The Folger is thrilled to share the news that we are the recipient of a generous three year National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to create Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO), an online searchable database of encoded semi-diplomatic transcriptions of all Folger manuscripts from the period 1500-1700.
That’s the final product, anyway. Getting there is going to be quite an adventure for us, one that we plan to share with you on The Collation at regular intervals once we get up and running next year. We hope that EMMO will expand the textual landscape of early modern England, providing a corpus to explore on its own and to compare to other corpora of print works such as EEBO-TCP.
The most important goal of the project, since we are a library, is access. The transcription and encoding of manuscripts is as crucial to access as is cataloging and digitization. It might even be more so, since manuscripts are slippery and wide-ranging things that tend to defy simple categorization and that are often written in impenetrable hands.
An example of a difficult hand in a very interesting manuscript: a page from Richard Stonley’s diary, for June 18, 1581, in which he describes seeing a dwarf, an extremely tall person, and a baby with a huge head, all on the same day, at the Lord Mayor’s and at the Royal Exchange (Folger MS V.a.459, fol. 3v).
This is a problematic barrier. Most people simply can’t read secretary hand efficiently and accurately enough to be able to include unedited manuscript sources in their research. In contrast, printed sources are much easier to access and read online, and so researchers tend to rely more heavily on them, thereby obscuring the complexities of early modern England’s dual-text environment and hindering a full understanding of the period. We’d like to change that, by opening up our manuscripts to anyone who wants to read them, not just the folks who are trained in paleography.
That being said, paleographic training is more important than ever. EMMO will include an interactive paleography tutorial that will allow users to test themselves against any manuscript in the database, and the Folger Institute will continue to offer paleography training in a variety of forms. In fact, there’s one such course coming up this summer.
So how are the transcriptions going to become part of EMMO? Anyone who takes paleography at the Folger for the foreseeable future will contribute transcriptions to the database as a matter of course, and transcriptions will be gathered in a variety of other ways as well, including crowd-sourcing, transcribathons, two full-time grant-funded paleographers, and interns. We will start by transcribing (and vetting) the 22,000+ images of manuscripts that are already in our image database, which means lots and lots of family papers and letters, as well as diaries, poetical miscellanies, literary works, and commonplace books. As new images are added, the corpus will grow.
And what will people do with all of these transcriptions? Our texts will be both human-readable and machine-actionable, encoded in TEI P5 and searchable in both normalized and original spelling—the research possibilities are really quite endless. Deeper analysis will be available via an application programming interface (API), and the corpus will be expandable by other institutions who want to use our software and be part of a federated search.
The grant officially begins on December 1. We hope to hire an EMMO project manager as soon as possible
(a job posting will appear here and elsewhere in the next few days update 11/27: The job advertisement is now up.), and midway through next year, we’ll be hiring two project paleographers. We are developing a survey to find out what users and contributors would most like to see in EMMO, and will be putting out a call for beta-testers next year. Look for mini-updates on the Folger Research Twitter feed, @FolgerResearch, with the hashtag #folgeremmo.