A Return to Transcription

Transcribe Bentham was not my first experience with either the transcription process or XML. In Neil Friastaist’s Technoromanticism course, half of us were given pages of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein manuscript to encode and engage with as we tried to sort through her handwriting, Percy Shelley’s handwriting, her curious doodling habits, and the actual textual revisions that Frankenstein underwent during its composition. The easy part of that particular project, however, was that we already had a transcription to work from when we did our own encoding. Transcribe Bentham placed more responsibility on me to play a part in the deciphering, not simply the encoding or double-checking, of a manuscript. So while the XML encoding was not new to me, the transcription process of reading and attempting to accurately represent what Bentham was writing (sloppily) was up to me almost entirely.

My passage of choice was the beginning of a section titled Composition, where Bentham writes on what he believe the duties of the Courts over their procedures. In several cases, context was key to correctly transcribing a word (no shock there), and so was returning after some time away in order to reread and discover whether or not I had any more ideas about what a particular piece of writing was saying. But of more interest to me, was when I found a word that I could not easily discard what I thought I was reading, despite it not making sense. To clarify, this is the image I refer to:

What does that look like to you? To me, it looks like ‘websites’ and that is how I initially read it until a nanosecond later when I realized they didn’t have websites in the 18th and 19th centuries. But this realization started me thinking about time and culture and how that can affect an interpretive process like transcription. While my example is extreme, and was quickly realized and dismissed as impossible, more subtle examples like this could occur with anachronisms and especially slang, idioms, and euphemisms. This is something that affects the transcription process I’m sure, and would be interested in seeing (if I can given my limited knowledge about Jeremy Bentham) whether or not this sort of thing has occurred and is much more difficult to pick up on because of our distance from the time period and (my personal) lack of colloquial knowledge from Bentham’s era.

5 thoughts on “A Return to Transcription

  1. This needs context… it’s probably “-sser” at the end, though. What’s the sentence that it appears in?

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