As part of one of the most challenging assignments I have done for this course, I transcribed and encoded a nineteenth century letter written by James Merrill Linn to his brother John Blair Linn. The assignment differed from the other ones because I had to transcribe the text before I could even start encoding.
When I began the transcription, I did not realize that the process would require a day’s worth of effort. Contrary to what I anticipated, I had to go through the letter many a times, each for a different purpose. Sometimes, I would discover a distinctive aspect of J. Linn’s handwriting, such as his peculiar style of writing an ‘x’, which would compel me to review the transcribed text all over again. Nevertheless, I did not feel frustrated, but I wish I had chosen a shorter piece.
I referred to a few of his letters to better understand his handwriting; however, his handwriting varied notably. One of the resources I found helpful was OneLook Dictionary Search. This website allowed me to search for words using wildcards, as a result of which I was able to figure out words even if I was unsure about few of their characters. I also encountered misspelled words which I chose to leave as is because, as an editor, I felt people would be able to spot the errors and understand the context.
I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the Archives and physically see the manuscript. I noticed more features of Linn’s handwriting, especially his way of writing an ‘x’. Moreover, I found words which I could not have figured through the digital facsimile regardless of however much I had magnified. Transcribing using the facsimile was troublesome because I could not see the already transcribed text immediately. On the other hand, the paper version allowed me to quickly review the features of the handwriting I had already found and make a judgement on the transcription.
The text-encoding portion of the assignment required comparatively less work because I knew how to use various tags after having encoded Poe’s text a few weeks ago. A quick start enabled me to do more sophisticated markup, but I still had to scan the entire text whenever I stumbled upon new tags such as <objectType> and <measure>.
In his journal, Linn has a relaxed tone and vividly talks about seemingly extraneous. He once comments on the weather by writing, “…there was the richest tracery in scarlet and vermillion, and above in the dark mess of clouds one open spot golden hued.” In both his letter and his journal, he discusses the major happenings of the day, but does not mention how uncertain his life is in the journal. This is surprising because he repeatedly hints towards the uncertainty in his letter. Perhaps he is more comfortable being vulnerable when writing to his brother as opposed to the public.