Archive by Author | Snakeweight

A huge find for the OED – a startling antedating for partner meaning ‘spouse’

By @philipdurkin

When the Oxford English Dictionary got involved with Shakespeare’s World, we knew that these documents would provide invaluable data on Early Modern English in everyday, non-print use. What we hoped, but couldn’t be so sure of, was that this project would also produce some changes to the historical record of English so startling and immediately relatable that they can help explain to the general public why it’s worth doing this sort of painstaking work. Early in the project we found an example of the phrase white lie that pushed the record back by nearly two centuries, from 1741 to 1567. But we suspected that better was still to come, and now we’ve found it, with really breath-taking earlier evidence of partner in the sense of ‘spouse’.

When we revised the entry for partner for OED in 2005, we searched hard for earlier evidence of all eleven of its separately defined senses. One sense that couldn’t help but attract a lot of attention was the one that OED defines as (sense 5a):

A person who is linked by marriage to another, a spouse; a member of a couple who live together or are habitual companions; a lover.

Especially in the UK, this use of the word has considerable currency, especially as a convenient means of referring to the ‘significant other’ in a person’s life without any particular implications as to legal marital status, sexuality, etc. As OED notes, it is:

Now increasingly used in legal and contractual contexts to refer to a member of a couple in a long-standing relationship of any kind, so as to give equal recognition to marriage, cohabitation, same-sex relationships, etc.

Where does Shakespeare’s World fit into this picture? Back in 2005, the earliest example of this sense that OED’s researchers could find was from Milton’s Paradise Lost (Book X, line 128):

I stand Before my Judge, either to undergoe My self the total Crime, or to accuse My other self, the partner of my life.

Not only is this example from a core canonical literary author, it is also essentially self-explaining, as part of the longer phrase “the partner of my life”. Other early examples are similar, like this one from Tobias Smollett’s tragedy The Regicide in 1749:

What means the gentle Part’ner of my Heart?

But in 2017, Shakespeare’s World volunteers started to report that they were finding partner meaning ‘spouse’ in correspondence from the late 1500s and early 1600s. I must confess that my initial response was scepticism. I went back and searched text collections such as Early English Books Online again: there were one or two uses in phrases that could (maybe just) be seen as precursors of the use in Milton, but nothing to really suggest that partner had developed the meaning ‘spouse’ by this date. But Shakespeare’s World was definitely turning up the goods, like this example from 1577:

If by death my partner should lose her partner I shall prouide for her out of that litle a competent partners part. as touchinge my partners apparell I haue sent vnto her the graue determynacion of a taylor.

 

Pulling together the examples showed something else: there were lots of instances, but they were all from the correspondence of two people, Richard Broughton and his wife Anne (née Bagot), writing to members of their close family circle (especially Anne’s father, Richard Bagot). In fact, they began using partner in reference to one another before their wedding. Here is another example, from one of Anne’s letters:

My Euer good brother mr. Higines opinione was, that my Partner mvst bee att the bathe before maye, hie is gone thether & on satter day I shall heare Doctar shurwoodes opinione.

So what is going on here? Perhaps partner was in widespread use meaning ‘spouse’ in the late 1500s and early 1600s, and we just need more access to personal letters, diaries, etc. to give us more examples. But, if so, it’s surprising that we have no other examples from any other source – including other documents that have been transcribed on Shakespeare’s World, as well as other collections of correspondence from the period. Perhaps instead this was something that Richard and Anne Broughton innovated for themselves – it’s not so very surprising a development from the other earlier meanings of partner, and we can say fairly confidently that it was available as part of the potential meaning of the word. And, although Richard Broughton appears a rather unattractive figure from the historical record of his legal and business activities, the picture that emerges from the letters is of two people with a (linguistically) playful side, with anagrammatic respellings such as “Agant Bona” for Anna Bagot, and nicknames for various family members.

For the present, examples of use by both Richard and Anne have been added to the OED entry, with a note:

Early usage history: Quots. 1577 and 1603 come from the correspondence of Richard and Anne Broughton (née Bagot), who use the term repeatedly in referring to one another in correspondence with other members of their family circle. Such use has not been found elsewhere at this date.

But perhaps new evidence can change that picture again. If you find such evidence, please let us know – we’ll be as thrilled as you.

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EMMO database update

By Victoria Van Hyning (Talk handle @vvh) & Sarah Powell (Talk handle @S_Powell)

In late October we sent an email to all registered volunteers about our progress on Shakespeare’s World, which included some information about how transcriptions get moved from the project interface into their longterm home, the Folger Shakespeare Library’s new Early Modern Manuscripts Online database (EMMO). This post is a recap for all volunteers who joined after that newsletter went out, and for those who aren’t registered Zooniverse users.

Over 5,000 pages have been fully transcribed by volunteers (thank you!) and we’ll be uploading more data to Shakespeare’s World soon. But the process of getting the crowdsourced transcriptions into EMMO is complex because of additional information that gets added to these transcriptions.

To date there are 15 letters (~50 pages) ready to browse, to which Shakespeare’s World transcribers have contributed, including: L.a. 625, X.c.50, L.a. 428, L.a. 400, L.a. 347, L.a. 914, L.a. 902, L.a. 2, L.a. 179, L.a. 115, X.c.15, L.a. 195, L.a. 594, and L.a. 561 (once you’re on EMMO you can alter the last few characters of the url to navigate to the appropriate page, for example deleting La625 and replacing it with La195). A further 23 items are under review and soon to be published, and many more are to follow.

EMMO provides three different kinds of transcription: ‘diplomatic’, transcribing exactly what’s there and representing the physical features of the text as much as possible; ‘semidiplomatic’, expanding special characters and rendering implied letters visible using italics, etc.; and ‘regularized’, making a more readable version by altering spelling and punctuation, lowering superscripts etc. For example, the same line in L.a. 2: ‘Letter from Ralph Adderley to Sir Nicholas Bagnall, Ireland, 1567 April 10’ is rendered as follows:

Diplomatic: ‘hitt wold be a good chastesmt vnto hym  ^neu{er}thelesse his gou{er}nemt I do Referre’

Semi-Diplomatic: ‘hitt wold be a good chastesment vnto hym  ^neuerthelesse his gouernement I do Referre’

Regularized: ‘it would be a good chastisement unto him  nevertheless his government I do Refer’

When we transcribe on Shakespeare’s World we want to capture as much information as we can see on a page, for example transcribing spelling and punctuation exactly as it appears, without modernization, and using the ‘insertion’ and ‘deletion’ buttons to capture text inserted over the line or that has been deleted, respectively. We use the keyboard buttons to capture common brevigraphs such as ye, which will appear as ‘ye‘ in the diplomatic version, but be expanded as ‘the’ in the regularized version of the text. This process of altering the base text created by volunteers means that Folger staff who work on EMMO, including Sarah (@S_Powell over on Talk), necessarily check the base transcription against the original manuscript image.

In addition to the three kinds of transcription, the EMMO team also creates an xml markup document for each manuscript, which essentially reveals the logic underpinning these transcriptions, and contains extensive metadata about each object. The site aims to offer a long-term home for the Folger manuscripts that we transcribe on Shakespeare’s World, and a comprehensive, fully searchable series of transcriptions that will make them discoverable online. It’s a long process, but we hope to gain speed in the coming year, and start to transfer more and more transcriptions onto EMMO. While crowdsourcing certainly speeds up the rate at which the base transcriptions are produced, there is still a lot of work to be done to publish the final versions. Once again, a big thank you to everyone who makes Shakespeare’s World and EMMO a reality.

Remember, remember?

By Victoria Van Hyning @vvh

On Halloween day, over a hundred members of the University of Oxford gathered outside the doors of the History Faculty to see a ‘reenactment’ of Martin Luther pinning his 95 theses to the doors of All Saints’ Church. A PhD candidate played Luther, complete with academic robe and a tonsure headpiece probably bought at a party shop. Someone else played Johann Tetzel, hawking indulgences and claiming they had the power to expiate all of our sins. Tetzel personified many of the ills against which Luther was reacting, for instance, the idea that time in purgatory could be minimized through the purchase of indulgences, rendering contrition and repentance unnecessary. Each actor exclaimed to the gathered crowd, garnering applause and knowing titters even though those of us at the back of the pack couldn’t hear much. Nonetheless, when Luther gingerly glued his theses to the door, we all cheered, perhaps a little ironically.

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Here we were re-enacting a moment in history that probably never happened. Luther probably didn’t nail his theses to a door so much as send them to various opponents and powerful people in Wittenburg. Yet that imaginary act—that imaginary door—opened a much larger metaphorical door onto religious fragmentation and change in the sixteenth century that very much reverberates across the world today.

For me, as someone who studies some of the consequences of the Reformation that followed Luther’s circulation of his 95 theses, it was important to take an hour out of my research and writing schedule to witness this reenactment. I was curious to see how modern scholars and students, many of whom study the Reformation and its aftermath, would react to this event. Would it be celebratory, didactic, reflective? It was the first two, certainly. People eagerly snapped up the large format prints of the 95 theses that had been made by a local teacher of printing techniques, who had also set out his stall where people could print their own indulgences.

dig A freshly printed indulgence, and silver in hand.

As the theses ran out, and the print-your-own-indulgence queue thickened, I drifted away empty-handed, thinking about the difficulties faced by people on all sides of the religious debate in the centuries that followed. When I got back to my office I turned to our Shakespeare’s World data, created by members of this online community, looking for historical evidence of these struggles. Among the many thousands of pages that have been ‘retired’ by the aggregation system, after 3 or more people have transcribed each line, I found a transcription of a letter containing the plea of Sir Francis Norris, the Earl of Berkshire (1579–1622), on behalf of his fellow Catholics. He writes to James I:

How manie noblemen and worthie gentlemen most zealous in the Catholique Religion haue endured, some losse of lands & Livings, some Exile, others impri= sonment, some the effusion of blood and life for the advanncement of y<ex>ou</ex><sl>r</sl> blessed mothers right unto the Scepter of Albion, Nay whose finger did euer ake but Catholiques for y<ex>ou</ex><sl>r</sl> Ma<ex>ies</ex><sl>tie</sl>s present title & dominions? How many fledde to y<ex>ou</ex><sl>r</sl> Court offring them= =selfes as Hostastes for theire freinds, to liue and die in y<ex>ou</ex><sl>r</sl> gratious quar= =rell

 V.b.234 367–8 (Unedited transcription from aggregated Shakespeare’s World data, combining the transcriptions of multiple volunteers)

Norris’s current Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) entry does not stipulate that he was a Catholic, and I’ll be contacting the editors soon to suggest an amendment to his entry be made on the basis of this letter. Like amendments to the OED made using Shakespeare’s World data, these changes will hopefully be incorporated and point to the letter when it is hosted on EMMO.

Norris was not alone in his suffering. Countless Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Quakers, Methodists, Anabaptists, Fifth Monarchists, and many others faced persecution under monarchs and politicians of varying religious persuasions at various times. Monarchs themselves were not free to adhere to their faith of choice without criticism or even the risk of losing power. James II was notoriously suspect for his affinities with Catholics and rumours swirled around him regarding his allegiances, both religious and political.

The Luther reenactment in Oxford fell close to 5 November, Guy Fawkes Day in the UK, also known as Bonfire Night, which (in much of the UK and parts of Canada) ostensibly commemorates the foiling of a poorly-thought-out plot by radical Catholics to blow up Parliament in 1605. I say ‘ostensibly’ because many people are not familiar with the historical precedent for the bonfire (or rather, the recent historical precedent—Bonfire Night is in fact a Catholic appropriation of pre-Christian traditions long established in the British Isles).

Some communities in England burn effigies of the Pope, Guy Fawkes, and other ‘public enemies’ atop their bonfires. Kent in Surrey burnt Donald Trump in effigy in 2016.

The bonfire hosted by the Round Table charitable organization in Oxford does not burn an effigy. Instead, most years the ~30 foot pyre is topped with an empty chair, which opens multiple possible readings. Perhaps it is an invitation to mentally insert your own effigy or maybe the empty chair speaks to our remove from the events of 1605: maybe there is no need to ‘remember, remember the 5th of November’ as the old rhyme goes.

 

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A grainy shot of the Oxford Round Table bonfire, pre-fireworks and lighting.

I was amazed to find, back in 2007, when I temped as a secretary at a private Catholic school, that parents and children came in on the morning of the 5th asking where they could stash the Guys that their children had made, which would be burned on a bonfire on the school grounds. These Guys were just guys to the children—part of a fun annual ritual—not a Catholic who had tried to blow up Parliament.

The Luther re-enactment and Bonfire Night continue to stir my thoughts about the ways in which cultures mis-remember, and also forget. What are your experiences of cultural re/membering and forgetting?

The significance of scripts

by Elisabeth Chaghafi, aka @mutabilitie

One of the first things you’ll notice with early modern manuscripts is that some writers use odd, unfamiliar letter-shapes which take a while to get the hang of. Soon afterwards you’ll probably notice that, for some reason, there are also early modern writers whose handwriting is actually quite legible and “modern”-looking. Broadly speaking, these early modern writers are using two different scripts: secretary and cursive. As far as writing goes, secretary is the script that was predominantly used for all sorts of official documents and formal, business-y correspondence, i.e. the kind of writing that busy and important people needn’t actually do themselves but only put their signatures to, hence the name “secretary”. When busy and important people did take the trouble to dash off a personal note in their own hand as a postscript, they often preferred writing in cursive – partly because they probably lacked their secretaries’ writing routine (that’s the downside of having somebody write out the bulk of your correspondence for you), but also to emphasise the personal touch of writing in their own hand, or to add weight to a request. Robert Devereux, the second earl of Essex (1565–1601) is a typical example of such a busy and important person. He would scrawl the occasional postscript, of course, but unless the recipient was the queen herself, the main part of the letter would normally be written by a secretary.

So much for the writing part. What about reading, though? Literacy levels in the sixteenth century are actually notoriously hard to estimate, because of the various factors involved. Not everyone able to read print was necessarily able to read handwritten letters; not everyone able to read cursive script was necessarily able to read secretary hand, let alone write it. This matters because the type of script in which an early modern letter is written says something about the context of the letter, and in some cases it may even reveal information about the letter-writer and/or the recipient. The letter L.a.241 is a particularly interesting case:

 L.a.241 leaf 1 recto

Folger MS L.a.241 leaf 1 recto

This is a letter from Richard Broughton to Richard Bagot, dated 27 June 1577, written about a month before he married Bagot’s daughter Anne. Broughton was a prolific writer and normally wrote in a flowing secretary hand (often using short forms, abbreviations and brevigraphs, to save time). About halfway through this letter, though, something odd happens. Instead of continuing in his normal handwriting, Broughton suddenly switches to cursive. A possible clue as to what might be happening here can be found in the contents of the letter. The letter begins with work-related matters, but then swiftly moves on to what is probably the main occasion for the letter: he is sending his fiancée—or, as he chooses to call her, his “partner”—a schedule of all his work commitments, “so that vpon viewe therof she may appoint the day / to her best liking & yours. for my self I am hers at half an houres warninge”. While this is an amusing image, the main idea of course remains the relatively boring business of fixing a date.

Once he switches to cursive Broughton also subtly shifts the focus from himself and his “Bysynes” towards the Bagot family, expressing his regret that he hasn’t been able to get a buck (a deer) for Richard Bagot’s son, before launching into a detailed account near the end of the letter, of how he has been rushing about having various items of clothing made for his “partner”, admitting that he partly ignored her wish of having the lot made in London:

…& if it be not so aptly & fitly made I trust my Partner will forgeue me my ^first offence. & for the charges of makinge which will be more then vsuall in the contrey, I challenge that as a thinge due for my part who hitherto enclyned my self to small thrift or sauynge nor do not meane at this instant to Begynne, till hereafter my Partner shall persuade me thereunto & whatsoeuer exces is bestowed, I must take the blame therof…

Which more or less translates to “I know she wanted to save a bit of money by having some of these clothes made in the country, but I’m a generous sort of chap, so I hope my future wife will allow me to spoil her a bit. After all, she can always teach me to be a bit more frugal once we’re married!”

Most of us would probably find it a lot easier to write in cursive, but in Broughton’s letter there are signs he is struggling a little with the unfamiliar script: the size and the shape of the letters are far less consistent than in the first half of the letter. The B in “Bestowinge”, in the penultimate line, is barely half the size of the two B’s in “By reason of Busynes” towards the top of the cursive section, and the three B’s all have slightly different shapes and proportions. Also, the writing gets progressively smaller towards the bottom of the page—not because there’s any need to save space (the verso of this page is left mostly blank)—so this is probably just an unintentional result of Broughton’s efforts to write neatly. He is also making a conscious effort to avoid abbreviations and brevigraphs, of which he is usually very fond, because they save time. In the cursive section he writes out words he would normally shorten, like “neuerthelesse”, “treasourer”, “persuade”, and “Partner”, although he does slip back into his old habits a few times, for example by indicating the n in “contrey” through a “dash” (known as a macron) and using a special p for “prouided”.

What is the purpose of these italic efforts? While the main addressee of the letter of course remains Richard Bagot, it’s clear from the contents that this section is aimed at Anne, and Broughton is doing his best to write legibly for her benefit. That way, she’ll be able to see for herself what a nice, generous and considerate man she is about to marry—so considerate, she won’t need to ask her father to read out the letter to her, and she’ll be able to think of the neatly written sign-off “Yours euer as his owne” as being at least partly meant for her.

It might be wrong to attribute only romantic motivations to Broughton’s decision to switch to a different script so that his future wife would be able to read some of the letter. At one level, there might also be an element of pragmatism involved; they’re not married yet and  it’s in his own interest to be nice to her so she won’t change her mind at the last minute. In fact, about a month earlier, in May 1577, Broughton had sent Richard Bagot a lengthy account of his financial situation and his relationship with his family in L.a.240. This letter’s purpose was presumably to help with the marriage transactions (written entirely in cursive, probably for Anne’s benefit). Whatever his motivations one thing that Richard Broughton’s script-switching does show is consideration for his readers who were not able to read his secretary hand, much like in this letter L.a.279, sent some 20 years later to his brother-in-law Walter Bagot and co-signed by Anne.

039533

As in the earlier letter, the cursive script is hardly intended for the benefit of the main addressee, but for the other family members: Bagot’s wife Elizabeth, his sister Lettice, his young sons Lewis and Harvey, as well as Broughton’s own children, Mary and Robert (whom he calls by their nicknames, Mall and Robin). In this instance there is no alternative, pragmatic explanation for the choice of script. It seems from this evidence, and his unusual use of the term “partner” to describe his wife, that Richard Broughton was a devoted husband and family-man whose choice of script, as much as his words, reveal his interest in and affection for his family.

The poison pool

A few weeks ago I wrote about my trip to Buckfast Abbey to work on the hair shirt of Sir Thomas More. While I was there, I enjoyed walking in the grounds and seeing the beautifully cultivated gardens, including a medieval-style garden divided by trellises, box hedges, and trained fruit trees, and broken into four amply sized quadrants: culinary, medicinal, sensory and poisonous.

sdr

I’ve been to a few medieval and renaissance garden re-creations in my time. The beautiful grounds at the Cloisters Museum in New York City; the gardens at the Geoffrey House Museum in London, which exhibits a range of garden styles and domestic interiors from several centuries, and Rowntree public park in the city of York, England. There are countless others, I am sure. But never before had I seen a poisonous plants garden, and I was really impressed with the elegance and thought that went into this one.

How would you present a poisonous plants garden intended for the public to admire, without setting off a string of health and safety alarm bells?

The monks’ (or their gardeners’) solution is to place the plants within a raised planter at the centre of a pool of water.

cof

Of course you could clear the water with a leap, but it’s just wide enough to discourage little wandering hands and feet, and it provides a buffer for the distracted adult, too. You can’t reach out and grab a berry or a leaf: the water, whether you notice it or just think of it as a nice additional feature, is an effective space between you and the plants. It implies these plants are not like the other plants.

What creative uses of space have you come across in libraries, museums or gardens that offer non-verbal signals like this one? How can architecture and layout tell us what to do and what not to do, without using signs like ‘don’t touch’ or ‘no flash photography’? Have you seen a poisons garden or transcribed an antidote in the recipes category over on Shakespeare’s World? What have you found? Tell us about it here or over on Talk.

The hair shirt of Sir Thomas More #catholic

I recently spent a few days at Buckfast Abbey, in the South of England, in order to conduct research and write an article about the hair shirt worn by Sir Thomas More, Chancellor of England under Henry VIII between 1529–32.

2017-07-20 15.13.30

More is believed to have worn this penitential garment for much of his adult life. According to his numerous early biographers he was unusually devout for a lay person. The hair shirt has had a long journey over the centuries from England to the Low Countries, and back to England, through several monastic and diocesan owners, before it came to Buckfast, where it is on permanent public display in the chapel of the Holy Cross.

2017-07-21 14.33.04

More is reputed not only to have worn his hair shirt secretly for much of his life, he also reportedly carried out other ascetic practices that were unusual for a lay person. When he moved his family to Chelsea outside of London, he built a chapel for his private prayer and the use of a ‘discipline’, a device utilized by some Catholics of the time to repent for sins and as an aid to devotion. When Henry VIII divorced Catherine of Aragon and married Anne Bolyn, More resigned his office in preference for a quiet life in which he would not be expected to aid in or even comment upon these proceedings. Yet More’s silence irked the king, and within a few years of his retirement he was imprisoned, tried and executed for treason by Henry VIII, who was angry with More for refusing to attend his wedding to Anne, and refusing to acknowledge Henry’s claim to be the supreme head of the Church of England.

In the century after More’s death a few competing stories sprang up about the hair shirt, and these are what I’m trying to unpick at the moment. One tradition has it that More sent the hair shirt to his daughter, the extraordinarily learned Margaret More Roper (1505–1544), who gave it to her equally learned sister by adoption, Margaret Giggs Clement (1508–1570), who later went into exile with her family to practice her faith, reportedly taking the hair shirt and other More relic-objects with her. Other traditions hold that Thomas More sent it to Giggs rather than Roper, who kept it until her death. Still other traditions state that he sent it to Giggs, who gave it to Roper, who returned it to Giggs, while another source claims that he sent it to his wife Alice. In any case, the hair shirt ultimately passed to Giggs Clements’ youngest daughter, Prioress Margaret Clement (1539–1612), a nun of the English convent of St Monica’s, founded in Louvain during the period when it was illegal to practice Catholicism in England. The nuns of St Monica’s claim to be More’s spiritual heirs through Margaret Giggs and her daughter Margaret Clement.

The hair shirt remained in Prioress Clement’s community and the communities descended from St Monica’s up until the 1980s, by which time most of the exiled English convents had returned to England. When I first began my doctoral studies in 2010 the exact whereabouts of the hair shirt were not clear. I recently discovered that when the modern-day St Monica’s convent closed, the hair shirt went to the Diocese of Plymouth for safe keeping. In 2011 it was transferred to Buckfast at the request of Abbot David Charleswell who arranged for it to be put on public permanent display at Buckfast starting in 2016. I found this last bit out out one day whilst googling, and I simply had to go to Buckfast to see the hair shirt for myself! It was amazing to see an object up close and personal that has a link to the devotional practices of Thomas More and his descendants. This object is part of a long and complex history of Catholic identity and devotion, and it’s interesting from a historical/literary perspective to see how it continues to have meaning nearly 500 years after More’s execution.

2017-07-21 14.32.33

Those of you who have participated on Talk know I’m interested in any mention of Catholics and Catholic practice in the letters and recipes we transcribe on Shakespeare’s World. You can use the #Catholic hashtag to let me know about any material relating to Catholics, nuns, papists, recusants, priests, etc. etc.! And #womanwriter to let me know when you’ve found a woman writing in any genre. Have you found any references to penitential practices? Let me know!

-By Victoria Van Hyning (@vvh/@snakeweight)

Transcription aggregation update

Many of our regular contributors will have seen (and indeed been interviewed for!) this article by Roberta Kwok for the New Yorker back in January of 2017. Roberta briefly describes the algorithm that merges the multiple transcriptions of pages by independent volunteers in Shakespeare’s World into a single transcription for a given page. The algorithm is called MAAFT, and is typically used to align genetic sequences. The idea behind this approach to transcription is that it allows us to combine transcriptions of smaller strings with longer strings in the same line. So, if I transcribe only one word on a line, and @parsfan and @mutabilitie transcribe the whole line, my small piece will still be counted by being compared with theirs and then slotted into the right place in the transcription. Zooniverse’s former data scientist and I decided to implement this method in an effort to enable people to contribute even small transcriptions to this relatively difficult project.

The other reasons we went for the MAAFT approach is that it means that anyone to take part in the project who wants to, without having prior paleography training. It’s ok if you make mistakes, because multiple people are transcribing the same material, so if you’ve transcribed a few letters correctly and some incorrectly, the correct ones will get taken through to the final transcription. This method of combining multiple volunteers’ efforts stems from the same scientific practices that underpin Galaxy Zoo, Penguin Watch, and all other Zooniverse projects, and is vital to the acceptance of crowdsourced data by experts in the sciences, humanities and museum and library fields. Enabling independent crowdsourcing, and then putting the results together is supposed to create a rigorous dataset, and I’m sure that it will for Shakespeare’s World in the near future, but we’re in a holding pattern until September, when a new data scientist will start working to unpick and rebuild our text aggregation process.

Rest assured that we’re not losing anyone’s work—it’s all saved in a database—but we’re not currently able to piece the separate transcriptions together reliably. This is why, in part, we have not yet published much data in the Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) database at the Folger. However, as Philip announced in previous posts on this blog, quite a few interesting finds are already being incorporated into the Oxford English Dictionary, and he says that Talk is the most effective platform for getting crowdsourced updates into the dictionary. Meanwhile our guest scholars from the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC) have also been gathering invaluable data for their work via Talk, and many of you have been helping me gather #catholic and #womanwriter sources.

So, for now, one of the best ways to contribute to Shakespeare’s World is to hop on Talk and use those hashtags, for example #paper, #oed, #Catholic and #womanwriter. We hope to have our aggregation sorted soon, and the transcriptions freely available to all.

-By Victoria Van Hyning, @vvh

____________ was here

A few days before the Harry Potter series turned 20, I made my way to Stratford-Upon-Avon to visit the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and tour around the town for a few hours. Many authors and famous figures such as Charles Dickens, as well as a diverse band of Shakespeare lovers, contributed to a public fund to buy the Shakespeare property at auction in 1847, and turn it into a museum for the public good.

The Tudor property housed several generations of the Shakespeare family and their relations, and must have been a lively place. Shakespeare leased part of it as an inn called the Maindenhead, which was in operation until 1847. I was very struck by this window, formerly in the birthing room.

cof

Nineteenth- and twentieth-century pilgrims from the UK and the USA (and elsewhere, no doubt) carved their names, and sometimes their places or origin in the glass, like so many schoolchildren on so many desks. It seems it was an accepted practice, maybe even an expected practice on the part of both the pilgrims and the caretakers of the property. Famous names include Washington Irving.

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This desire to leave one’s name behind reminded me powerfully of the scene in The Deathly Hallows, the last book of the Harry Potter series, in which Harry and Hermione travel to Godrich’s Hollow in an effort to progress their quest and, though he doesn’t admit it aloud, for Harry to visit his parents’ graves. When they pass by the cottage where Harry’s parents were killed by Voldemort, and where Harry got his lightening scar, an information sign appears, which is visible to magical people only. Pilgrims have inscribed their names on it telling Harry that they’re thinking of him, wherever he is, that they’re on his side and they believe in him. Hermione is scandalized that people have graffitied the sign, but Harry is grateful for their support.

I wonder what Shakespeare would have made of this desire on the part of visitors to inscribe their names on a window of his former home? What kinds of pilgrimage marks have you come across and what do you think of them?

-Victoria

“Your very louing frend” – early modern sign-offs

By @mutabilitie

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:

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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):
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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.

‘What’s up with those grey dots?’ you ask.

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. Blue dots 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. Grey dots

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.

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