Transcribathon 2018

From Jane Dawson, V.a.14, Folger Shakespeare Library.

On 18 September, we’ll be hosting our annual transcribathon. This year, we’re working on the wonderful Jane Dawson book. It is an interesting example of a manuscript book from the middling sorts, and has lots of food and medicine. Rebecca Laroche discusses the book here.

We’d love to have you join in. Things will be kicking off in the UK at 10:00 (UK-time) and will continue over the next twelve hours. During those twelve hours, we’ll be talking about what we’re transcribing on Twitter, Facebook, and this blog…

If you’d like to join in, please see our announcement here or catch up on Liza Blake’s recent blog post on bringing transcription into the classroom.

To join in, drop me a line in the comments, by email at lisa.smith@essex.ac.uk, or on Twitter @historybeagle.

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.

“How to make a Mortres good to geue to those​ that be weake.”

As an English major with a passion for cooking, who has worked in restaurants for the past five years, studying this topic interested me instantaneously. I quickly joined Dr. Nicosia’s “What’s in a Recipe?” undergraduate research independent study. We transcribed and researched Mrs. Corlyon’s recipe book from the late 17th century. Excited to cook hundreds-of-years old recipes, possessing the perfect job to fulfill that excitement. Upon joining the project, I asked all my coworkers if they would be interested in trying some of the food I made, with a nearly unanimous willingness. I was ready to cook. I transcribed recipes, hunting for pages that interested me, until I stumbled upon “How to make a Mortres good to geue to those​ that be weake.”

How to make a Mortres good to geue to those​

that be weake​

Take the brawne of a colde Capon or Henn, that hath

been rosted, shridd it very smale, all sauinge the Skinne,

then take a quarter of a Pounde of Almondes, beynge blanched,

grinde them in a Morter very smale, wi​th​ a litle Sacke, if

the partyes stomake be colde, or else wi​th​ white wine, so much

as will serue to make them a litle moiste, and no more, then

putt your meate to them, and so grinde them very smale togea=

ther, then putt thereto the yeolkes of two egges, and 3. or 4.

spoonefulles of redd Rose water, and when you haue tempered

them well togeather, drive it throughe a strayner, then sett

it vppon a chafingdishe of coales, and season it wi​th​ Salte,

and if the partyes stomake be coulde, putt thereto a litle

Sinamonde and Ginger, and so much Sugar, as will make

it pleasant, but if the party be hott, putt onlye Sugar

to it, and so boile it, vntill it be come to be as thicke as

Almonde butter, then geue the party thereof, this will keepe

good three dayes.

The first question that arose was about the word “brawne.” After a quick search on Oxford English Dictionary, I found the word to mean “brain,” usually, however, of a human. I soon after warned my coworkers that they may be agreeing to try highly outlandish ingredients, things that most people do not eat, resulting in mixed feelings. Some grew squeamish at the thought of eating a brain, while others, like myself, became excited, willing to “try anything once.” I scoured the area around me for a week, searching for live-kill poultry shops, butcher shops, delis, and the like, but to no avail; at best, some said “Come in later this week, I might have some,” at worst, a man said in disgusted disdain “Chicken what?! I’ve never heard of using that before.” I was losing hope, unable to find a definite chicken-head-supplier for my mortress. I visited my project advisor, Dr. Marissa Nicosia, to ask for some guidance. Her first step was re-checking OED, which yielded the second definition of “brawne,” which I had not noticed: the body, the meat, the bulk of something. After a swift slap to my head, I laughed, both disappointed and relieved, quick to roast a chicken with my job’s rotisserie, and make the recipe I had been stressed about for a week.

The use of humoral theory is highly significant in this recipe and the act of cooking it. Humoral theory allows for two interpretations of the recipe, two different dishes. It shows people’s dependence on the nuances of recipes, not simply for nutrition, but health. The dish made with red wine for the person with a colder stomach had deeper undertones and aromas, and was consistently rated slightly lower by my coworkers, while the white wine dish was simpler and sharper, and rated slightly higher. Once the chicken was mixed with the almonds, it became extremely doughy, dry, and sticky, so I added more a few more tablespoons of rose water, loosening it and allowing it to have softer formations. Both dishes ended up bland and in need of salt, which was available to and used by all coworkers who tried them.

Roast a chicken.

  1. Season raw with salt and pepper
  2. Place covered in a baking pan for 70 minutes in a 350° F oven, or until the bird’s internal temperature is 185° F.
  1. While the chicken cooks, grind ¼ lb. almonds in a mortar and pestle.
    1. Separate the ¼ lb. into halves, making two piles of ⅛ lb. almonds.
    2. Mix one pile with one tbsp. of red wine, the other with one tbsp of white wine.
      1. If this does not make the almonds paste-like, add more wine.
  2. After cooking, shred the chicken finely, discarding of the skin, bones, and cartilage.
  3. Mix half of the shredded chicken with the red wine almonds, and the other half with the white wine almonds until they are the consistency of dough.
  4. Combine one egg yolk to each pile.
  5. Combine two tbsp. rose water to each pile.
  6. Lightly salt both piles
  7. Add cinnamon, chopped ginger, and sugar to the red wine pile, and only sugar to the white wine pile                                                         .
  8. One may make this dough into any shape preferred—ball, patty, specific shapes—and heat in a pan with a little butter or a fryer.
    1. Since it is already cooked, this heating should be done purely for warmth and not for actual cooking.             

Every person scored every dish in looks, smell, taste, texture, and overall from one to five. The averages were all similar, between high three’s and low four’s for most categories, but the cold stomach’s dish consistently scored lower by less than a full point in every category other than looks, which were equal. When Joie, the shift manager of that night, tasted the cold stomach’s dish, she took an unimaginably slow bite, with her nose subsequently scrunched in near-disgust, eyebrows scowling. Let us remember Walkden’s bonny-clabber, and the “hard-wired” “disgust that feels instinctive.” After registering the actual flavors, her eyebrows perked, eyes widened, face brightened, in shock of the tolerable flavors presented to her. Nobody expected this to be edible, let alone enjoyable. A fellow line-cook, Stephen, genuinely enjoyed it, asking if he could take some home so his wife could try some. He offered no negative comments toward the dish, enjoying both the historical and culinary aspects of it. Everyone who tasted was highly interested in trying food from hundreds of years ago, with not a single negative, unfavorable experience on the whole.

Eric Seamans, a student of Marissa Nicosia at Pennsylvania State University, Abington College

Transcribing in Toronto

In just a week’s time the University of Toronto will be hosting EMROC! Rebecca Laroche will be in town, bringing the study of recipes, women’s writing, and paleography to the U of T. Please add these events to your calendar, and consider coming to one or both of them if you are in the area, and transcribing remotely Friday if you are not.

Scene from Toronto Campus

Thursday, March 1, 2pm: Research Talk (UTSG, Jackman Humanities Building (170 St. George St., Toronto), room 616) — Prof. Laroche will give a talk entitled “‘Infinite Variety’: Case Studies in Early Modern Recipes Research.” This talk will think about the methodologies and payoffs of working with early modern recipes books, and highlight some fascinating findings that have emerged out of the EMROC’s project to transcribe large numbers of recipe manuscripts.

The talk will be followed by a Q&A, and then an informal coffee hour with graduates, who will have an opportunity to share their own work and ask questions.

Friday, March 2, 10am-4pm: EMROC Transcribathon (UTM, MiST Theatre (in the CCT building — #1800 on this map: https://www.utm.utoronto.ca/sites/files/default/public/shared/studentaffairs/images/CampusMap_final.jpg )) — All day out at UTM Professor Laroche will lead one of EMROC’s annual transcribathons, where we gather together as a group to transcribe pages from early modern manuscript recipe books. Drop by for an hour, or work with us the whole day! Please bring your own laptop if possible.

The recipe book we will be transcribing is written in seventeenth century hand, which is fairly easy to read; we will have people on hand willing and able to give crash courses in paleography, and to help you learn the ropes of the transcribing program Dromio. No previous experience assumed or necessary! Though if you want to prep you might see any of the three handouts (a list of transcription conventions; a list of Dromio commands; and an “alphabet” documenting letter forms used in the manuscript we will be transcribing). Feel free to stop by for as much or as little of the event as you want. Coffee and food will be provided all day during our transcribing.

We will be transcribing pages from a manuscript owned and compiled by Margaret Turner, Folger MS Wa112, which includes both recipes for the kitchen and “cures for man and beast” (https://tinyurl.com/yde6p4ts)! If you would like to participate in the transcribathon from afar, go to this site http://transcribe.folger.edu/, select EMROC, and click on “TurnerWa112”. We’ll be working 10am-4pmEST.

Margaret Turner, “To Make a good Bisket,” Folger Manuscript W.a.112, fol. 52/66

Please email the local organizer Prof. Liza Blake at liza.blake@utoronto.ca if you’re planning on attending the coffee hour on Thursday, so she can order coffee accordingly. She is also happy to answer any questions over email before the event.