Transcription is the most painful part when I was working on this module. I am very aware how one’s handwriting may include important clues about his/her identity and the situation in which he/she writes. For example, since I haven’t written much English by hand and have not deliberately practiced my calligraphy, it’s easy to tell that I’m a non-native speaking (or writing) person. Therefore, personally I would always prefer to type English and to read printed English articles in order to “conceal my identity” to some extent.
Since I haven’t read many hand-written manuscripts, I struggled for a long time with the possible spellings and even in the final version, I still have many words unrecognized. When doing transcription, I at first recorded all the letters I could recognize and based on the length of the word, I could have several guesses on what the word might be. The next step would be looking for similar patterns and to decode the letters I didn’t recognize. I would also ask classmates for help; in fact, it would not be roughly finished without Sarah’s help. It is a very frustrating experience and makes me really grateful for the efforts people invest in transforming the manuscripts to the typed paragraph online. If they have not been digitized at all, people like me will have no access to the text because 1) the manuscripts are preserved in certain archives that may not be publicly available and 2) even we can see the picture, we can’t really read it. Therefore, my struggle with transcription also indicates the significance of digital archives and digitized texts.
I work in the special collection/university archive after class, so I’m already familiar with the environment there. Taking a close look to the manuscripts is an important experience, and as Yash suggested in class, the actual paper would give the reader a better overview of the content, while pictures online usually compromised the fluidity of the text as a whole. In some cases, there are some scratches that are only manifest in paper, and the paper’s material is usually absent in pictures as well. For example, I didn’t expect the letters to be so thin and fragile. Though I don’t know what’s the importance of the materiality of the letters yet, but it is possible that the material also carries certain traits of the environment and even of the history.
One thing I noticed by comparing the journal and the letter is that, James Merill Linn is definitely (encouraged to) take the readers’ reaction into account. His brother’s letter on April 2nd is almost solely about people’s reaction to JML’s writing. I assume that readers’ response is important in directing how he should render his life in the writing, and what the readers expect to read and are enthusiastic about. JML mostly talked bout New Berne from March 12th to 24th, and it’s interesting that on April 17th he again mentioned New Berne. One possible guess is that after knowing audience’ response to New Berne, JML feels the necessity to talk more about it.