Spice & Labour


I had a blast encoding JB/107/110/02, a sheet of paper divided into four columns of fairly readable handwriting that described a series of recipes. While finding a document that had not yet been transcribed was a fairly long and frustrating process, the actual encoding was quite fun once I established a rhythm. The tutorials and tool bars don’t mire the user in the details of the markup language, but enable the transcriber to figure it out as they go. The ability to see and edit changes quickly allowed for somewhat low-stakes trial and error learning.

This exercise reminded me a lot of my high school programming class. It was lovely to be able to “deform” the text of the document and experiment with the logic of the language. There is also something perversely satisfying to me about writing detailed comments explaining my choices. It’s like writing notes in the margin of a library book–someone else is going to see them.

By the end of the exercise I was able to recognize semantic chunks of markup and get a feel for its rules. However the document itself provided some interesting challenges because of how the page is arranged. Here are a few of my favorite examples.


There were many places, like this one, in which a small horizontal line divided the ingredients from the “Labour” of the recipe. There were also a ton of numbers, fractions, and what I took to be the small letter ‘d’ to one side of the words. Sometimes these numbers were accompanied by units of measurement, sometimes not. While this 1/2 over 2 1/2 first appeared to me to be a complex fraction, I realized that it was a break in the page that there was no accurate way to represent. First I had to figure out how to represent fractions [put the numerator in superscript, then / and the denominator]. Then I had to mess around until I realized that no matter what I couldn’t quite format it to look like the page itself. Some fun things happened.

First this, my attempt to underline superscript. [It's wrong, there's too many </hi>'s, but I got it to work eventually. Just using superscript and / looks much prettier than trying to underline it.]





Then this blue box showed up around my fraction! Don’t know what it meant, but I got it to go away.

Because the page was divided into narrow columns of script, I managed to reproduce the text but could not represent the vertical lines that separate it out. That kind of page division is accomplished by a page break, according to the transcription guidelines, so I felt compelled to specify in my comments whether it was a horizontal or vertical page break. For documents like this it would be useful to be able to insert some kind of simplified graphic representation of say, a vertical line, in order to get a sense of the space of the page itself.

I enjoyed encoding the recipes because I got to encounter a particularly everyday document. The list-like nature of it means that punctuation and abbreviation are not always standardized, yet we could ostensibly still follow the recipe today. It felt downright practical, allowing me to get a snapshot of how people were planning and preparing meals. Furthermore, seeing different versions of the text in multiples windows allows for a poetic kind of reading, as certain words could be juxtaposed or read as single phrases, i.e. “spice & labour.”**

**When I put this phrase into the title for this post, WordPress automatically changed it to “Spice &amp; Labour.” Fun.

3 thoughts on “Spice & Labour

  1. Hi Melissa,

    Many thanks for taking part, and for taking on this manuscript – the transcript was excellent. Just to let you know, I made Bentham’s ‘Baked apple pudding’ for a historical cooking competition – I’ll let you know when the blog about that goes live!

    best wishes and many thanks,


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