VCU community to help transcribe 17th-century manuscripts for Folger Shakespeare Library

November 11, 2015

The Virginia Commonwealth University community is invited to take part in a "transcribathon" at which they will transcribe and encode two 17th-century manuscripts from the collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

The event is part of the Folger Shakespeare Library's ongoing Early Modern Manuscripts Online project that aims to provide scholars and the public with convenient online access to transcriptions, images and metadata for a variety of one-of-a-kind English manuscripts from the 16th and 17th centuries, including letters, diaries, wills, coats of arms, literary pieces, recipe books and more.




























"The purpose of this kind of activity is to make difficult-to-read manuscripts accessible to and searchable by scholars, teachers and students," said co-organizer Claire Bourne, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences. "The work of those participating in the VCU transcribathon will be in the service of future scholarship and learning."

The transcribathon will be held Nov. 13 from noon to 4 p.m. in the second-floor Multipurpose Room of James Branch Cabell Library. The event is free and open to the public. No prior experience with paleography, which is the study of historical handwriting, is required.

The event is sponsored by VCU Libraries, the Department of English, the Humanities Research Center and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

"The work of those participating in the VCU transcribathon will be in the service of future scholarship and learning."

Participants in the transcribathon will transcribe portions of two manuscripts from the 17th century and encode them using tags in XML in an easy-to-use interface. The transcriptions will be incorporated into a freely accessible website that features high-quality images of the manuscripts, with metadata and full transcripts that are both searchable and legible.

"Thousands of early modern manuscripts still exist. Very few have been photographed in their entirety. And very few of the complete image sets that have been produced are freely available," said co-organizer Joshua Eckhardt, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of English. "Some manuscripts have been described, but very few of them have been described very thoroughly or very well. And, of those few manuscripts that have been both photographed and described, only a tiny fraction has been transcribed all the way through."

The transcribathons also serve to increase awareness of the Folger Shakespeare Library's valuable holdings, arguably the best collection of early modern English manuscripts in the United States, Eckhardt said.

The Folger Shakespeare Library has held several transcribathons to date, including at the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania.

Paul Dingman, Ph.D., director of the Early Modern Manuscripts Online project, said the goal is to promote the study of early modern paleography and to build a corpus of consistent, encoded transcriptions for use by scholars or anyone interested in these largely untapped sources.

"Puzzling out a difficult word or letter is highly satisfying."

"The EMMO team will briefly introduce participants to early modern paleography and to our online, easy-to-use transcription tool, Dromio. After that, we try to get people transcribing right away, and they can learn as they go," he said. "Puzzling out a difficult word or letter is highly satisfying, as is getting a glimpse into the people of the early modern period."

For VCU Libraries, the transcribathon is an excellent example of digital learning through collaboration, said Kevin Farley, Ph.D., assistant professor and humanities collection librarian.

"The transcribathon aligns perfectly with the advancement of digital scholarship at VCU Libraries — an openness for all who wish to participate in a collaborative learning and creating environment," he said.

Image: Folger Shakespeare Library V.a.103, fol. 3v / Content: University Public Affairs

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