Code Makers: The Hidden Labour Behind the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Recipe Book Corpus

By Elisa Tersigni

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”:

Fig 1. Recipe “An Excellent medecine,” found on 25r of Medicinal and cookery recipes of Mary Baumfylde (1626, call number: V.a.456)

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.

Why encoding?

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?

How can I learn more?

If you’re a graduate student who is interested in our project, consider applying for our funded graduate student workshop, Eating Through the Archives: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Early Modern Foodways. If you’re interested in volunteering for our program as a Code Breaking transcriber or a Code Making encoder, contact Heather Wolfe at hwolfe [at] folger.edu. You can also read our research updates by following @FolgerLibrary or @FolgerResearch on Twitter or reading our scholarly blogs The Collation and Shakespeare & Beyond.

Elisa Tersigni is the Digital Research Fellow for Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, Folger Shakespeare Library. Elisa tweets as @elisatersigni.

 

Code Breakers: The Hidden Labour Behind the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Recipe Book Transcriptions

By Elisa Tersigni

As many EMROC readers know, a major component of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s three-year, $1.5M Mellon-funded Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures (BFT) project is the digitizing, transcribing, and encoding of our early modern English recipe book collection—the largest such collection in the world.

This builds on the work of our transcribathons—frequently organized by EMROC, often taking place in EMROC members’ classrooms—which are crucial to our project and attract the most attention on Twitter, in part because of the hilarious recipes transcribers sometimes discover in the process (see examples by EMROC members here). Readers may not realize that transcribathons are just one cog in the machine that makes these manuscripts digitally available: every page of every manuscript is triple-keyed by three transcribers; after which the transcriptions are checked for accuracy by an expert paleographer to create a single authoritative transcription; then that vetted transcription is encoded by a team, which includes myself; only after which the transcriptions are made available for teachers and researchers to use. This blog post will focus on the critical but often hidden volunteer transcribers, who dedicate hundreds of hours a year to the project; next week’s blog post will delve a little deeper into the encoding process.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
A couple of weeks ago, I walked into at the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Founders’ Room, where I joined three of the volunteers working on the manual transcribing of the Folger’s recipe book collection. Typing away are just three pairs of the invisible hands working to make the recipe books readable and searchable online.

Nicole Winard is the first volunteer I speak with. A retired public-school teacher and high school librarian, she has been a volunteer transcriber for three years. She’s also the Volunteer Transcriber Coordinator, which means that she corrals the Folger Shakespeare Library’s docents and other volunteers from the community, now spanning the globe. Nicole tells me that she begins each day at her kitchen table, with a cup of coffee and a transcription. When asked how many hours she spends transcribing a week, she is reluctant to answer. “My husband would be more honest about this than I am,” she says. I get her to admit to 20 hours a week on average, though I suspect it might be more.

Today, Nicole is transcribing with Anne Riordan, a retired financial analyst who discovered a love of Shakespeare on a study abroad year (coincidentally the 400th year anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth) at the University of Bristol, and Amy Thompson, a Senior Docent at the Folger Shakespeare Library and a local drama coach. Both Anne and Amy have volunteered as transcribers for two years.

Nicole, Anne, and Amy describe themselves as “like the women in The Bletchley Circle”—the British women who, in WWII, secretly worked as codebreakers. They share a love of crosswords, puzzles, and sudoku. When asked why they volunteer so much of their time to the project, they cite a combination of scholarly interest and personal satisfaction. They are afraid that “ink on paper is being lost” today and want to preserve that information in a new form. They also want to give voices to the women of the past: Nicole says, “so much of what we have here [at the Folger Shakespeare Library] is men. A library dedicated to seventeenth-century writing—it’s hard not to be [man-focused]!” They describe the work as “addictive” and “fascinating,” allowing them a window into the past: “You feel like you’re part of the family when you read a recipe and know what [a mother] gave [her] 10-year-old for the plague. You feel like you’re in the room with them.” They derive joy from learning and contributing to a cause. Still, they are aware of that they are providing a valuable and specialized service at a bargain rate. Amy says of the Bletchley women, “they picked them because they could get women cheaper … we’re pretty cheap, too!”

The transcribers living in the DC area regularly meet to transcribe together in person, typing side-by-side and working on problematic sections of manuscripts together. Other volunteer transcribers include Dr. Elisabeth Chaghafi, a Professor at Tubigen University in Germany; Dr. Robert (Bob) Tallaksan, a semi-retired professor of radiology at West Virginia University, and the team’s Latin expert; the mostly anonymous transcribers of Shakespeare’s World; and the whole crew at EMROC. Since the transcribers work all over the world, most of the conversations happen over email. The emails often relay what Nicole calls the “ews and ahs” of the recipe books. This past week’s emails included a recipe for what one should take “For an Inflammation in the Throat, from swallowing a Wasp in a Draught of Beer.”

Fig. 1 Recipe “For an Inflammation in the Throat,” found on page 35 of Part II of Andrew Slee’s Medicinal Recipes (1654, call number: V.a.398)

Today, as they are transcribing a different recipe found in the same volume, they are discussing what the recipe ingredient “man’s flesh” could possibly be. “Maybe it’s an herb that looks like a penis,” one offers. They all laugh.

The work is fun, but it is scholarly work nonetheless: for instance, in transcribing the recipes, they sometimes find words not currently listed in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) or find instances of words or phrases that pre-date those recorded in the current OED entries. For instance, Bob submitted the word “deege” (probably meaning “a small amount”) to the OED as a possible new word and found a use of “Jesuit’s bark” (in The Conclave of Physicians, 1686) that pre-dates the OED’s current entry by 18 years.

The transcribers have also helped the Folger’s Cataloguers refine the dating of the recipe books by noting internal evidence of contemporary events. For instance, when Nicole transcribed Katherine Brown’s Medicinal and cookery recipes (c.1650–1662, call number: V.a.397), she found written in the margins, “A plot against king Charles” (fo. 42v), “the king to be beheaded to morrow” (fo. 82v), and “Kill him” (fo. 2r). And code breaker is not just a metaphor for this group: Amy discovered that Katherine Packer’s receipt book (1639, call number: V.a.387) contained a code in which some recipes were written. Together, Amy and Heather Wolfe, the Folger’s Curator of Manuscripts and Associate Librarian for Audience Development, broke the code. Amy then made a key and transcribed the coded pages.

Fig 2. Recipe no. 103 found on page 36 of Katherine Packer’s A boocke of very good medicines for seueral diseases, wounds, and sores both new and olde, 1639, call number: V.a.387.

103. an excellent [b]rew

and apro[v]ed caudle to cleans

ye wombe after a childbirth or

miscarrying

take rie and beate it as you

doe wheat for forminty and boil

it in smale ale to a caudle

sweeten it as y[ou] like it wth

suger and drinke of it morning

and at . 4 . of the clocke in

ye afternoone and at night

wn you goe to rest as much as [you]

can drinke at a draught an

if occasion be oftener. /-

[ Transcription by Amy Thompson]

If you’re reading this article and wondering how you can join Puck’s Circle—that’s what I’m calling the Folger’s version of The Bletchley Circle—please contact Heather Wolfe at hwolfe [at] folger [dot] edu. If you’re new to paleography, have no fear: Heather is teaching a new series of Practical Paleography workshops  beginning on Tuesday, October 1 at 2:30 P.M. Workshops will run at the Folger Shakespeare Library every Tuesday in October for about an hour.

This digitization project did not start with the BFT project, nor will it end with the project. We’re hoping that digitization will continue as our collections grow through continued acquisition. Please follow us on Twitter at @FolgerLibrary and @FolgerResearch to learn more, including when we’ll be hosting our next Transcribeathon.

We’d love for you, dear Reader, to join!

Elisa Tersigni is the Digital Research Fellow for Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, Folger Shakespeare Library. Find her on twitter @elisatersigni.

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.

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who participated in our Transcribathon this week. You are all amazing. When everyone finished the Dawson manuscript with about two hours left to go (!), we decided to open another nearly-completed manuscript–Margaret Turner. And we finished that one, too!

The EMROC community is awesome, in both the modern and early modern senses of the word.

If you’re missing the Transcribathon, keep your eyes peeled for further details. We’ll be hosting a Jane Dawson Cook Along (as suggested by the Medical Heritage Library, @MedicalHeritage on Twitter) next week.

Thank you so much for being a part of our community!

The EMROC(K) Playlist

By Jennifer Munroe

Hurricane Florence, 16 September 2018. Credit: NASA, via Wikimedia Commons.

Last week, Rebecca Laroche and Hillary Nunn suggested in jest that we should build a soundtrack to mark this year’s more-eventful-than-usual travel to DC.  So… here is just a little fun I had on the train! You can either click on the hyperlinks for added fun OR check out the Spotify playlist that Mark Gudgeon (@gudge75 on Twitter) has assembled for us.

In September 2018, EMROC was planning our fourth annual Transcribathon and Steering Committee meetings at the Folger Shakespeare Library. To our chagrin, also in the mix was Florence, a formidable storm that originated in Africa. After days of anticipating the storm, and just when we thought the Waiting was the hardest part, Florence hit the North Carolina coast with a fury, leaving poor Maggie in Raleigh (though inland) blowing in the wind and being rocked like a hurricane. It really was nasty. In fact, poor Maggie said it shook her all night long. And just when it seemed things might clear, it seemed, here comes the rain again.

Meanwhile, Rebecca and Hillary decided to hold on and see if they would make it to DC, even though Florence’s track kept changing.  Will Florence disrupt things all the way to DC? And Jen, in Charlotte, remained in the danger zone. Elaine Leong, thankfully, arrived in the States in advance of the storm, and it looked like she would be able to take the downtown train from Baltimore to DC without trouble. Maggie Simons and my flight plans remained uncertain, so we both tried to book trains in vain and waited to see if the airports would stay open. While those of us in Charlotte and Raleigh worked on alternative plans to Skype in for meetings, in the sights of the storm, we were also worried about losing the power. We were all under pressure.

Just when things looked really bad, Florence decided to beat it and head south just enough that Raleigh’s airport could open, and Maggie saw the sign that she could get to DC. Likewise, it appeared Hillary and Rebecca could see clearly now that they too would make it to the DC area. But Florence had Charlotte in her sights, and Jen kept going back and forth about whether her flight would be canceled, whether she would drive. “Should I stay or should I go?” she wondered. In the end, she decided to push it and drive to Richmond on Saturday, then a crazy train to DC Sunday morning. 

Finally, things were looking up. Everyone (except Lisa Smith who was unable to leave London, home of the brash, outrageous and free, for family reasons) would make it. So thrilled, all we could do is shout and jump around. Truly unbelievable! It looked like we might be gettin’ jiggy with it after all. Tomorrow won’t be such a manic Monday. We will be together from 9 to 5, making plans for EMROC’s next few years and enjoying each other’s company. We’ll see Sarah (Powell) smile when we meet her at the library. It appears now that at least by Tuesday, we will all be walking on sunshine here in DC. And, of course, Heather Wolfe and Lisa will be London calling, leading an enthusiastic group of transcribers at the Wellcome, helping to make our dreams come true. Wednesday, we will all be on the road again, and it will seem the longest time before we meet again. But for the next few days, we have each other, and nothing’s gonna stop us now.

The moral is: don’t stop believing

Getting into the groove, seventeenth-century style! Credit: Christoffel Jacobsz. van der Laemen (1615-1651), Dancing Party in an Interior, ca. 1640s (Wikimedia Commons).