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.