As the planning and development of T-PEN begins to take practical shape and form, I have begun to think about my transcription methodology – the manner in which I have transcribed manuscripts in the past – and the implications of this for T-PEN’s User Interface and the issue of usability.
Transcription is a very practical activity, and it is usually something I have done rather than thought too deeply about. However, when I sat back and reflected on my methodology, I noticed that I tend to take advantage of the digital medium and work from digitized manuscripts, with copies of all the manuscripts containing the text open on my computer as I transcribe. Furthermore, I tend to work by sense-unit, transcribing a few short words from my base manuscript and then checking this reading against all the other manuscripts before I move on to the next unit of text. In effect, I transcribe only one manuscript and collate, sense-unit by sense-unit, as I transcribe.
I am certainly not claiming that this is the ideal method of transcription, but it struck me that it is quite different from the traditional approach of transcribing the entire text from one manuscript, then moving to the next manuscript and transcribing or collating the entire text once again. Of course this approach originally resulted from the fact that the requisite manuscripts were often housed in different libraries, making it impossible to compare all the manuscripts as one transcribed. This situation certainly changed with the advent of microfilm and other methods of reproduction, but it has been transformed radically with the arrival of digitization.
Nonetheless, the basic paradigm around which we have built the T-PEN prototype is still the old approach of transcribing the entire text one manuscript at a time. My reflections on my own practices have demonstrated that there are clearly other ways of transcribing a text; and T-PEN will be a far better tool if it is adaptable to the user’s preferred approach to transcription, whatever that may be.
As a result we are currently considering whether we should enable users to move between different manuscripts as they transcribe and/or facilitate other transcription techniques. I would therefore like to invite you to reflect on your own approach to transcription and on what kind of digital tool would best fit your preferred practices. How flexible or rigid would you like such a tool to be: should it provide a variety of options or be based on what we consider best practice? Even more fundamentally: what is your own transcription methodology – exactly how do you transcribe? All comments welcome below!
(Manuscript images from the e-codices collection and Codices Electronici Ecclesiae Coloniensis. Used in accordance with conditions of use.)