All 248 pages with the required keyings. 314 unique log-ins with at least as many transcribers. Three continents and five countries. Thank you to all who joined us November 5 and helped make EMROC’s Fifth Annual Transcribathon a rousing success!
Especial thanks to speakers Amanda Herbert, Sara Pennell, and Anne Stobart for sharing their expertise during the event.
Good morning everyone from the University of Essex contingent! Welcome to EMROC’s fifth annual transcribathon. Pull up a chair. Pour yourself some tea. Tune in to our 2019 EMROCK Spotify list… And get ready to transcribe!
Zoom is an easy-to-use platform that enables participants to ask the EMROC team questions throughout the day and to chat with other transcribers. You don’t need any special tools, either. Just click on our Zoom link, download the exe (if you don’t already have Zoom), and you’ll be in. There are details here on how to join, participate, and leave. We are hoping that the chat and Q&A functions on Zoom will make it easier for novice transcribers to get help quickly, as well as bring the transcriber community together.
The Department of History at the University of Essex is also hosting an EMROC panel on ‘Recipes in the Making’, which focuses on the manuscript we’re transcribing. Speakers include Amanda Herbert (Folger Shakespeare Library), Sara Pennell (Greenwich), and Anne Stobart (Exeter).
The panel will be recorded, though it won’t be up immediately…
We would love it if you filled in our pre-transcribathon survey, which will take no more than five minutes of your time. The survey will help us to learn more about our participants’ interests and backgrounds.
What is medicine like today? While the exact picture varies throughout the world, for me and many others, it is a process of expediency. Starting with a quick call to the nearby doctor’s office at my earliest convenience, I summarize my ache or ailment and within hours I get an appointment. The appointment itself entails a speedy check-in, followed by a short examination, where I sit in a room smelling of antiseptic, on a paper-covered table, while a nice man or woman in a white lab coat and gloves surveys me from head to toe. A little poking, some prodding and a couple of clarifying questions and the doctor diagnoses the problem sending me off with a prescription for my local pharmacy sure to cure me in days—simple. However, during the early modern era, medicine was not nearly as reliable or scientifically exact, but nonetheless revolutionary to the development of what the world knows today.
While transcribing an early modern recipe book, which acted as a tangible legacy and everyday manual to an early modern household, I was given the opportunity to glance back into the past. Whereas today medicine and science, especially when treating the common cold or the flu, is uniform to the public—involving labs, research, testing, FDA approval, etc., during the early modern era medicine was dependent on trial and error, often left up to each individual family and their homemade remedies. There was no common antidote or remedy, no vaccines or proper dental care, and the methods in which families treated illness and disease were wholly unique. In fact, medicinal remedies of the early modern era, were produced in kitchens concocted with chosen, personalized ingredients wielded by the lady of the house. The test subjects of these crafted treatments were those of the household, varying in ailments and illness, on whom the effectiveness of each medicinal recipe relied.
For the medicinal recipes I transcribed, each one was rated with a review of good or bad, or ingredients scribbled out and changed, as a signifier of the recipe’s personal success and the care for the smallest details. However, as I read and transcribed, it was hard to imagine anyone, especially the author’s loved ones, consuming the contents of these concoctions. In recipe 154, Convulsion Water, the ingredients are as follows:
Take one pound of Peony roots scrape ’em cleane, and slice ’em into 3 pints of white wine, let it stand Infusing in Embers all night, then strain it out very hard. To this a quarter of an Ounce of Castor in fine powder, one Ounce of Spirit of Castor, 30 graines of the moss of dead mans scull, & 30 grains of the scull of a dead man, Both the scull and moss must be beat in to fine powder, mingle these all together and shake ’em in a bottle one hour. Take of this 2 spoonful at a time 3 morning before the ffull & Change of the moon if there be Occasion as by the fits coming: and the same quantity at any other time. One spoonful is enough for a Child. 
Admittedly, I was baffled that any one of these ingredients would be implemented for medicinal healing but even more disturbed by the use of actual human remains. Despite the knowledge today that consumption of any human biproduct poses serious health risks, the threat of disease seemed even more impactful during an era of no sanitation or vaccination.
While my initial reaction was that no such remedy could ever or should ever be employed to heal any ailment or be given to any person, especially children, I eventually went on to explore what would prompt someone to consider such ingredients. I came to discover that peonies, something I had classified to be used solely as decorative flowers, actually possess anti-inflammatory properties when boiled down. Additionally, white wine is known for its capabilities in lowering cholesterol and contains important antioxidants that help protect and strengthen the body’s immune system and overall functionality.
So how exactly did the trial and error cooking-chemistry in early modern kitchens, lacking exact measurement and safety regulations, evolve into the expedient, stress-free, FDA-approved industry it is today? In fact, early modern kitchens opened the door for the modern medicine we know and overlook now. Experimentation and testing of medicinal recipe’s began in the home, specifically the kitchen, where women took great care crafting the perfect remedies. Research and development, not unlike today, involved sharing recipes amongst broader social circles all the way to nascent academic institutions. Meanwhile the effectiveness of every recipe was perfected and recorded to for future generations to use and add to. While the difference of the times seems in great contrast, the fundamentals of research and development of science and medicine have been long lasting and still relevant to this day.
 “English cookery and medicine book [manuscript], ca. 1677-1711,” Folger MS V.b.380. At lines 3–5 of the recipe, the note “Anne Western }” appears in the left hand margin.
Amanda Pickett is a Senior at Penn State – Abington, studying with EMROC member Professor Marissa Nicosia in that campus’s ACURA program.
Last week, EMROC published a blog post called “Code Breakers,” describing the efforts of our Before “Farm to Table” project volunteers, who – like EMROC – transcribe our recipe books. This week’s blog post will be talking about our “Code Makers”: Meaghan Brown (Digital Production Editor), Michael Poston (Database Associate), and myself, Elisa Tersigni (Digital Research Fellow), who together devised BFT’s process of encoding—or what happens after the transcriptions are vetted and before they become accessible online. This blog post is meant to be a crash-course in what this in-between stage looks like and why we do it.
What is encoding?
Encoding is the process of applying code to digital texts to create machine-readable texts in order to facilitate computer-assisted analysis. Our encoding is done using Extensible Markup Language (XML), which is commonly used because it is intuitive and flexible. (More on this below.) Encoding might be thought of as functioning the same way that highlighting in a text does. Take, for example, this recipe for “An excellent medicine For any kinde of Ague”:
Let’s say we wanted to encode the recipe’s text to identify easily the title (which we will mark in red), all ingredients (which we will mark in yellow), any person’s names (in blue), and any markers of approval or disapproval of the recipe (green). The colour-marked recipe will look like this:
An XML-encoded version of this recipe might not look much different, except phrases are sandwiched between a pair of tags (a start tag, which marks the beginning of the phrase, and an end tag, which marks the end of the phrase) instead of being highlighted:
<head>An excellent medecine For
any kinde of Ague.</head> <persName>Doctor Costine</persName>
Take <ingredient>saffron</ingredient> one ounce and a halfe and
as many <ingredient>Currens</ingredient> vnwashed as will
beate itt up into a Cataplasme, beat
them well together and putt itt
in bagges of Poulter two to be
applyed one the hand wristes one the
Pulses and the other one the pitt
of the stomach: <tested approved= “yes”>probatum est</tested>
(N.B.: The above tags are for illustrative purposes only and may not reflect actual encoding.)
We use XML because it is both human readable and machine readable: the human reader can intuit that a phrase falling in between the “ingredient” tags is an ingredient. Our encoding is based on the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI)’s Guidelines, which is an encoding standard that is commonly used for digital humanities projects. TEI is a consortium that collectively develops and maintains encoding standards for texts. Standards are important to ensuring that data is easily shareable and usable by other researchers for other projects. Standards also help with preservation of data, making sure that the data is useable for as long as possible.
Encoding permits computer-assisted reading. For instance, if all the recipe titles in a book are marked as “head”, we can generate a list of all recipe titles by extracting everything between the “head” tags. If recipe titles are marked in 20 different books, we can generate a single list of all recipe titles, or we can generate 20 lists of recipe titles and compare those lists against one another to see if there is any overlap between books. Or, if we mark the recipes as having some evidence of being tested and include details of whether the recipe book user expressed approval or disapproval of the recipe, we can extract all the recipes of which users approved or disapproved.
Encoding doesn’t just help users perform searches; it can also help software development. For example, if—instead of marking titles, ingredients, and people’s names—we instead marked the structure of the manuscript—line beginnings and endings, underlining, formatting—high-quality encoded transcriptions can be used to create or improve Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) software for manuscripts.
What are we encoding?
Because encoding requires interpretation, it is time consuming. And because encoding is flexible, it is prone to what is called ‘scope creep’—that is, the tendency for expectations and demands to increase over time, thereby slowing down a project. Our encoding must balance breadth (the number of manuscripts we encode) with depth (the amount of encoding we complete in one text). To strike that balance, our project began with a trial period, in which we tested how long it would take us to encode certain features, such as including both original and modern spellings in transcriptions.
Our trials helped us decide to prioritize the identification of the basic structure and details of the texts: where recipes start and end, the names of people identified in recipes, the names of locations identified in recipes, and whether recipes were tested and approved. These details will help us to do some basic network analysis to reveal some of the relationships between our recipe books: who owned them, where they came from, and whether recipes are shared across time and space.
For example, by searching the term “lady” in the Folger’s Luna Digital Image Collection, which currently has searchable text versions of some of our manuscript books, I was able to discover that variations of “Lady Allen’s water” appear in at least half a dozen of our manuscript recipe books from the 17th century: Jane Staveley’s receipt book (V.a.401), Susanna Packe’s receipt book (V.a.215), Lady Grace Castleton’s receipt book (V.a.600), and two anonymous books: V.a.563 and V.b.363. This phrase does not currently appear in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and appears only twice in print, according to searches of the Early English Books Online (EEBO) database. The ability to search quickly not only helps answer research questions but can also point researchers in to new research questions: what is “Lady Allen’s water,” from where did the recipe originate, and why is it commonly recognized in manuscript receipt books but not in print recipe books?