Making Data with Markup: From the Classroom to Digital Scholarly Edition of Accounts

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When students transcribe and mark up primary sources, they learn the kind of close reading that is necessary for historical interpretation. When their professors teach transcription and markup, they can discover new research projects and make an impact on their fields. In 2004, Tomasek began to work with colleagues in the Wheaton College Archives and in Library and Information Services to build transcription and markup into an undergraduate course in nineteenth-century U.S. Women’s History. They used a scaffolded assignment that allowed students to build on skills developed throughout the semester, and students reported real investment in the life of the daughter of a Baptist minister whose journal they transcribed and marked up. Summer interns who did similar work with the pocket diaries and travel journal of Eliza Baylies Wheaton, a member of the institution’s founding family, did extra unassigned work tracking down the graves of people mentioned in the documents in town cemeteries. By 2009, the Wheaton team had developed a successful model for teaching students close reading, but they had run out of “easy” documents like journals and pocket diaries. So Tomasek and her colleagues turned to the daybook kept by a member of the institution’s founding family. A student research assistant who attended DHSI and took the Introduction to TEI course with Tomasek became the local expert and assisted in teaching a module focused on transcription and markup of the daybook. As is always the case, some students took to the assignment more readily than others. Pairing students to work on a page spread worked better than asking individual students to take on the work themselves. Successful students found stories in their page spreads and wrote real historical depictions of the facts and their significance. Tomasek, her library partners, and the student assistant taught the module for two years before receiving a Start-Up award for further investigation of markup for account books from the Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2011. This award marked a transition in Tomasek’s research agenda to a focus on account books as humanities sources and the value of digital scholarly editions for reuse by other researchers. The small community of practice that began in summer 2011 expanded with the help of a Bilateral Digital Humanities award from the German Research Foundation and the NEH in 2015. Tomasek found the use of the classroom module to be slower than ideal for producing a full edition of the day book, and she transitioned to more intensive work with summer interns in 2015. A group of those interns completed a first-run transcription and markup of the daybook in 2016, and an alpha version is part of a data set that includes excerpts from the Financial Papers of George Washington, accounts from the Stagville plantation in North Carolina, Matthew Carey’s Printers File, and accounts of the Uihlein family, founders of the Schlitz brewing company.
Markup, Digital Scholarly Edition, Transcription
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