[Humanist] 23.743 new transcription initiative

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Apr 2 07:53:49 CEST 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 743.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 1 Apr 2010 11:32:38 -0400
        From: Julia Flanders <Julia_Flanders at brown.edu>
        Subject: WWP announces new transcription initiative

The Women Writers Project is pleased to announce a groundbreaking new  
digital humanities initiative designed to address ongoing problems  
faced by numerous text encoding projects, particularly those dealing  
with early print and manuscript materials. Like many such projects,  
the WWP has struggled with the challenges of dealing with special  
characters (especially those not represented in Unicode) and with the  
ongoing problem of overlapping hierarchies, which despite several  
decades of research remains essentially unresolved. In addition, we  
have been alarmed by rising server costs and increased internet  
security risks.

In response to these concerns, starting in summer 2010, the WWP will  
begin transitioning its transcription of early women's writing to a  
new paper-based platform, and by the end of the year we expect to be  
transcribing and distributing texts entirely in manuscript.  
Transcription will be done, as always, by trained graduate students,  
working with pen and ink from images of the source text. The script is  
a modified italic hand that has been optimized for speed and  
legibility, as well as for quick training. The transcription captures  
all line breaks, capitalization, long s, and special characters. A  
sample text (an excerpt from Mary Squire's "A Proposal to Determine  
Our Longitude", 1731) is available at http://www.wwp.brown.edu/encoding/research/gfx/wwp_ms_sample.pdf 
. We are still experimenting with paper quality standards and problems  
with bleeding, as well as questions of optimal ink color.

Structural features of the text will be represented using what are  
often referred to as "bibliographic codes", through which information  
about each textual unit is conveyed unobtrusively through formatting  
such as indentation, font shifts, and spacing. Because these codes do  
not involve explicit delimiters, unlike XML, they do not risk overlap  
problems and are in many cases easier to apply than traditional TEI   
tags. In addition, because each character is formed by hand,  
transcribers can replicate any character exactly, without being  
limited to characters represented in Unicode. These considerations are  
of particular importance in the WWP textbase, where non-Unicode  
characters are common (as in the sample shown) and where the familiar  
generic structures represented by tagsets like the TEI are not always  

Access to Women Writers Online will be somewhat more limited once this  
project is complete. We will be funding student transcribers at  
academic institutions regionally across the US and Europe, who will  
transcribe texts on demand as needed by WWO users, and these will be  
delivered by the local postal service, usually within 4-6 business  
days. Although not searchable in conventional ways, these texts are  
guaranteed to be durable (research suggests that if kept away from  
moisture and direct sunlight, the new WWO texts may last for several  
centuries) and will remain legible indefinitely. They are free from  
hardware and software dependencies and can be read and used on  
airplanes and in deep caves where access to wireless and power may be  

This new approach still adheres to our fundamental principles of using  
non-proprietary, standards-based, software- and hardware-independent  
platforms for publication, while also providing other advantages as  
well. We hope this effort to "put the digits back in 'digital'" will  
be of interest to other members of the digital humanities community!  
Enjoy the first of April--

Best wishes from the WWP team

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