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Early Modern Paleography and Women's Writing I - Transcribathon

While researching my first monograph, my primary sources were frequently published in print. Where I worked from manuscript, strong scholarly published transcriptions of the material were easily accessible. For the purposes of researching my new project on women's plague writing, however, with the myriad recipe books and diaries I work from, added to the fact that the majority of women's writing on plague across the genres appeared in manuscript, relying on transcriptions is not possible.

While one's first glance at an early modern manuscript can be a daunting experience - this is far from the cursive many present-day scholars were taught in elementary school - there are numerous resources, exercises and events designed to convey the skill set necessary to tackle early modern paleography.

My first foray into formally tackling the task of learning to read and transcribe early modern paleography with precision was by participating in a Transcribathon organized by the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC). The Collective has brought together scholars, both virtually and through large-scale in-person events (with these typically held in tandem), to tackle the transcription of early modern recipe books. With many major research libraries undertaking the task of digitizing their manuscript collections, scholars now have unprecedented access to manuscripts that would have previously only been available to those with the means to travel to the manuscript. The democratization of access to this material, coupled with efforts by groups such as EMROC to create reliable transcriptions, has a profound impact on, for example, our access to and understanding of early modern women's manuscript writing.

I began to develop my ability work with early modern paleography by participating in EMROC's Transcribathon in November 2017, contributing toward a collaborative transcription of the Cookbook of Susanna Packe (fl. 1674). In preparation for the transcribathon, I became acquainted with the Dromio transcription software and the program’s tags. While participating with my novice skill level was intimidating, even while doing so at the remove offered by virtual participation in the process, it was an important first step in becoming part of a community of scholars committed to the study of early modern paleography.

Folger Shakespeare Library, Cookbook of Susanna Packe (fl. 1674), V.a.215, p. 120-21. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

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