Joining our Transcribathon without experience?

Thinking about joining in #EMROCtranscribes this year, but feeling nervous? Worried about tackling old handwriting? Please read on for some tips from other first-time transcribers, as well as practical guidance on how-to join in!

What it is like to join a Transcribathon

One thing that participants often describe is the sense of team-work that comes from a transcribathon: from UNCC and from UTA. Whether you’re joining virtually and keeping touch on Twitter, or working in person with a group, it can be a lot of fun.

But what about if you don’t have experience? Last year, I encouraged students in two undergraduate classes to participate in the Transcribathon. Here are accounts from two students who had only recently started to learn how to transcribe and one who had never done it before. I even managed to get my mom involved. Her account follows…

When a Non-Academic Transcribes for the First Time (and Tips for Newbies)

By Eluned Smith

Why was an retired health professional with a lengthy career in health services management attending a transcribathon session at the Folger Shakespeare Library?  When my daughter, Lisa Smith, invited me, I leapt at the prospect to see what was in an early modern recipe book.

Lady Grace Castleton’s “Booke of Receipts” from the seventeenth century provided me the chance to gain insight into her household, particularly the medical and cookery recipes used by her family.  To my delight the five short recipes I transcribed were medical recipes, dealing with treatment of such things as stomach ailments, sore eyes, consumption and included a recipe for “a soueran [sovereign] water for any thing that lyeth in the hart of stomeck Small pox or measells.”  Although the recipes were interesting, they are certainly not treatments I would advise anyone to use today…

Lady Castleton’s Booke of Receipts, Folger Shakespeare Library V.a.600, pp. 6-7.

I found it challenging to transcribe the old recipes – not only has spelling changed but the formation of letters such as an S were very different. (tip: Novices should always beware of the deceptive long S, which looks more like a lower-cased ‘f’!)  One would think that someone whose own handwriting is notoriously difficult to read would not have any problems, but Lady Grace’s manuscript had inconsistent spellings. (Another tip: always sound out the word, as it helps to decipher it.) Even her style of writing showed variation. Ink spots on the document and the changes in grammar and spelling over time made the process very slow for me. In addition, I had to fight the tendency of both my computer and me to automatically type modern spellings. (A final tip: keep checking the spellings and save constantly!) Fortunately, I enjoy puzzles and figuring out strange ingredients in old remedies.

Lady Grace was methodical in recording both the quantity of her ingredients and how the remedies should be used, but the recipes were filled with sensory details, too. The medicine made for sore eyes was to be dropped into the eye with a feather. The one for the stomach included boiling snails in beer until they made a ‘noyse’, then grinding them with a mortar and mixing them with washed and cleaned worms, roots and herbs. We had a lot of discussion in the room about the noise snails would make when boiling; this would have been a very precise measurement of doneness.

Today we have concerns about drug companies pushing meds, treatments that are not always helpful, and doctors who do not always correctly diagnose. However, these snail-filled recipes certainly made me appreciative that I live in time in which medications are made in a lab and not in my kitchen.

Getting started with transcribing

If you’ve read this far and are keen to join virtually, this is what you need to know.

Signing in

We’ll be using the Folger’s transcription interface, at: http://transcribe.folger.edu. The interface is called Dromio and associated with Early Modern Manuscripts Online. When asked to sign in, just enter your first and last names (or whatever name you’d like to use), and an account will be created for you. Please be sure to enter your name as you’d like it to appear in the database.

Finding something to transcribe

Once in, click “EMROC.” There is a folder called “Transcribathon” at the bottom of the list, which contains the three manuscripts we’ll be working on. (More on those tomorrow!) Click on a manuscript and find a page that needs transcription. Look to the right of the page number to see how many people have transcribed it. If there are fewer than three, go for it!

Spelling and old words

While transcribing, you’ll probably also want a window open to the Oxford English Dictionary, which many public libraries and most university libraries have available online. The OED Online lists old variants of words. And, if that doesn’t help, as Eluned noted above, you should also try sounding out the word.

Keep the spelling as you see it.

To encode or not to encode?

Use any of the encoding buttons you feel comfortable with; they’re explained at http://emroc.hypotheses.org/transcribathons/transcribathon-instructions-glossaries-and-more/glossary-of-xml-buttons .

This will make the text machine-readable, as well as human-readable. But if you don’t feel comfortable, we’ll be adding in the encoding during the vetting process anyhow!

If you do encode, here are a few tips for encoding that you should probably know about.
  1. Please do include page numbers.
  2. Mark recipe titles as headers (hd).
  3. Mark the layered efficacy marks as ‘cross in circle’ and ‘dot’ using the metamark (mrk).

what will it look like?

An example of the encoded transcription alongside the page image, from the Winche manuscript, can be seen here.

saving and finishing

Remember to save — a lot! Systems sometimes crash, especially with lots of users on it at the same time. Click “SAVE” as you go.

When you’re finished the entire page, just hit “Done”. You can then return to the EMROC folder, or exit altogether.

How to join the group

Further details will follow in a blog post here tomorrow, just before everything kicks off at 7:00 a.m. ET. But you can also follow along at #EMROCtranscribes on Twitter or our Twitter account @EMRecipesOnline. Please do wave hello in blog comments our on Twitter if you are joining in!