[Note: This document is intended as a supplement to the Electronic Text Center's helpsheet on Transcriptional Work.]
Not only does the Electronic Text Center offer online access to thousands of books, poems, and short prose works, but also to hundreds of rare manuscripts. By placing these documents online, the Electronic Text Center makes rich historical and literary documents readily available to a range of users.
Preparing manuscripts for the web requires special care, since they must be transcribed and marked up using special TEI tags for primary sources. For most manuscripts, we also include full-color digital images so that users may get a sense of the document as a physical object.
For examples of how the Electronic Text Center creates and presents manuscripts, see the following collections, several of which were created by participants in Rare Book School:
See also Introduction to the Bitner Letters
For both the Brooks and the Bitner projects, we have collaborated with the Valley of the Shadow project.
In preparing letters, diaries, and other manuscripts for the Electronic
Text Center's collections, we aim to meet two related goals:
To give users a rich visual sense of the original document, we include high quality digital images that reveal such details as handwriting, the color of the paper, ink spots, smudges, and so forth. We can make these images available in a variety of sizes, so that users can determine how much information they want and how quickly they want the image to load.
However, some users might be befuddled by the idiosyncratic spelling of, say, Civil War soldiers. Therefore, when we encounter a spelling error, we surround it with the <orig reg> tag:
By using this tag, we allow a user to search for the word as it is conventionally spelled. Moreover, we can employ this tag to create two versions of the document--the original transcription (which scholars might make use of), and the modernized version (which young students might consult).
For some of our manuscript projects, we try to include background information so that users can begin to make sense of seemingly obscure references. We are fairly light-handed about annotating texts, since we want users to reach their own understanding. For an example of a site that makes available Civil War manuscripts along with contextual information, see The John and James Booker Civil War Letters
In transcribing and tagging a document, we go through a series of steps:
In working on manuscript projects, we have come across several difficult cases that present both tagging and transcriptional challenges. Three of these cases follow.
The Case of the Mysterious Place Name
When we first confronted this scrawled place name (which is taken from John Booker's letter of December 22, 1863), we were utterly lost:
Since it was important to establish where Booker was writing from, we tried a variety of techniques to figure out what these words said. We traced them out on our own paper; we compared these characters to other characters in the letter; we called in others to consult with us; we looked at maps of North Carolina. Ultimately, two rather obvious clues enabled us to figure out the solution: first, G. Howard Gregory's 38th Virginia Infantry told us that Booker's company was encamped at Kinston, North Carolina during the winter of 1863-1864; second, James Booker's letter of January 1, 1864 was written from Kinston.
Once we determined what the correct spelling of the place name was, we were able to tag the dateline as follows:
<name type="place"> Camp Near <orig reg="Kinston"> Kiston</orig>,
<abbr expan="North Carolina">N. C. </abbr></name> <lb>
<date n="1863-12-22"> <abbr expan="December">Dec. </abbr>
the 22<hi rend="superscript"> <orig reg="nd">th </orig> </hi> 1863</date>
<salute>Dear Cousin Unity</salute>
We could have used the <sic> or the <corr> tags to mark or correct the misspelling of Kinston, but opted instead to use the <orig reg> tag and to make a note offering additional information about Kinston.
The modernized version of the dateline would appear as follows:
Camp Near Kinston North Carolina
December the 22nd 1863
Dear Cousin Unity
The Case of Remembering Memory
[taken from the helpsheet on "Transcriptional Work"]
As noted above, researching the context of an unclear passage in a manuscript can often help one determine the content of the passage.
Example: John and James Booker Collection. Letter to Chloe Unity Blair from John Booker, December 22, 1863, page 3. UVa Special Collections: MSS 11237.
Upon initial reading, the above passage was difficult to transcribe. Our first attempt yielded:
I exspect thare will be a <lb>
weding near you in the christmas Memory <lb>
I <unclear>must</unclear> start home in the morning on furlow<lb>
The proximity of "christmas" and "Memory" and the lack of any punctuation between them led us to believe that the two words went together. However, it was difficult to make sense of the following sentence and what we rationalized as the verb "must" looked more like "man." A little research cleared the confusing words right up. First of all, John Booker's military service records did not indicate that he received furlough in December of 1863. Then, in consulting the regimental roster for the 38th Virginia Infantry, we discovered a soldier named Memory Inman had enlisted in the 38th, Company D along with John and James Booker. The passage should thus be tagged:
I <orig reg="expect">exspect</orig>
<orig reg="there">thare</orig> will be a <lb>
<orig reg="wedding">weding</orig> near you in the
<name type="person">Memory <lb>
Inman</name> starts home in the morning on
When put through the TEI filter, the passage will appear as follows:
I exspect there will be a
weding near you in the Christmas Memory
Inman starts home in the morning on furlou
I expect there will be a
wedding near you in the Christmas. Memory
Inman starts home in the morning on furlough
With several of the letters that we've edited, more than one correspondent has written the text. See, for instance, James and John Booker's letter of August 3, 1862. Initially, we were not sure how to handle this phenomenon-- should we treat John Booker's additions as a postscript? as a separate textual division?
In editing this letter, we decided to make use of two numbered divisions and to include a note about the long post-script. The tagging is as follows:
<seg type="recepient">to <name>Miss C. U. Blair</name></seg>
<figDesc>Third page of manuscript Civil War letter from James and John Booker to their cousin Chloe Unity Blair, dated August 3, 1862.</figDesc> </figure>
Sunday <orig reg="evening">eavning</orig>
August the 3 <hi rend="supralinear">1862</hi></date>
I write you a few lines<lb>
Often letters will be accompanied by envelopes. Although no TEI standards for tagging envelopes exist, we have decided to include them in the front matter, on the assumption that envelopes are not part of the letter proper but are what a reader probably first experienced. We mark relevant information such as <name> and <date>, and we include digital images of the envelope so that users can see such features as postmarks, sealing wax, and so forth. Consider the following example, taken from the Liberia Letters: William Douglass to Dr. James H. Minor, 1857 February 5.
<p> <figure entity="page image name goes here"></figure>
<name type="person">Dr. James Minor</name><lb>
<name type="place">Cobham Depot Albemarle <lb> <abbr expan="County">Co.</abbr><lb>
Virginia <abbr expan="United States">States</abbr></name><lb>
Via <name type="place">England</name>
This tagging would produce the following text in the modernized version:
Dr. James Minor
Cobham Depot Albemarle