III 3 Transcribing an Editing Text: Introduction

Research output: Chapter in book/volumeChapterScientific


Transcribing texts written in antiquated handwriting and old forms of vernacular
and ancient languages is a demanding enterprise. For no class of texts is this challenge more acute than when transcribing learned correspondence, which combines documents in many different hands, sometimes from several different countries, and sometimes written in several different languages. For centuries, the difficult task of transcribing these materials has been vested in scholarly experts, and the same applies still more to the very different challenge of editing and annotating
such texts for publication. Today, this scholarly monopoly is being challenged from at least two different directions. On the one hand, the challenge of reassembling a comprehensive collection of documentation of the republic of letters, within the resource constraints affecting humanistic scholarship generally, requires the exploration of more efficient and cost-effective means of generating large bodies of reliable transcription.
On the other hand, the demands of annotating correspondences which can range geographically and thematically across the entire orbis litterarum can also benefit
from large-scale collaboration on shared digital platforms.
Needless to say, digital technology can contribute in many different ways to
meeting these challenges. Since the task of assembling and curating epistolary
metadata is at the heart of the present volume, there is no space here to explore all
the different potential aspects of this challenge in detail. Instead, this chapter focuses
on four key parts of a broader field of potential developments. In section 2,
Montserrat Prats López discusses the advances of the crowd-sourcing model for
transcribing letters without losing quality in the production of letter editions. The
tension between ‘broader public’ and ‘scientific community’ addressed here is reminiscent of those at the core of the republic of letters itself. Thomas Wallnig and
Chiara Petrolini then discuss an experiment with the even more direct application
of digital technology to transcription: namely, the pioneering of automatic handwriting
recognition using the software Transkribus. In section 4, some of the tools
and methods for transforming such transcriptions into digital scholarly editions are
discussed by Elena Spadini. Finally, Elizabeth Williamson surveys some of the
issues that arise when collaborative projects curate larger digital text corpora with
long and complicated provenance trails of their own.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationReassembling the Republic of Letters in the Digital Age. Standards, Systems, Scholarship
EditorsHoward Hotson, Thomas Wallnig
PublisherGöttingen University Press
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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