Campus News

UB to hold workshop on reading and preserving rare manuscripts

By BERT GAMBINI

Published April 20, 2018

“Much of our knowledge of the theatrical costumes, props and expenses in Shakespeare’s day comes to us from a single set of handwritten notes known as ‘Henslowe’s Diary.”
Barbara Bono, associate professor
Department of English

Sarah Powell, a paleographer at the Folger Shakespeare Library, will conduct a daylong workshop on April 24 at UB on how to read and digitally encode 17th-century materials.

The “Transcribathon” workshop will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Digital Composition Lab, 120 Capen Hall. It is free and open to the public.

Part of the Folger’s Early Modern Manuscripts Online Project (EMMO), “Transcribathon” will be an in-depth lesson in interpretation and digital preservation of rare manuscripts that will teach participants how to best read the material while saving and organizing the contents for convenient and searchable access by wide audiences.

Letters, diaries, genealogies, wills, recipe books, songs and poems — all of these written materials rest at the foundation of the early modern period, and these critical documents provide fascinating insight into the world of the 16th and 17th centuries.

“Much of our knowledge of the theatrical costumes, props and expenses in Shakespeare’s day comes to us from a single set of handwritten notes known as ‘Henslowe’s Diary,’” says Barbara Bono, associate professor in the Department of English and UB’s representative to the Folger Institute, the scholarly branch of the Folger Shakespeare Library. “Isaac Newton left many of his works in manuscript, and these are likewise full of alchemical and theological speculation.”

However, reading the texts presents specific challenges.

“We know that deciphering handwriting is difficult in today’s digital age, so it’s not surprising that reading early modern handwriting would require considerable skill,” says Bono. “That’s why we’re fortunate to have someone like Sarah Powell leading this workshop.”

Powell, an expert in paleography, the study of pre-modern handwriting methods, will explain and demonstrate the skills necessary to understand the texts and how to present them to modern readers.

Early modern manuscripts also present librarians with many challenges when it comes to sharing materials, most notably access, since unique items can only be in one place at one time. Location has limits, but the Folger’s EMMO project expands the possibilities of their custodianship.

Once complete, EMMO will make these manuscripts available at no cost to readers and scholars around the world through a searchable website with high-quality images and meticulous transcriptions.

In addition to developing accurate transcriptions and an optimized and searchable database, EMMO, as part of a three-year plan, will design online tutorials and roll out shareable software.

“As an early modernist, I’m thrilled this event is happening,” says Bono. “It is so important to save the contents of these manuscripts for future generations, and that we have the ability to transmit them easily and widely now.”

“Transcribathon” is sponsored by UB’s Center for Excellence in Writing, the Digital Composition Lab, the Early Modern Research Workshop, The Technē Institute, the Department of English, the Department of Theatre and Dance, the College of Arts and Sciences’ Digital Humanities Initiative and the UB Libraries.