When was the last time you signed yourself someone’s “very loving friend” at the end of a letter or told them you were theirs to be commanded (or, even more ominously, “used”)? Thought so. Perhaps the oddest thing about early modern letters are the sign-offs, because they sound alien to modern ears and often don’t quite tally with our notions of politeness, formality or friendship.
Take, for example the phrase “your very loving friend”. In the unlikely event that you were actually to consider using it to end one of your emails, it would probably be an email to someone with whom you have a close personal relationship – and even then it might seem too touchy-feely for comfort. In early modern letters, however, the phrase gets used everywhere, even in contexts where the writer and the recipient of the letter aren’t exactly friends and the contents of the letter suggest that there wasn’t much love lost between them at the time of writing:
This is a copy of an uncharacteristically angry letter from the Earl of Shrewsbury to his deputy lieutenants Sir Walter Aston and Richard Bagot, in which he claims they “never did any thing at my commandment, which might breed content” (i.e. they’re bloody useless at their jobs) and threatens to report them to the Privy Council for their poor performance of their duties. And yet the letter is signed “your Loving friend G Shrewsbury” and addressed to “my Loving ffrendes”. So clearly friendship in the early modern sense doesn’t mean quite what you might think. The same goes for this letter from the Earl of Essex to Richard Bagot (signed “your very louing frend R Essex” in the Earl’s own hand):
The nature of Essex’ loving friendship with Richard Bagot becomes clear halfway through the letter, however, when he writes “I muste entreate you, as my very good frende, and one in whome I presume to haue some intereste, that you will giue your vttermoste aide vnto the Sheriff […] for the removinge of Robbinson and his associates” (which may be roughly paraphrased as “you owe me, Bagot, so do as you’re told”). So if “your very loving friend” doesn’t have to imply love or friendship between the letter-writer and the recipient, what does it actually mean? Perhaps the best way to think about it is as a relatively neutral, multi-purpose sign-off – a sort of early modern version of “best wishes” and “yours sincerely” rolled into one. It’s also a sign-off that’s normally reserved for letters addressed to people who are the writer’s social equals or inferiors. That’s why in their grovelling reply to Shrewsbury’s letter (L.a.74), Walter Aston and Richard Bagot don’t sign themselves his loving friends but “your Lordships most humble at comandment” – a phrase that sounds obsequious to modern ears but is in fact just the polite acknowledgement of and submission to Shrewsbury’s authority required to pacify him and make him change his mind about that report to the Privy Council. For an example of a truly obsequious early modern sign-off, compare another letter from the Earl of Essex, addressed to the queen (X.c.11), which he concludes “… and with all humble, and reverent thoughtes that may be, rest ever to be commaunded to dye at your feete”. That’s a bit much even by early modern standards.
Most online transcription projects allow you to see or even review other people’s transcriptions, but Zooniverse projects (Operation War Diary, Ancient Lives, AnnoTate and Shakespeare’s World, to name a few) ask you to transcribe on your own. Rather than generating transcriptions and waiting for each one to be vetted by an expert, we try to harness what James Surowiecki calls ‘the wisdom of the crowd’—in this case multiple transcribers and their aggregated responses—to identify what is on a page without then doing a manual review of each page. If our small research team had the time to manually review every transcription, we would probably have the time to do it ourselves! But the dataset is much too large for that.
Multiple individuals’ responses are aggregated using two different algorithms. The first is a clustering algorithm, which uses the blue dots to identify where a line or word is, and the second is MAFFT alignment which is traditionally used for amino acid or nucleotide sequencing, and has been deployed by our friends over on Notes from Nature (see blog).
Aggregating multiple people’s responses minimizes the burden of transcription, as well as the burden of accuracy, on the individual. It’s unlikely that any two people, much less three, five or a dozen volunteers reading the same word or line will make exactly the same mistakes. But asking multiple people to do each page independently has its perils, as we have discovered on other projects: if a page is dense or the handwriting is hard to read, the average person will do a bit on the top third of the page, but often can’t complete the whole page because they don’t have the time or inclination (life happens!).
Many moons ago, when I was first thinking through how to make text transcription efficient in a system that relies upon multiple independent transcribers who can’t see one another’s work, it occurred to me that we could use a visual clue that a line or word had already been completed. Hence the grey dots that started to appear this month.
When you come across grey dots, this means that the section or line they are surrounding has been fully retired, but there may be more to do on a page. If you see a page where every line is encompassed by grey dots, this means you should click ‘I’m done’ and ‘yes, everything is transcribed’. Once three people have said a page is complete on the basis of having done the whole thing themselves or seeing the grey dots, the page will stop showing up in the transcription interface.
A few weeks ago volunteer @SarahtheEntwife posted her modernized recipe for caraway bunnes, followed by an image of the result!
It looks good, so I’ve decided to give it a go as well over this coming weekend. Would you like to try your hand at this recipe and share the results here on our blog or Talk? We’re always keen to try new things, and hear what you’re up to as well. Images of baked goods and other culinary delights are most welcome.
It’s been nearly five weeks since we embarked on Shakespeare’s World and so far quite a few transcriptions have been submitted. So first of all, thank you to everyone who has participated on the project. In addition to the transcriptions being generated on the project interface, it’s been great to see so much discussion on Talk where subjects range from recipe ingredients, to horses, to the fate of petitioners to the crown, to the questions about our research methodology and project design.
So, in the spirit of openness and trying to keep you updated about our collective progress, here are some early numbers.
24,252 transcriptions have been submitted. This can be anything from one word, to a few words in a row, to a whole line, to marking a graphic or indicating a page is blank.
2,333 ‘subjects’ (in Zooniverse parlance) have been worked on. This includes images of single or two page spreads from manuscripts in the Folger collection of recipes and letters. Of these 628 have been completely retired.*
Since launch there have been 23,165 sessions logged by 13,876 unique visitors to the site, and ~80,700 pageviews.
The top ten contributing cities are mapped here: London is in the lead, followed by ‘unknown’, New York, Washington, D.C., and Oxford, UK. Australia is gaining on the USA and UK though, so the top five spots are up for grabs.
We hope you’re enjoying the project or that you’ll be making you way over to http://www.shakespearesworld.org/ today to get involved.
* In an email to all participating users in mid December I stated that ~1400 images had been retired, as in fully transcribed by three people, but this was not the case. ~1400 images had been worked on by at least three people.
And the winner is…Judy Bell aka @specks, with ‘Happy Holidays’
Judy used text from a range of Folger manuscript sources to compile her acrostic. She took the challenge to the next level by trying to find manuscript words for each word in her message. Some of them are a bit of a stretch, but the message is great and the first letter (and word) in each line is correct, which is what counted for the challenge.
We would also like to thank our other participants who took part in the challenge.
Or not, as the case may be! I tried gentle reader, I did, but I think I’ve made an applesauce instead.
The original recipe says: R: [as in rinse?] your pepkins pare them & quarter them in 5 or 6 peeces then coare ym / & take to a pound of pepine a pound. of suger & 3 quarters of a pint of water / or more when you haue Clarifyed your suger put in your Pepins, when / your water boileth apace then with a rolling pinne stampe you downe / to ye bottone in your stirring to breake them, you must be carefull for feare of Burninge they boiling a greate pace, when it groweth thicke as you thinke it will Cet, put it up in Boxes
I began by trying to figure out what apples would be best to use from the selection at a local farmer’s market in Oxford, England. The farmer suggested a tart cooking apple. I got enough to make a double quantity of the marmalade, hoping (well, I still intend) to give them as gifts to family at Christmas.
The recipe/what I did:
I peeled and cored 2 lbs of apples
10 oz white sugar
6 oz brown (though I would omit the brown in future!)
1 1/2 imperial pints of water
lime juice, enough to cut through the overpowering sweetness
I added the sugar and water to the pot, and warmed them enough to dissolve the sugar. I then added the apples and let the mixture boil for a while until the apples started to become translucent. Once this happened I mashed the apples using a potato masher and then cooked for a further 10-15 minutes. When I tasted it and found it overpoweringly sweet, I added a dash of lime juice. I then decanted the sauce-oulade into sterilized jars, and began contemplating how to spin this as a desirable food item for Christmas.
The result: Porridge compote. I’ll be printing out a copy of my favorite porridge/oatmeal recipe (a modified version of this recipe, using jumbo oats), along with a picture and transcription of the Marmalade recipe above, and tying these around necks of the jars with some string and a nice fabric over the lid.
Have you had better luck cooking from Shakespeare’s World recipes? Thinking of swapping your Christmas goose for Mutton served with oysters, lemon and white wine. Tell us all about over on Talk or in the comments field here.