VCU transcribed an entire manuscript book of poems

123 VCU students

5 community members

1 faculty member

1 remarkable student organization

3 semesters

4 upper-division classes

528 poems

315 pages

161 page openings with writing

445 complete transcripts thereof!

In the fall of 2017, a Shakespeare class started spending one hour a week transcribing Folger MS V.a.345, in order to see what poems there accompany Shakespeare’s second sonnet. The following semester, a class on documentary and critical editing transcribed the poems in the manuscript that had shown up in critical editions. Two other classes resumed the project the next fall. One of them, an introduction to bibliography for Master’s students, transcribed the manuscript’s copy of John Earle’s “CHARACTERS.” The other, a large survey of early modern literature, worked much more broadly thoughout the book.

Over these three semesters, the Superscripts became an official student organization. The Superscripts started devoting weekly meetings to transcribing the manuscript. And they thought that they could finish the task at a transcribathon. VCU Libraries hosted the event, providing laptops, food, and drink. The English Department offered funds for guests from off campus. And the Folger Shakespeare Library provided the images and the online transcription tool. In the final hours before the event, Mike Poston, digital guru of the Folger, added a crucial upgrade to the transcription tool: a IIIF viewer, which made the images of the manuscript much easier to read. During the event, Heather Wolfe, Curator of Mansucripts at the Folger, showed off the original document by video.

Photo credit: Hannah Kilgore

At the end of the event’s scheduled time, the Superscripts were still a few images short of a complete transcript. A few of them relocated to a cramped, glassed-wall room on a quiet floor of the library, and kept working. Before long, they could finally say that VCU had transcribed every word of the book at least once (and in most cases, twice, thrice, or more).

Next month, the top transcribers travel to the Folger to see for themselves the original document that they have come to know so well.



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