By Robin Kello
MA Student, UNC Charlotte
Fellow travelers in transcription and compatriots in the paleographic arts, allow me to share a short tale.
After the October transcribathon at the Folger, a friend asked: “Why waste a day looking at old recipes?” Yes, dear readers, you may be astonished to hear it, but there are folks out there who fail to notice the magic of the early modern manuscript.
While I do not spend time criticizing his leisure pursuits – a certain recipe of hops, barley, yeast, water, and American football – I relished the opportunity to respond. I suggested that beyond the political, ethical, and scholarly reasons to do the good work of transcription, there is joy to be found in what Amy Tigner refers to on this blog as “the treasures of the book.” The adventure of the transcribathon – our transatlantic, cross-century colloquy with Rebeckah Winche – engenders community and occasions discovery.
To transcribe Winche’s book is: to open a door that opens further doors into the past; to rethink environments both “natural” and cultural; to see a reflection of renaissance trade routes in the ingredients of remedies and recipes; to recognize an expression of the transmission of folk knowledge before the standardization of medicine; and to be given access to the views of early moderns who were not the poets and priests or sanctioned scribes and scholars of the realm, but the unofficial chronicles of the time. These recipes articulate methodologies of care, of how we used to sustain and heal ourselves.
They also offer a toad’s leg in a silk satchel to be hung around the neck, the urine of a young boy, and various recipes for “Sheepesehead Pudden.” The single-word “Sheepeshead,” the “en” that resolves the substantive noun, and the double “d,” arching forward, as secretary hand will, toward the preceding word – this language and its world are both familiar and strange. Though I do not intend to par boyle the head of sheep to make a very fine pudding, I delight in the discovery, and share it with my companions.
Then we all partake in Winche’s marvelous book, triple-transcribed, viewed and vetted, fit for consumption, with the rest of the world. In 1715, 1815, or 1915, it was reserved for the fortunate few; in 2015, the web lets us give it to the world. The cutting edge of this cutting-edge scholarly endeavor is not just in its valuable interdisciplinary import, but in the democratic nature of the digital humanities.
I am immensely grateful to have been part of the transcribathon, to be a member of the Early Modern Paleography Society at UNC-Charlotte, and to explore these early modern recipes. It is not because I am especially skilled – in a sprint, I lag – I tremble at the vowel – but because of what we find in the encounter with Winche’s world. Get to the keyboard and stare down the vowel. The adventure continues, and the treasure is shared.