About jennifermunroe

Jennifer Munroe is Associate Professor of English at UNC Charlotte and author of Gender and the Garden in Early Modern English Literature (Ashgate, 2008) and editor of Making Gardens of Their Own: Gardening Manuals for Women, 1500-1750 (Ashgate, 2007). Most recently, she co-edited (with Rebecca Laroche) Ecofeminist Approaches to Early Modernity (Palgrave, 2011). Munroe is currently working on a monograph, an ecofeminist literary history of science about the relationship between women, nature, and writing in the context of seventeenth-century scientific discourse. For fun, she gardens, hikes, and takes her dogs to run on land she and her husband own outside of town.

How Not to Teach Recipe Transcription

By Robin Kello, PhD Student, UCLA (formerly, MA Student and co-founder of EMPS, UNC Charlotte)

 

Ahem. These manuscript books are portraits of the past. The past is another country, in which we discover the oddities and continuities of our own cultures and customs.”

Eyes glaze over in my “Food and Social Justice” course. A young man pulls the brim of his baseball cap lower over his eyes. Their phones suddenly become even more attractive to their restless attentions. The temperature rises. I am doing it again—trying to impart wisdom.

Much to the dismay of their future teachers, I encourage students to ask that most difficult of questions—Why do it?—about any intellectual endeavor. How might Calculus, Film History, Business, or indeed recipe transcription, add to one’s life? I emphasize values that transcend the economic, visions that emerge out of new labors, how the recipes on these centuries-old pages articulate relations between the human and nonhuman worlds. Perhaps that energy is at times infectious, but a monologue, no matter how ecstatic, remains a monologue.

The transcribathon provides another model—more immediate than trying to convince—of exposing undergraduate students, who may be drawn to digital literacies and the use of the internet to broaden the realm of knowledge, to the work of recipe transcription. It replaces description with discussion. In place of explanation of discovery, there is discovery itself: the deciphering of a troubling letter, a slanted secretary-handed word, a thoroughly weird recipe. Wait, does that say “Sheepeshead Pudden?”

On April 8, 2016, the Early Modern Paleography Society of UNC-Charlotte (full disclosure: I serve as their note-scribbler, the secretary who is vexed and awed by secretary hand) hosted a transcribathon. During the course of the day, novices and old-hands alike worked their way through an anonymous 1720 manuscript of recipes and remedies. EMPS even provided a sample of candied Angelica, cooked according to the specifications of the manuscript. If you have ever longed to cross celery and licorice, I recommend get your hands on this recipe.

The transcribathon itinerary included a panel discussion with students, professors, and a representative from the botanical gardens of UNC-Charlotte, who conversed on their relationship to this sort of work from perspectives that bridged Environmental Sciences and the Humanities, and touched on the political and ethical aspects of reflecting on human/nonhuman relations by way of seventeenth and eighteenth-century manuscripts. Their points of view provided a constellation of entry points into the study of early modern texts—spanning from Shakespeare to the North Carolina soil, from the leaf of the page to the leaf of the branch. A student interested in literature, history, new instructional technologies, or collective learning—each had a window into a way of conceptualizing this labor, before engaging in the labor itself, and they continued to ask questions about the panel participants long after the day was over.

But on the day, we got back to work, eyes on screens and fingers on keys, not just watching and interpreting but creating. I would like to think that what may have seemed esoteric to my students became immediate and concrete at the transcribathon, that I helped them cross theory and action, the warp and weft of all valuable labor. At the end of the term, I asked my students what the most interesting aspect of the course was, and a few said the transcribathon.

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.

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 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.

Sheepeshead Pudden Chronicles, or, Adventures in Transcription

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.