria to be considered a match: her married name would have to be a variant of Vernam; she had to have been married within fifty years or so of 1625, the rough date of the manuscript’s original compilation (Rutz); and she had to have lived near St. Briavels, Gloucestershire, the place in which Lady Catchmay lived and likely where she compiled her manuscript (Rutz). I found many individuals that met two of the three criteria, but only one individual matched on all three. Jess Cox was a woman who married John Vernam in Hardwicke, Gloucestershire (about 25 miles from St. Briavels) on the 2nd of November, 1613 (Ancestry.com). Although there’s no way to know for certain if this is the same Mistress Vernam as the one who is referenced in Lady Catchmay’s manuscript, she is the only individual on all of Ancestry.com that matches well enough on date, place, and name to be considered a likely candidate.

Rather than giving a definite answer to the question of Mistress Vernam’s identity, however, this discovery raises even more questions. Neither Jess nor John Vernam have any other records in the genealogical database, so there is still no way of knowing precisely how Mistress Vernam is connected to either Lady Catchmay or seventeenth-century medical practice. To find out, I will have to turn to other medical texts to see if Mistress Vernam’s recipes have been accumulated by other manuscript or print compilers.

Wellcome MS 184a, fol. 33v. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library.

Wellcome MS 184a, fol. 33v. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library.

Monterey Hall is a student at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She worked with Professor Rebecca Laroche in an independent study on the Catchmay Manuscript in Fall 2015

Works Cited

Catchmay, Lady Frances. A Booke of Medicins, preserues and Cookerye. 1625. Wellcome Library MS 184a. Web. 2 Nov 2015.
Ancestry.com. Ancestry, 2015. Web. 10 Dec 2015.
Leong, Elaine. “Collecting Knowledge for the Family: Recipes, Gender and Practical Knowledge in the Early Modern English Household.” Centaurus 55.2 (2013): 81-103. Wiley Online Library. Web. 3 Dec 2015.
Rutz, Katrina. “Frances Catchmay.” EMROC.hypotheses.org. July 2014. Web. 23 Nov 2015.

.

The Very Fine Great Receipt Book of Anne Carr: The Dialogism of a Community

By Breanne Weber
MA Student, UNC Charlotte

The day after the Transcribathon, my fellow graduate students from UNC Charlotte and I spent all day in the Folger’s reading room. Surrounded by hundreds reference books, situated above the decks where rare and fragile manuscripts are preserved, and inspired by the beautiful architecture and scholarly atmosphere, we together pored over each manuscript we requested for our own projects, sharing exciting and strange finds. We spent hours in the Folger reading room that day, breaking only for a very late lunch so that we could return until closing.

AnneCarr'sBook

I spent nearly all of my hours in the reading room with the 1673 Choyce receits collected out of the book of receits, of the Lady Vere Wilkinson, begun to be written by the Right Honble the Lady Anne Carr. The names listed on the title page of this receipt book – Lady Vere Wilkinson, Lady Anne Carr, and Susana Hixon – illustrate from its beginning the collaboration that took place in the creation of this particular recipe book. I was thus unsurprised to find that the pages of this particular book were filled with different hands.

DifferentHandwritings

Such collaboration permeates the text, as each page details various recipes, from medicines to cakes to drinks. Many pages list several different versions of the same recipe, such as how to make “sugar cakes” (the second recipe labeled “another sort of sugar cakes”). The recipes are often labeled according to contributor, in a similar fashion to those spiral-bound church cookbooks filled with recipes for Jell-O Salad and mushroom soup-based casseroles: Anne Carr’s receipt book contains “The Lady Trevors way of preserving grapes green in jelly” and a recipe “To dry plumms naturally – Mrs Harringtons way.” Labeling the recipes with the names of their creators or contributors not only serves to distinguish between similar foods or medicines, but it also illustrates the collaboration and community that surrounded the creation of such recipe books. For Anne Carr, or any reader of this book, to distinguish between the nearly identical recipes for making grape preserves, she needs to know those women who contributed the recipes.

In Anne Carr’s book, there are sometimes annotations – inserted either by the writer herself or by another reader – which also help guide readers to choose specific recipes over others. For instance, “The Countesse of Lincolns way of makeing pancakes” is qualified with the phrase “which she used to make for the King & Duchesse of York.” Clearly, if the Countess of Lincoln made them for the King, her pancakes must be worth making! In a similar fashion, other contributors qualify their recipes in their titles: page 43 features a recipe for “a very fine great cake” while another, earlier page describes how “to make Apricock Cakes the best way.” Not all of these qualifications are necessarily good, however; one recipe, for “damson wine,” contains an added annotation in a different hand: “the worst in the world.”

WorstintheWorld

Through their titles and annotations, these contributors to Anne Carr’s recipe book provide their authority on these subjects – gained through the experience of trying these recipes and sharing their thoughts with others. They participate in a continued dialogue, encouraging future readers to either try a particular recipe or stay clear from it. They assume others will use these recipes to make their own version of the Countess of Lincoln’s pancakes or to modify the worst damson wine in the world. Their words are a continuous call-and-response, hearkening back to their own personal experiences of developing these recipes while simultaneously anticipating the needs and desires of future readers. These women have built, across cultures, continents, and time, a community that still thrives today.

As for our postmodern transcription community, we have a wonderfully glorious responsibility: to further the legacy that these early moderns have left behind. To keep this community alive, we need only open, read, and share the magic found within the fragile pages of these manuscripts.

Madnesse, Misfortune, and a Quart of Earthworms

By Robin Kello
MA Student, UNC Charlotte

How do you treat madnesse or frensie? Readers of Edward Littleton’s seventeenth-century A book of receipts which was given me by several men for several causes, griefs and diseases may consult page 77. There they will find a brief remedy that involves placing a boyled roote to the head to drain out the water of madness, then letting the blood from the middle of the forehead.

The day after the transcribathon, my colleagues from UNC-Charlotte and I spent the afternoon in the Folger stacks, and I had the good fortune to read through Littleton’s manuscript. What I found there is a genre-defying compendium of cures, hundreds of pages of secretary hand that inspired in this reader a Giddines in the head.

Littleton’s Book of Receipts charts a wide-ranging constellation of afflictions and curatives, giddily jumping over what have become standardized borders between the physical and mental. No matter what ails you, chances are there are answers to be found here.

You may or may not, however, believe in those answers. On a loose-leaf sheet from Littleton’s manuscript, we find advice that, to a twenty-first century reader, is more astrological than medical. It begins with certaine clymactericall years in a mans life, lists the perilous days of the each month, and then concludes with the suggestion to be especially careful on a few dangerous mundayes, on which you should not begin a journey or any business. Why does misfortune reign on those Mondays? The first Monday in September, out in a field, Cain slew his brother Abel. On the last Monday in December, Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus Christ.

These manuscripts illustrate the ingredients available in early modern kitchens and gardens and a manner of looking to the environment for techniques of care, but as in Littleton’s star-haunted tiptoeing through certain dangerous days, they also show us a portrait of the supernatural beyond the natural and a notion of the spirit in the matter that surrounds us.

Remedies may rest and answers may be found, Littleton suggests, in the grass beneath our feet or the fires in the sky. Another loose-leaf page contains a long list of ingredients lacking a title and a process. It begins with 2 Good handfulls of Anjelica 2 of Saladine and concludes with the following rhetorical flourish: A peck of Garden Snails and a Quart of Earth Worms. Whether this impressive list of herbs and creatures is to be boiled or baked, or whether it is good to eat or good to treat is unclear. Perhaps it is simply a shopping list, like the one the Clown in The Winter’s Tale takes to the woods in preparation for the sheep shearing feast, where he is then robbed blind by the disguised Autolycus.

At the sheep shearing, Polixenes tells Perdita that there is “an art / Which does not mend nature, change it rather, / but the art itself is nature.” Polixenes suggests that nature and artifice, both products of creation, are one. The lines we draw in the dirt to separate one category from another are easily washed away. Manuscripts such as Littleton’s, in giving us a view of the world of those before us, force us to rethink the stability of the boundaries not just between the culinary and the medicinal but between art and nature, and the sciences and the humanities.

They also show us how little some things have changed. We are frenzied. We suffer from griefs and diseases, and we are still looking for answers in texts and kitchen cabinets, flora and fauna, roots and stars.

Transcribing Teamwork

By Kailan Sindelar
Graduate Student, UNC Charlotte

It’s a rule of mine that I travel with as little technology as I think is appropriate. It’s a rule that has kept me from being distracted by day-to-day electronic procrastinations and responsibilities when I am in a new, exciting place. Without thinking twice, I left my laptop at home and headed out to Washington DC with my fellow grad students from UNC Charlotte. It wasn’t until we were somewhere in Virginia that I realized I might actually need my own laptop for the Transcribathon. Having never been to the Folger Shakespeare Library before, I had pictured a library much our own campus (which offers a large number of laptops for rent). Since this was not the case when I arrived to the Transcribathon, Robin Kello was kind enough to let me transcribe with him. Unfortunately, I’m afraid I became quite the handicap when we started doing Sprint competitions. Poor Robin was considerate enough to let me confirm his transcriptions before committing them to the keyboard. While we certainly weren’t the fastest transcribers as a team, we did make a good team.

As we went through transcribing together, during a sprint or not, we collaborated on every word. We took extra care to confirm or question each other’s initial interpretations of the handwriting. We also shared surprise at recipes that took a turn for the unexpected. Sheapshead Puddin was our favorite. It’s a recipe that sounds so colloquial, yet obviously from a foreign time. The kind of collaboration and mutual enjoyment from encountering the unexpected is exactly the kind of experience we strive for in our meetings in the Early Modern Paleography Society, which is a transcription club we have created on campus. While our mutual collaboration may not be fast, it allows us to compare impressions and learn how our peers interpret the same handwriting that we see. Transcribing in group allows us to learn with each other and share our reactions to what we transcribe. Watching, and being a part of, the mass collaboration that took place at the Transcribathon was inspiring. Our group walked away happy and encouraged by the amount of work that can be accomplished when so many people collaborate.

The Snail’s Touch: Prescribing Mollusks in Early Modern Receipt Books

By Vincent Sosko

When perusing through the pages of an historical receipt book, a transcriber will encounter many perplexing headings to the various recipes for food and medicine. Those recipe titles that inevitably make the transcriber stop scrolling and their jaws drop in a simultaneous expression of repulsion and intrigue are the ones that stir up the most discussion and research (typically resulting in many odd Google searches for herbs we are not familiar with or things we never thought could be ingredients). On page 8 of Rebeckah Winche’s receipt book, the simple heading “Snail Water” is the cause for one such instance of repulsion, intrigue, and rapid Google searching.

The recipe gets off to a foreboding start when it calls for “a peck of garden snails” that the preparer will “wash in a great bowle of beere” so that they may be cooked in “charcole … till thay be dead.” This seventeenth century barbeque only becomes more entertaining when we add in “a quart of earth wormes” that will be stamped together with the beer-cleansed snails. And with the title of this recipe only stating the end product and not describing any sort of usage or purpose, a reader of this might think this beverage to be just a common spirit of another age. Of course, if the transcriber were to look on the opposing page and see the heading of a recipe saying, “A Drinke for the Plague when it first seses any one,” they might come to the understanding that they are not in the section of the receipt book covering libations.

Winche’s “Snail Water” recipe never actually gives an ailment that this remedy could be attempting to cure though. Historians have identified the use of snails in a number of medical therapies, mostly antiquated, but still some having modern relevancy. One use has been for dermatological treatment of wounds or warts, and this use is still seeing some interest in contemporary medicine (see Steve Thomas’s vivid study using slugs and snails to treat skin lesions). Another broad category of conditions that snails have been linked to treating deals with brain malfunctions and blood-related diseases. Today, neuroscientists are exploring the possibilities of snail venom in decreasing the brain’s reception to addictive drugs. What this broad category ultimately relates to is a disease that this Winche recipe may possibly be aiming to remedy – consumption, or as we call it today, tuberculosis.

From that original combination of garden snails and earthworms, the recipe instructs the preparer to create a base mixture in a “great bras pot” upon which the snail-worm blend will lay. This mixture brings together many handfuls of various plants (“rosemary flowers,” “bearsfoot,” “wood bittony,” etc.) that are present in many other recipes in the Winche collection, and that all hold curative powers. All of these ingredients are met with “3 gallons of the strongest Ale” before they receive some additional herbs and are distilled overnight. The potential use for this “Snail Water” hinges on a couple of interpretations, with the most equivocal issue coming the morning after distillation.

Once the concoction produced has stood in a “limbeck,” or alembic (a stilling vessel) overnight, the preparer should “put fier under it & receve the water.” When a transcriber takes on the task of vetting this recipe, they are faced with the choice of tagging the word “receve” as either a production method, where the water is drained from a boiling process and could be an ointment, or as an administration statement, where one is instructed to drink the water as is. If this instruction is a production method, then we could see this as a medicine for skin lesions and other wounds. But if it is indeed an administration statement, then drinking the water directly after it has been boiled will lend this recipe to being an internal treatment for consumption. The fact that the heading atop this recipe simply describes it as water would lead many to side with the latter therapy. A further examination of the listed ingredients could help ‘clear the waters’.

 

Vincent Sosko is a PhD student at the University of Texas, Arlington and a member of Professor Amy Tigner’s “Culinary Shakespeare” class.

Works Cited

The following sources provided the supplemental medical information contained in this commentary. The recipe discussed comes the scanned image “page 8 || page 9” from the “Receipt book of Rebeckah Winche” in the EMROC collection.

 

Archivistkira. “Snail Water? Did I read that right?” What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections?!.

University Libraries, Virginia Tech, September 30, 2011. Web. 25 October 2015. https://whatscookinvt.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/snail-water-did-i-read-that-right/

Bonnemain, Bruno. “Helix and Drugs: Snails for Western Health Care From Antiquity to the Present.” PubMed Central. National Center for Biotechnology Information, January 28, 2005. Web. 26 October 2015.

Thomas, Steve. “Medicinal use of terrestrial molluscs (slugs and snails) with particular reference to their role in the treatment of wounds and other skin lesions.” World Wide Wounds. Medetec Medical Device Consultancy Cardiff, July 2013. Web. 26 October 2015.

Wrathall, Janet. “Snail-Water Information Sheet: A modern analysis of Snail Water.” The Garret. Web. 25 October 2015.

Yuhas, Daisy. “Healing the Brain with Snail Venom.” Scientific American. Nature America, Inc., December 19, 2012. Web. 25 October 2015.

 

 

“The American Scholar”

ByTaryn Dollings
MA Student, UNC Charlotte

Ralph Waldo Emerson describes “The American Scholar:”

“He plies the slow, unhonored, and unpaid task of observation […] Long must he stammer in his speech; often forego the living for the dead. Worse yet, he must accept, – how often! Poverty and solitude.”

My copy of Emerson’s speech is highlighted and punctuated with “Yes!” and “I feel that!” and “Life of a grad student!” So often we sit, as I am now, alone in our dark chambers, pouring out thoughts and words onto a glowing computer screen.

The Transcribathon this October was a welcome change, and my first experience with what I felt to be hands-on scholarship on a large scale. The Early Modern Paleography Society at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte holds regular meetings where we work to transcribe receipt books as a group, puzzling over conventions and rejoicing over the many different names for peaches. However, the energy in our cozy little room at the Folger Shakespeare Library was different. Through our collaborativethe Trello board, I could see the other students and professionals faculty across America and the rest of the globe ticking off keyings of the manuscript of Rebeckah Winche. Someone would occasionally pipe up about an odd ingredient, or we would pause to marvel at the amount of sugar and butter that went into an early modern dessert. Tweets about strange recipes were shared from scholars near and far.

Beyond the exciting sense of community, there was a satisfaction that we were doing something tangible and lasting. Because of our work at the Transcribathon, scholars across the world will have access to the receipt book of Rebeckah Winche. At the end of the day, we got a glimpse into the vetting process, where transcriptions were overlaid so that our more experienced colleagues could compare interpretations and determine how the manuscript would be digitally preserved. It was rewarding to think that we were enabling others to study the same work that had delighted us all day.

Our fun didn’t end with the Transcribathon. My fellow travelers from UNCC and I were able to return to the Folger the next day to study manuscripts, letters, and even printed books with newspaper clippings pasted inside. As quietly as we could, we crowded together, sharing our discoveries and questions.

So, I have concluded that Emerson may in fact be wrong. We do not have to forego the living for the dead. Our best work happens through active collaboration, and I look forward to sharing in that collaboration throughout my studies and career.

 

The Community of the Transcribathon

By Breanne Weber
MA Student, UNC Charlotte

A few weeks ago, an international community gathered together with one purpose: to transcribe a 17th-century recipe book. I was one of the graduate students from UNC Charlotte fortunate enough to travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Transcribathon on-site at the Folger Shakespeare Library. It was an incredible experience for me, especially since I am particularly interested in early modern book history.

The thing that most astonished me about the Transcribathon was the sense of community. Though I am merely a second-year master’s student, I immediately felt at-home, welcomed with open arms by leading scholars in their respective fields.
The atmosphere in the basement room at the Folger was charged with excitement. It was by no means a solitary experience: the room was filled with transcribers exclaiming over delicious recipes (like cheesecake and butter-filled pancakes), reading aloud tweets from transcribers at remote locations, and deliberating over nearly illegible or really strange words or phrases (“does this recipe really call for an ounce of unburied man’s skull?”). Though we each transcribed individually, there was certainly a communal sense of purpose and an excitement about our work. Even the transcription sprints, while creating some competition among transcribers, fostered the community – we all worked in unison on the same page and later projected our transcriptions on the screen, each person taking a turn to read a line and see our communal progress.

The best part of the day, though, was when Dr. Heather Wolfe, the manuscript curator at the Folger, brought the Winche manuscript into the room. To see in-person the very pages we spent the entire day transcribing digitally was a surreal experience; we all gathered around the manuscript, asking questions and finding the pages that we had already transcribed. As Dr. Wolfe showed us the pages of the manuscript, our post-modern, technological world collided with the 17th century world of Rebeckah Winche in a very real way. It was almost as if Winche herself was present in the room with us.
I’m so grateful to have been given this opportunity to participate in the Transcribathon. The sense of connection and common purpose made transcription even more real and important to me than it already was. And, as a result of this amazing experience, the officers of the Early Modern Paleography Society (EMPS) have decided to host our own Transcribathon in the spring in order to provide an opportunity for others to experience this community like we have. These avenues for connection are so important to the work that we do. After all, that’s why recipes are so important: they bring people together.