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The Collation

EMMO announces the launch of Shakespeare's World

There are thousands of manuscripts sitting quietly amongst the Folger’s ever-growing collection which Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) aims to transcribe. Earlier this year EMMO collaborated with Zooniverse, a hugely successful online crowd-sourcing platform, so that people all over the world could join us in this transcription project. We are delighted to announce that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has since jumped aboard this digital enterprise as well, and on December 10th Shakespeare’s World officially launched!

As it is the season of cooking, nibbling, and catching up with each other, we have launched the site with a choice of Letters or Recipes manuscripts. The number of manuscript genres will expand throughout 2016.

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You can currently choose between two genres of manuscripts: recipes or letters.


We liased closely with our Zooniverse colleagues in Oxford to create a transcription website that is both inviting and functional. Zooniverse’s developers have built a platform which lets ‘citizen humanists’ transcribe images of manuscript pages at their own pace and according to their own ability. Users can select as much or as little text as they wish. We urge you to visit the site to see for yourself how it works and how easy—and fun—it is to transcribe in this way. The homepage’s background is taken from a letter in the much loved Bagot collection here at the Folger. Once you start transcribing, a beautiful detail from the Trevelyon miscellany greets you as a background.

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Homepage of Shakespeare’s World, showing the seal on the Bagot letter (Folger MS L.a.183).


Although the site is designed to be intuitive, we have also included several learning aids. A brief tutorial introduces the website and basic functionality. Sample alphabets are easily accessible to help users identify early modern letters, some of which have multiple forms and may look very different from their modern counterparts.


Example of a page ready for transcription, with the minuscules alphabet guide also showing.


We have also created shortcut buttons which encode many of the common abbreviations found in early modern manuscripts. This way, the abbreviation is correctly entered and tagged with just one click!

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The main transcription interface, in which several common abbreviations are given as shortcut buttons.


Our intent is to make this site accessible to beginner paleographers, lapsed paleographers, and practicing paleographers alike!

Since these manuscripts have never been transcribed, there’s a strong possibility that some of them may contain words not currently included in the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED relies on printed works for the majority of entries and its editors are looking forward to adding new variants found only in manuscripts. We are excited at this opportunity to add words from the Folger’s manuscripts to the OED’s listings.



As users save their transcriptions, they are asked if they wish to discuss the particular page or add hashtags to describe it (such as #recipes2try, #medicine, #herbs). Shakespeare’s World encourages interaction between transcribers and the research team, with a view to building a vibrant, dedicated community of transcribers. Interesting discussion threads so far include one in which Lisa Smith explained the meaning of ‘Almond Puddings in guts.’ In this case, it is perhaps as unappetizing as it sounds!

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To keep you up to date on what’s happening with Shakespeare World, there’s a Shakespeare’s World blog and a Shakespeare’s World twitter account @ShaxWorld. Follow us for the latest tidbits!

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On the first day we had over 1100 annotations (i.e. images viewed and at least partially transcribed). At one point 300 users were simultaneously using the site. Over 850,000 people in the Zooniverse community received the launch email. While expert paleographers on the EMMO team will of course be vetting these transcriptions at a later date, it can’t be done without our wider community, and we look forward to working with everyone to build our EMMO corpus!




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