Category Archives: DDH-Digital transcription

An Experiment in Teaching Recipe Transcription

Inspired by the forum on DH in the Curriculum, I’ve decided to include an updated version of a blog post originally published at The Recipes ProjectIn the autumn term of 2012-3, I involved my third-year class on “Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe” in my research: testing the Textual Communities crowd-sourcing transcription platform.  The class collaboratively transcribed parts of the seventeenth-century recipe book of Johanna St John and it was an adventure for us all.

Johanna St John’s Book, Wellcome Library, WMS 4338. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

The students had little to no experience in digital creation or transcription at the start of term, but they learned the logic of XML and gained an appreciation for the exactness required in transcription. These are habits of thought, as well as useful skills.

The Textual Communities site was by no means complete (and still isn’t!) when we began our transcriptions. As we became familiar with Johanna St John’s book and worked on our transcriptions, it became easier for us to identify what we needed the system to do. Every week, we would discover at least one new problem with it. But Peter Robinson and Xiaohan Zhang have been constantly developing the platform in response to our needs, from figuring out how to implement semi-diplomatic conventions  in XML or to represent marginal notations to ensuring that the preview and submit buttons work. By witnessing this process of creation, the students have also learned much about the way in which digital resources are constructed and the choices that researchers make in both transcription and data design.

We have had to be flexible and patient: research is a messy business of failures and false starts. Advanced researchers are only too familiar with this, but it’s something that undergraduates often don’t see–or think about it only in terms of their own work. When teaching, we ordinarily (and for good reasons) present students with a set syllabus and assignment description, from which we don’t deviate. But over the term, we had to revise a number of deadlines and assignment guidelines as we encountered research problems along the way. Truly research-led teaching!

The status of the project as of April 2014? Still incomplete. Along the way, classes at other universities continued our work and now Elaine Leong (Max Planck Institute) and I are editing–with some trusted graduate research assistants–the final version of the recipe book.

We hope to have a completed edition sometime this summer…