“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.

Rebeckah Winche and The King’s Evil

By Jordan Ivie

Rebeckah Winche’s receipt book (Folger Vb 366) includes three recipes on page 62 that relate to the King’s Evil, one that detects the malady and two that cure it. These recipes consist of many ingredients that seem strange to the modern reader, including the leg of a live toad, turpentine, and worms; the oddest ingredient, however, was “the urine of a man childe he being not aboue 3 years old.” The recipe instructs that 3 spoonfulls of this urine be added to beeswax, turpentine, sheep’s suet, and barley flower, and then the whole concoction is boiled and formed into a plaster to lay on the patient’s sore. Putting aside any consideration of the efficacy of using urine in a remedy, the fact that it is included in a recipe for the King’s Evil says a great deal about early modern conceptions of the masculine body’s healing powers.

A remedy for the King’s Evil is already a recipe that speaks to the period’s faith in masculine curative powers. The King’s Evil, or scrofula, was commonly thought to be curable by the touch of the king (OED); therefore this malady is already charged with preconceptions related to both gender and class: the male ruler is a healer, spreading wellness to the common people. The belief interacts with the notion of using the urine of a man-child, specifically of a child younger than three years old. The ingredient is not related to class or authority, as is the general concept of the King’s Evil, but to age and gender, and perhaps the age restriction relates to purity or cleanliness. Nevertheless the common factor between the King’s touch and the man-child’s urine is gender. Rebekah Winche’s receipt book manifests the time’s preoccupation with gender and healthcare not only in this King’s Evil recipe but also in the one that follows it, which calls for a leg cut from a live frog and tied around the sufferer’s neck. Interestingly, “if it be a boy or man that is greeued then woman must kill the toade but if a girle or woman be ill then a man must kill it.” This recipe, unlike the preceding one, ascribes a degree of healing power to both men and women and highlights the idea that gender is as essential as the ingredients themselves; further, male bodies must aid in the healing of female bodies and female bodies are necessary to heal male bodies.

The presence of three separate recipes on this page show the prevalent fear and perhaps the common occurrence of the King’s Evil in the early modern period, and, while one recipe does give both men and women roles in the healing process, the use of the King’s touch and the urine of a man child as remedies suggest that early moderns put a great deal of faith in the male body’s ability to heal both sexes; somehow, health and vitality are not only inherent in maleness but also transferrable, able to overcome even the most dreaded and debilitating diseases.

Jordan Ivie, Master’s Student at the University of Texas, Arlington and student in Professor Amy Tigner’s graduate class, “Culinary Shakespeare”

 

Observations about EMROC’s 2015 Transcribathon

By Erin Adwell

EMROC’s interactive Humanities Transcribathon project proved highly engaging and illuminating both sociologically and literarily. During the event, I transcribed three pages of recipes from Rebeckah Winche’s receipt book, while sitting with a group of fellow graduate students at the University of Texas, Arlington. Because most ingredients were familiar, the transcription was relatively straight-forward. The ease by which I transcribed these recipes can be attributed to practicing receipt transcription through Cambridge University’s English Handwriting 1500-1700: An online course. By transcribing alone and in small groups then reviewing the work with classmates, I gained valuable experience with problematic letters, such as Hs and Ws, which helped during the Transcribathon.

While transcribing Winche’s recipes I was finally able to move beyond the letters to begin constructing meaning for the first time. I began paying attention to the content and processes described in the recipes. Although, the ingredients on the pages I transcribed were familiar and consisted primarily flowers like Rosemary, several of my classmates encountered strange ingredients. For example, one classmate transcribed a recipe that included the “urin of a man chile,” which was intended to cure the “King’s Evil.” A simple Google search of “King’s Evil” produced images of large, scabby boils on the skin, so I can understand how desperate people would have been to cure the condition. These recipes help elucidate the harsh reality of life during the seventeenth century.

King's Evil Scrofula

The most memorable of the recipes that I transcribed from Winche’s receipt book was for Agua Mirabilis. Agua Mirabilis is not listed in the OED; however, Merriam-Webster explains that it is a distilled cordial of old pharmacy made of spirits, sage, betony, balm, and other aromatic ingredients. An interesting note precedes the recipe, saying that Richard Marns “makes a water which helps children from Convultions and sends directions with it.” This information provided context for the recipe’s origin and aroused my interest in Winche’s life. I looked up Richard Marns’s name in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, but the search wielded no results, which was disappointing. Following the Transcribathon, my knowledge of Winche’s personal life remains limited to my own inferences. I look forward to reading her fully transcribed recipe book to learn more about her world.

Erin Adwell, Graduate Student, University of Texas, Arlington