Exploring Recipe Transcriptions with Voyant in the Classroom

By Heather Froehlich

The below post is a summary of a classroom activity executed in Spring 2019 and developed as part of the EMROC teaching partnership at Penn State University with Dr. Marissa Nicosia (Penn State Abington). Students at Penn State Abington can enroll in a 1-credit, 3-semester cycle of the Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities (ACURA) initiative. For more content related to Penn State Abington’s involvement in EMROC-related activities, please see the Penn State Abington tag. This post has been cross-posted, with some light edits, at Heather Froehlich’s blog

This semester I have partnered with Dr Marissa Nicosia (Penn State Abington) on an undergraduate research course she runs on Early Modern recipes in collaboration with my colleague Christina Riehman-Murphy as part of the larger Early Modern Recipes Online Collective initiative. In this course, students transcribe recipes from a 17thcentury recipe book using Dromio (transcribe.folger.edu), learn about Early Modern food culture and history, and develop a lot of hands-on research experience with Marissa, Christina and me. This semester we and our students were focusing on a medicinal and cookery book associated with Anne Western, owned by Folger Shakespeare Library and affectionately called MS V.b.380.

This course has a pretty serious transcription element, where one of the requirements was that each student would transcribe 40 openings using Dromio throughout the semester. Since each student was responsible for submitting a Word file of their transcriptions to Marissa for grading, we then had a substantial (but not complete) coverage of the volume to work with. And it could be easily be loaded into Voyant Tools for some linguistic exploration. 

Over the course of the semester, students have also grown increasingly comfortable with the differences between contemporary and early modern recipes with regards to both genre and format, so we wanted to get them to think about the language of recipes more pointedly. The students were already experts in the language and style of the author they were working with. And since the students were so intimately familiar with the work they had already done, it was a little less of a hard sell to get them to think about their work from a more birds-eye view and think about what the language of their recipes looked like in aggregate.

Before class met, we asked the students read three contemporary chocolate chip cookie recipes.[1] We had a brief discussion about the overall form of these contemporary recipes before dropping them in Voyant to practice reading from a birds-eye view. Chocolate chip cookie recipes, as you may have guessed, do not have a whole lot of variation, making this a pretty low-stakes way to introduce the various features of Voyant, which are labelled below using the corresponding numbers: word cloud (1), reading pane (2), general trends over time (3, not particularly useful for this genre), some basic statistics (4) and concordance (5). 

3 chocolate chip cookie recipes in Voyant
Three chocolate chip cookie recipes in Voyant

Using the word cloud (1), students can visualize medium-to-high frequency content words in their corpus. With the reading pane (2), users of Voyant can observe a larger context for specific vocabulary. The general trends over time (3) graph shows overall variation across our three chocolate chip cookie recipes, where each (faint) box represents 1 recipe; it graphs the most frequent content words identified by the Voyant system for comparison. Box (4) offers some basic statistics, including a type/token ratio or lexical density score for each document and some of the overall most frequent content words in each document. Finally, box (5) allows users to identify salient lexico-grammatical patterns in a keyword in context concordance format (words to the left, keyword, words to the right). This is less about linear reading (page 1, word 1 to page 375, word 238561) but vertically to observe recurrent phrases or types of language.

Once they were comfortable with the idea, we ramped up the stakes a little. In small groups, our students looked at their own transcriptions in Voyant, taking notes on what made their sections of the corpus similar and different to each other. This process was designed to get the students to think about what their recipes were doing not just stylistically but linguistically, too: what are the lexical ingredients of their recipes? This primed for discussions about polysemy (apound of something vs pound the ingredient) and words marking for measurement (spoon). One group even discussed the importance of the verb minglingas a way to describe mixing things together in one student’s particular section of the recipe book. 

Now used to the software and the process, we looked at the full class corpus (a compiled file consisting of all the students’ submissions). Students and faculty partners practiced some close reading, identifying terms of interest and looking at them using Voyant’s concordance feature, including a variety of ingredients (sugar, water, butter, mace, rosemary) and verbs for actions chefs may use (again, back to ‘mingling’ and ‘stir’).

VB380 class corpus in Voyant
Looking at the class corpus in Voyant Tools

And though we had been discussing the role of V.b 380 as a medicinal and cookery book throughout the semester, this was thrown in sharp relief while the we all thought about the language of the class corpus. Certainly one big surprise was the relative importance of ‘sugar’ compared to ‘water’ in v.b.380. We were very struck by the lack of fixed vocabulary for the recipes, though we all had a pretty clear sense of expectation for the full-class corpus based on our earlier exploration. And, finally, we had a brief discussion about variation and affordances of changing some of data to deal with the question of spelling, authorship and authenticity.

While this was set up to be a discussion of linguistic features (nouns versus verbs; variation; etc) many students commented on how salient some terms were as transcribers – yet these were deemed less important in the overall big picture provided by Voyant. Ultimately, this left our brilliant students thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of both Voyant’s birds-eye view and linear start-to-finish reading – which was an even better outcome than I could have asked for.

***

Additional notes:This is related to another undergraduate classroom activity I have done a few times where students read several online articles related to a theme, try out the birds-eye-view approach to the topic using Voyant, and then move into trying it out on some of their own writing (forum posts, assignments, etc) to think about their ownstyle. It works pretty well as a way to get undergrads to think about their own style and editing in a way that is a little less obvious than other formats.

Please also see Miriam Posner’s very excellent Investigating Texts With Voyant workshop (10 April 2019) for more ideas https://github.com/miriamposner/voyant-workshop/blob/master/ investigating-texts-with-voyant.md[1] For the curious: One was from Smitten Kitchen, one from Martha Stewart, and a recipe of their choice from the NYT’s giant chocolate chip cookie compendium. (If I was doing this again, I would maybe not use NYT, as it kept asking us to log in. Also if I was doing this again, I’d be bringing cookies into class!)

Medicine out of Mole-Hairs in Jane Dawson’s Manuscript

By Ashley Gonzalez

Though all of Jane Dawson’s recipes are fascinating, perhaps one of the most curious ones involved the medical use of moles for hair loss and hair growth. This interest was noted by multiple people during the Fall EMROC transcribathon: 

Why this connection between moles and human hair? I decided to look a little deeper to see what I could find out. 

My transcription of the two mole-based recipes, which you can see on the manuscript page here, consists of the following:

to Expell haire in any part of the bodey

Take a mole & lay her in water to be soaked so long till, she shall have noe hair is Left on her; wththis water anoint [the] place from wchyou would expel [the] haire & afterwards wash it with Lye maid of Ashes, & then rub it with a linen cloth, if you shall see [the] haire retorne; wash twise or thrise in [the] aforesaid manner & it will [illegible] expel [them] & by noe means can be maid to renew againe. 

            To recover Haire in any part of the body

Take [the] blood of a mole & anoint the part; two or 3 times therewith that you wod have the haire to increase on; [the] blood being warme; as it comes from [the] mole being newly killed; it will wond[er]fully renew & bring hair to the admiration of all men (Dawson 21)

The first recipe implies a distinct link between the removal of the hair of the mole and the removal of human hair, which suggests that the recipe works according to the doctrine of sympathies. Connections such as these between the ailment and the cure for said ailment were common in the seventeenth century:

In the tradition of seventeenth-century herbalists … there was a sympathy between certain plants and certain ailments, or parts of the body, which could be recognized by its distinctive ‘signature’. Thus any herb which resembled the form of eyes, for example – such as eyebright, the scabious or the marigold – was said to be useful in the healing of eye complaints. Such connections were part of a complex web of correspondences and sympathies connecting macrocosm to microcosm. (Harrison 41)

If early modern herbalists connected the characteristics of ailments with the physical appearances of herbs, the same thinking might apply to animals. Just as herbs resembling eyes were said to treat blindness, so too might the hair of a creature be said to assist with ailments concerning the hair of humans.

Perhaps the most notable feature of a mole is its blindness. Edward Topsell in his 1658 book The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpentsincludes a segment on moles in which the following visual can be found on page 388:

Though this illustration implies that moles have easily visible eyes, they would have been hidden under a layer of fur:

Muséum de Toulouse [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)] Talpa europaea MHNT

Despite the mole’s eyeless appearance, it seems to have been relatively well-known that moles possessed eyes underneath their fur, as evidenced in Topsell’s illustration. The fur covering the location of the eyes might have been viewed as excess. Thus, it follows that individuals wanting more hair might look to the mole to inspire their own hair growth. Similarly, the process of removing the mole’s hair could become associated with the removal of hair in general, resulting in a ritual wherein the human hair is “anoint[ed]” with the removed mole hair in hopes of stimulating the expulsion of excess hair.

As for the origin of Dawson’s recipes, one likely source is Topsell’s aforementioned book, which includes Dawson’s cure for excess hair almost word for word. The similarities suggest that Dawson directly came into contact with Topsell’s book herself or through a source that had copied from the book. Unlike the resemblance in the hair removal texts, the recipes concerning hair growth show significant differences. Topsell’s book utilizes the burnt skin of the mole rather than the blood: “For the renewing, and bringing againe of those haires which are fallen or decayed, take a mole and burne her whole in the skin […]” (Topsell, 502). This use of burnt skin may ultimately refer back to Dioscorides, who originally used porcupine and hedgehog skin in his recipes for hair growth. Though there are other differences in components, Topsell’s version keeps the idea of using a creature’s skin as a main ingredient.

Medicinal recipes are changed as they pass from one individual to another, with information being added, removed, or altered. It is therefore likely that Dawson’s curt recipe may have originally been a part of a longer one that was altered as time passed—perhaps passing through word-of-mouth, or being copied from an acquaintance or friend’s own personal medicinal cookbook. It is evident that Dawson pooled together knowledge from multiple people, suggesting that the medical care they could expect had a direct correlation to both the knowledge and the quantity of the people they knew. 

Interestingly, there is one source that includes both of Dawson’s recipes. Joannes Jonstonus’ 1678 book reads: “the [mole’s] blood brings hair … the water wherein a Mole hath been, and left hair, restores hair.” (Jonstonus 91). There is one crucial change from Dawson’s version: the fur of the mole is said to promote hair growth rather than hair loss. An intriguing dilemma would arise if an early modern person came into contact with these two recipes claiming opposing results.  Though the publication status of Jonstonus’ book would imply that it was Jonstonus’ version rather than Dawson’s that would have been in more frequent use, this would likely depend on a variety of factors, including the book’s distribution and popularity. 

Though an analysis of the mole recipes mentioned beforehand allows for a better understanding of Dawson’s own recipe, it should be noted that these recipes are likely only a fraction of early modern recipes concerning moles and hair. Numerous others exist, and further analysis of those versions could bring to light a more thorough and complete understanding of this unique remedy.

Works Cited

Dawson, Jane. Cookbook of Jane Dawson. Folger ms. Vb.14.

Harrison, Mark. “From Medical Astrology to Medical Astronomy: Sol-Lunar and Planetary Theories of Disease in British Medicine.” The British Journal for the History of Science,vol. 33, no. 1, Mar. 2000, pp. 25-48. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/4028064

Jonstonus, Joannes. A description of the nature of four-footed beasts with their figures en[graven in brass] / written in Latin by Dr. John Johnston ; translated into English by J.P. Translated by J.P, Amsterdam, 1678. Early English Books Online, https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=eebo;idno=A46231.0001.001

Topsell, Edward. The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents. London, 1658. https://archive.org/details/historyoffourfoo00tops/page/388

Ashley Gonzalez recently graduated from The University of Akron, where she undertook this research in ENG 489: Disease in Literature.

Goodbye Jane Dawson; Hello Margaret Turner!

In a new EMROC record, we’ve finished keying the Dawson manuscript! But not stopping here: we’re on to the next manuscript. Since the Transcribathon is still going on, we’d like to take this transcription energy and work on Margaret Turner’s. It’s W.a.112, and full of great culinary and medicinal recipes, in a fairly easy hand.

So happy transcribing! Turner’s manuscript is available on Dromio just like Dawson’s was; just click “TurnerWA112” and then pick a page with 1 or 2 in the “started” column. We may get through this one as well, in which case we’ll be back with a third suggestion.

Teaching Transcribathons and Experiential Learning

By Liza Blake

This post is one of seven scheduled to appear in The Recipes Project’s upcoming September Teaching Series, which focuses on new ideas and strategies for teaching with recipes.

As we all prepare for the next EMROC Transcribathon on Sept. 18, I look back at the role Transcribathons might play in literature classrooms—specifically, in this case, a class on early modern women’s writing (compare techniques here and here).

Interested in bringing transcription into the classroom? It’s easier than you might think, and just as exciting for your students as you might expect! This post describes a locally hosted, teaching-oriented EMROC Transcribathon, and provides some resources for those wishing to host local Transcribathons of their own.

Scene from Toronto Campus

This winter the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) hosted Professor Rebecca Laroche to lead a local EMROC Transcribathon. The Transcribathon was made possible by funding from the UTM Graduate Expansion Fund, the UTM Department of English and Drama, and the University of Toronto Scarborough Department of English. Two University of Toronto graduate RAs put time and energy into the event: Melanie Simoes Santos (English Dept.), and Cai Henderson (Centre for Medieval Studies).

The UTM Transcribathon was hosted for the 47 UTM undergraduates in Professor Liza Blake’s early modern women writers course, 307 Women Writers syllabus W18 (abbreviated for sharing).

The course was designed around experiential learning: in addition to the Transcribathon, students also received training in textual bibliography and editorial theory; critically analyzed editorial choices in two women writer anthologies; and each produced an edition of a text of their choosing for a class-wide anthology (conducting bibliographical research, undertaking textual collation, and producing textual and bibliographical introductions for their texts). Students left aware of the work that went into producing their textbooks, and empowered to not just consume but produce those texts themselves.

At the heart of the course’s emphasis on experiential learning, then, was the EMROC Transcribathon, where students gathered together to transcribe, and reflect on the place of transcription in a women’s writing course. For attending and participating in the Transcribathon for at least an hour, and submitting their reflections, students received a grade worth 5% of their final mark.

What does it take to run a local Transcribathon? Not much! The funding sources mentioned above allowed us to fly in and host an EMROC representative (Prof. Rebecca Laroche); reserve a room and provide refreshments; and hire graduate RAs to serve as (paid) organizers and facilitators. But at a minimum, one needs only a designated space and a committed group of transcribers!

Leading up to the event, we talked in class about EMROC, and why so many scholars are invested in transcribing these recipe books. I went over standard transcription conventions, describing the differences between transcribing and modernizing with a handout (Transcription Conventions) and I went over how to mark up with this handout: Dromio guidelines.

I also gave them a manuscript “alphabet”—a cheat sheet (TurnerMS alphabet) showing the manuscript’s particular graphs. These handouts were prepared by Melanie Simoes Santos and myself. Jennifer Munroe has also written on helpful tips for easing students into transcription, here.

On the day itself, the instructions were simple: show up for an hour and transcribe! One student wrote about the experience, “It gave me a surreal sense of intimacy with a woman who lived in a completely different time,” and another was surprised that “the personal grammatical and expressive preferences of the author became familiar to me; … I didn’t expect something like an old cookbook to possess such a distinct voice.” One student said, “It never occurred to me how much work actually goes into uncovering a work, transcribing it, and publishing it in an anthology,” and this insight prompted larger reflections for another student: “Getting the chance to transcribe something makes me think about the relationship that exists between the original work versus the modernized or edited work we see in our anthologies.” The event allowed one student “to reflect … on why certain texts are privileged and transcribed over others.” Another concluded, “I felt like I was contributing to something bigger than just our course.” There were also extremely practical outcomes: “I learned how to make orange pudding and dry figs!”

Anyone interested in hosting a local Transcribathon of their own is welcome to get in touch with me; I’m happy to share funding materials or answer questions about hosting. In the meantime, I leave you with some parting thoughts and tips.

1) Flexibility. Though many students cherished the collaboration of the group Transcribathon, some students had irreconcilable work obligations, so I allowed a few to “check in” and “check out” via email, and send copies of their transcriptions, if they couldn’t come in person.

2) Food. Funding made it possible to have ample refreshments set out for the duration of the event, and many students mentioned how much they appreciated draw of the free lunch.

3) Prizes. A trip to the Canadian store Dollarama the night before yielded us some cheap prizes: e.g., if someone found the word “spoon” in a recipe, they could win a wooden spoon to add to their own kitchen.

These prizes were surprisingly effective motivators for our transcribers, and we’d recommend this practice to others!

4) Beyond? It might have been exciting to try the recipes themselves out, as other Transcribathons have done, or to link the Transcribathon more specifically with a same-day research event. Transcribathons that include linked research talks remind participants of what is at stake in their transcribing labor.

Undergraduate Recipe Research Wins PSU Abington Prize

By Marissa Nicosia

EMROC member Marissa Nicosia was recognized for her teaching and mentorship of undergraduate researchers with the 2018 Abington College Faculty Senate Outstanding Teaching Award. At the Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities poster session her students were awarded the 2018 Blue Ribbon prize for an Arts and Humanities Project and the library’s Information Literacy Award.

Early in the fall 2016 semester, a student approached me after class to ask if I “had an ACURA” project. In the parlance of my home institution, Penn State Abington, “ACURA” is an acronym for the thriving Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities program. This program fosters student and faculty research collaborations that are a hallmark of our small, undergraduate-focused campus. At first I was stumped: I didn’t have an ACURA project planned and the program seemed to be dominated by science and social science research. But I thought about my research process for Cooking in the Archives, the ongoing transcription work of EMROC and Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO), and my colleagues’ stories about working on recipes with undergraduate students in the classroom and beyond. Why couldn’t I run an independent study about recipes that would be useful for students, for me, and for the community at large? I designed and launched a research project entitled “What’s in a Recipe?” which has become a multi-year collaboration with four students.

Here is a link to the syllabus for the 2017-2018 version that I discuss in what follows. At Penn State Abington, this ACURA project counts for one course credit in the fall and two credits in the spring. Students and faculty meet by appointment and projects take radically different shapes depending on the topic and the discipline. I’m planning to redesign this course next year to include more DH instruction through a collaboration with Heather Froehlich and other colleagues at the library.

The first thing I asked students to read was a Student Collaborators’ Bill of Rights. We talked about the fact that their labor contributed to an international digital humanities project and that they could (and should) utilize the information that they were generating for their own scholarly pursuits. Then we spent the fall semester reading crucial background articles and a recipe manuscript from the Folger Shakespeare Library collections. Over the past two years we have worked on two seventeenth-century manuscripts of medical and culinary receipts owned and compiled by gentlewomen named, respectively, Margaret Baker and Mrs. Corlyon. Although this might seem like a straightforward activity, as EMROC readers likely know, seventeenth-century handwriting is far more difficult to decipher than modern cursive. After accessing online resources on paleography—the study of historical handwriting—students worked with me and with one another to master the handwriting in the manuscript and type up transcriptions of large sections of the book. In addition to participating in the transcription project and learning about recipe books in general, during the spring semester each student also developed a personal research project. The readings for the second half of the course are tailored to what students were curious about at the end of the fall semester. Students have tested recipes for healthful foods and cosmetics, investigated perfumed gloves and humoral theories of sleep, and considered Baker’s self-fashioning as a healer and collector in her manuscript. You can read what they have to say about their experiences here and here.

I’m pleased that ACURA funding supported a trip from Philadelphia to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC each year so that the students could consult the original manuscript that they had been working with, see other recipe books for comparison, and discuss their research topics with curators and scholars at the library. Turning the pages of the manuscript that they had scrutinized and deciphered online was simply electrifying. Students reported that this experience of handling rare materials and engaging with the broader scholarly community was equal parts transformative and informative.

Working with students on this shared project has forced me to ask questions about recipes that I would never have asked if I had simply continued my research alone. Since my research is focused on food – specifically, recipes for dishes that sounds so tasty that I want to recreate them in my kitchen – I often skim over the recipes for plague water, face cream, salves, perfumes, and restorative broths that fill early modern recipe manuscripts. But my students were curious about these recipes, and drawn in by their questions I became more curious, too. I tried one of Margaret Baker’s possets and I’m planning to make some “sweet bags” of potpourri when the weather turns cooler. As I continue to research manuscript recipes, I’m excited to work alongside my students and see where both my interests lead them and their interests lead me.