Reading the Fine Print for PRINT

Author: Casey Wolf 

The first step in designing and planning PRINT will be to create transcriptions with a data set derived from the Pemberton Papers, Quaker manuscript letters housed at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Our goal is to find an open-source transcription tool that will be user friendly. Two examples of similar manuscript-based transcription projects are the Shelley-Godwin Archive and Digital Paxton, both of which use a side-by-side interface with several embedded functionalities. The connectivity, accessibility, and other user features of this model are appealing. Digital Paxton uses From the Page, a proprietary tool, for managing transcriptions. Since we aim to use open-source software to foster academic collaboration, we will model PRINT’s interface on From the Page. Another way PRINT will encourage collaboration is by implementing the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) – a system that connects documents to other collections using the framework. IIIF also supports interaction with features that allow users to view, manipulate, and annotate the images.

PRINT’s transcription interface, like From the Page, will present a digital facsimile of the original letter alongside the transcription. Seeing line-by-line comparisons allows users to become familiar with and capable of identifying characters. The transcribed text window also will support hyperlinking, which will create relationships among the documents in the collection. PRINT plans to implement hyperlinked subject tagging, a function that will allow users to query the database for subjects, such as people, places, or themes found in transcribed texts. Clicking on these subject links in the text brings users to a page containing all references of the subject throughout the collection, enhancing user interactions with the documents. Additionally, these tags can be used to construct visualizations of the connections between the subject and others in the database, supplementing PRINT’s other forms of network visualization. With Leaflet’s ability to read a database and generate elements into a responsive visualization, text markup and encoding is an essential element to the transcription project.

In addition to comprising a data set for visualization and contributing to the historical record of network analysis, the correspondence collected for PRINT provides excellent educational opportunities for engagement with and instruction in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century paleography. A few educational and supplemental materials are available at the transcription project’s outset: a style guide, biographic information of correspondents, and a manual outlining both the general paleography of the period and the idiosyncrasies of correspondents’ hands (see figure on the right). As project funding increases, existing materials will be expanded and more will be produced. Future materials will include videos, a physical and/or digital handwriting exercise, and other methods not yet developed. PRINT aims to provide engaging and effective materials encompassing a variety of learning styles, thus increasing access to the database and its materials.