The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Okay, but what does it mean, or how do you regularize an early modern transcription?

As one reader guessed, the phrase shown in last week’s Crocodile mystery image is in secretary hand, i.e., a type of handwritten script widely used in the British Isles (and elsewhere in Europe) during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As transcribed in Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) from the upper right corner of a manuscript certificate, the phrase is “Est horse lee.” Ah, of course! Mystery solved.

Image of manuscript page
Image of verso page in L.b.205

Or, maybe not. What exactly is an est horse lee again? In this case, the better question might be where, and the answer is Surrey. The particular place in question, “Est horse lee,” is more recognizable when rendered in modern parlance as “East Horsley.” (It’s a town in Surrey, near Woking, southwest of London.) If you look closely at the manuscript, you can see “Wokynge” (regularized “Woking”) written below.

This example is drawn from a short certificate attributed to church minister John Shaw, dated 1591, regarding priests, Jesuits, fugitives and recusants in Surrey. The manuscript is part of the Papers of the More Family of Loseley Park, Surrey (specifically, L.b.205). Getting to “East Horsley,” as it were, demonstrates some of the work involved as the EMMO team creates a regularized version of each transcription to accompany the semi-diplomatic and diplomatic ones.1

Why bother with all that? The regularized transcription not only provides an easy-to-read version for users but also facilitates word searches. Moreover, while supplying three versions for each transcription certainly requires more effort, the three inform each other and create a better overall understanding. As we check through the versions before publishing them on the EMMO site, it is not uncommon to update a word in the diplomatic and semi-diplomatic versions after identifying what it is in the regularized one.

With the help of Helen Newsome, a second-year Ph.D. student at the University of Sheffield, who has been joining us as an EMMO volunteer this month, we are also looking into adding authorized name and placename URIs to the encoded transcriptions. These would provide links directly in the transcriptions to identified people and places mentioned. Below is an image of the East Horsley area from GeoNames, a geographical database Helen has been using.

image from GeoNames database
GeoNames Image

All of this behind-the-scenes research enriches the experience for those exploring the Folger’s rare materials online, and it’s fascinating to delve into the layers of determination and meaning in the manuscripts.

  1. A “diplomatic” transcription is one which tries to reproduce as-closely-as-is-typographically-possible what is on the original page, e.g., original spelling and abbreviated forms are preserved. A “semi-diplomatic” transcription retains most of those things, while making it somewhat easier for a modern viewer to read; so, e.g., original spelling is preserved, but abbreviations would be expanded.

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