Thursday, June 9, 2016

Accidental Editors and the Crowd at DiXiT 2

In March, I gave a "Club Talk" at Dixit 2: Academia, Commons, Society, a conference of digital scholarly editors hosted by the Cologne Center for e-Humanities and the Institut für Dokumentologie und Editorik.  The club talk was a real departure for me -- for the first time in my career, my name was on a concert poster! 
I tried to keep the material light, and was helped by some serious swordplay by Langes Schwert Köln, the local HEMA group.  Langes Schwert had spent weeks preparing a their demonstration, highlighting each phrase in a parallel text edition of a fighting manual as they worked through the moves it described.  I really can't thank them enough.

Here is the video, slides, and transcript of my talk, followed by the video and transcript of the swordfighting demonstration.

Thanks to DiXiT for bringing me here and thank you all for coming. All right, my talk tonight is about accidental editors and the crowd. What is an accidental editor? Most of you people in this room are here because you're editors and you work with editions. So I ask you, look back, think back to when you decided to become an editor. Maybe you were a small child and you told your mother, “When I grow up I want to be an editor.” Or maybe it was just when you applied for a fellowship at DiXiT because it sounded like a good deal. 

The fact of the matter is there are many editions that are happening by people who never decided to become an editor. They never made any intentional decision to do this and I'd like to talk about this tonight.

So all this week we've been talking digital scholarly editions, tonight, however, I'd like to take you on a tour of digital editions that have no connection whatsoever to the scholarly community in this room.

Torsten Schaßan yesterday defined digital editions saying that, “A digital edition is anything that calls itself a digital edition.” None of the projects that I'm going to talk about tonight call themselves digital editions. Many of them have never heard of digital editions.

So, we're going to need another definition. We're going to need a functional definition along the lines of Patrick Sahle's, and this is the definition I'd like to use tonight. So these are “Encoded representations of primary sources that are designed to serve a digital research need.” 

All right, so the need is important. The need gives birth to these digital editions. So what is a need in the world of people who are doing editing without knowing they're doing editing?

Well, I'll start with OhNoRobot. Everyone is familiar with the digital editing platform OhNoRobot, right? Right?

All right, so let's say that you read a web comic. Here's my favorite web comic, Achewood, and it has some lovely dark humor about books being "huge money-losers" and everyone "gets burned on those deals". And now you have a problem which is that two years later a friend of yours says, “I'm going to write a book and it's going to be great.” And you'd say, “Oh, I remember this great comic I read about that.  How am I going to find that, though?”

Well, fortunately you can go to the Achewood Search Service and you type in “huge money-loser” and you see a bit of transcript and you click on it...

And you have the comic again. You've suddenly found the comic strip from 2002 that referred to books as huge money losers. Now, how is that possibly? See this button down here? This button here that says “Improve Transcription.” If you click on that button...

You'll get at a place to edit the text and you'll get a set of instructions. And you'll get a format, a very specific format and encoding style for editing this web comic. All right? Where did that format—where did that encoding come from? Well, it came from the world of stage, the world of screenplays. So this reads like a script. And the thing is, it actually does work. It works pretty well. So that community has developed this encoding standard to solve this problem.

Let's say that you're a genealogist and you want to track records of burials from 1684 that are written in horrible old secretary hand and you want to share them with people.

No one is going to sit down and read that. They're going to interact with us through something like FreeReg. This is a search engine that I developed for
Free UK Genealogy which is an Open Data genealogy non-profit in the U.K. And this is how they're going to interact with this data. But how's it actually encoded? How are these volunteers entering what is now, I'm pleased to say, 38 million records?
Well, they have rules. They have very strict rules. They have rules that are so strict that they are written in bold. “You transcribe what you read errors and all!”

And if you need help here is a very simple set of encoding standards that are derived from regular expressions from the world of computer programming. All right? This is a very effective thing to do. 

One thing I'd like to point out is that in the current database records encoded using this encoding style are never actually returned. This is [encoded] because volunteers demand the ability to represent what they see and encoding that's sufficient to do that even if the results might even be lost, in the hope that some day in the future they will be able to retrieve them.

Okay. So far I've been talking mainly about amateur editions. I'd like to talk about another set of accidental editors which are people in the natural sciences. For years and years naturalists have studied collections and they've studied specimens in museums and they've gotten very, very good at digitizing things like...

This is a "wet collection". It's a spider in a jar and it's a picture I took at the Peabody Museum. 

In case you've ever wondered whether provenance can be a matter of horror [laughter] I will tell you that the note on this says, “Found on bananas from Ecuador.” Be careful opening your bananas from Ecuador! 

Thanks to climate change and thanks to habitat loss these scientists are returning to these original field books to try to find out about the locations that these were collected from to find out what the habitats looked like 100 years ago or more. And for that these records need to be transcribed.
So here is the Smithsonian Institute Transcription Center. This is going to [familiar] to a lot of people in the room. The encoding is something really interesting because we have this set of square notes: vertical notation in left margin, vertical in red, slash left margin, vertical in red all around "Meeker". The interesting thing about this encoding is that this was not developed by the Smithsonian. Where did they get this encoding from?
They got this encoding from a blog post by one of their volunteers. This is a blog post by Siobhan Leachman who spends a lot of time volunteering and transcribing for the Smithsonian. And because of her encounter with the text she was forced to develop a set of transcription encoding standards and to tell all of her friends about it, to try to proselytize, to convert all of the other volunteers to use these conventions.
And the conventions are pretty complete: They talk about circled text, they talk about superscript text, they talk about geographical names. I'm fairly convinced--and having met Siobhan I believe she can do it--that given another couple of years she will have reinvented the TEI. [laughter].
So you may ask me, “Why are squished into the back of a room?” To make room for the swords. And we haven't talked about swords yet.
So I'd like to talk about people doing what's called Historical European Martial Arts. This is sword fighting. It's HEMA for short. So you have a group of people doing martial arts in the athletic tradition as well as in the tradition of re-enactors who are trying to recreate the martial arts techniques of the past.
So there are HEMA chapters all over. This is a map of central Texas showing the groups near me within about 100 kilometers and as you can see many clubs specialize in different traditions. There are two clubs near me that specialize in German long sword. There's one club that specializes in the Italian traditions and there are—there's at least one club I know of that specializes in a certain set of weapons from all over Europe.

So how do they use them? Right? How do they actually recreate the sword fighting techniques? They use the texts in training. And this is a scene from an excellent documentary called “Back to the Source,” which I think is very telling, talking about how they actually interact with these. So here we have somebody explaining a technique, explaining how to pull a sword from someone's hand...

And now they're demonstrating it.

So where do they get these sources from? For a long time they worked with 19th century print editions. For a long time people, including the group in this room, worked with photocopies or PDFs on forms. Really all of this stuff was very sort of separated and disparate until about five years ago.
So five or six years ago Michael Chidester who was a HEMA practitioner who was bedridden due to a leg injury had a lot of time on the computer to modify Wikisource, which is the best media wiki platform for creating digital editions, to create a site called Wiktenauer.
What can you find on Wiktenauer? Okay, here's a very simple example of a fighting manual. We've got the image on one side. We've got a facsimile with illustrations. We have a transcription, we have a translation in the middle. This is the most basic. This is something that people can very easily print out, use in the field in their training.

Still it's a parallel-text edition. If you click through any of those you get to the editing interface which has a direct connection between the facsimile and the transcript. And the transcript is done using pretty traditional MediaWiki mark up.
Okay. Now, and I apologize to the people in the back of the room because this is a complex document. We get into more complex texts. So this is a text by someone named Ringeck and here we have four variants of the same text because they're producing a variorum edition. In addition to producing the variants...
They have a nice introduction explaining the history of Ringeck himself and contextualizing the text.
What's more, they traced the text itself and they do stemmatology to explain how these texts developed.

And in fact even come up with these these nice stemmata graphs.
So how are they used? So, people study the text, they encounter a new text and then they practice. As my friends last night explained to me, the practice informs their reading of the text. They are informed deeply by die Körperlichkeit -- the actual physicality of trying out moves. 

The reason that they're doing this is because they're trying to get back to the original text and the original text is not what was written down by a scribe the first time. The original text, this Urtext, is what was actually practiced 700 years ago and taught in schools.  Much like Claire Clivaz mentioned talking about Clement of Alexandria: You have this living tradition, parts of it are written down, those parts are elaborated by members of that living tradition and now they're reconstructed. 

What if your interpretation is wrong? Well, one way they find out is by fighting each other. You go to a tournament. You try out your interpretation of those moves. Someone else tries out their interpretation of those moves. If one of you would end up dead that person's interpretation is wrong. [laughter] (People think that the stakes of scholarly editing are high.)
What are the challenges to projects like Wiktenauer? So one of the projects—when I interviewed Michael Chidester he explained that they particularly, editors in the U.S., actually do struggle and they would love to have help from members of the scholarly community dealing with paleography, dealing with linguistic issues, and some of these fundamental issues. 

One of the other big challenges that I found is--by contrast with some of the other projects we talked about--in many cases the text on Wiktenauer are of highly varied quality. They try to adjust for this by giving each text a grade, but if an individual is going to contribute a text and they're the only one willing to do it, you sort of have to take what they get. My theory for why Wiktenauer transcripts may be of different quality from those that you see on the Smithsonian or that genealogists produce is that for those people the transcription--the act of working with the text--is an end in itself whereas for the HEMA community the texts are a way to get to the fun part, to get it to the fighting.

And now--speaking of "the fun part"--it's time for our demonstration.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome Langes Schwert Cologne, with
Junior Instructor, Georg Schlager
Senior Instructor, Richard Strey
Head Instructor, Michael Rieck

START AUDIO: [0:02:00]

RICHARD: Okay, two things first I will be presenting this in English even though the text is in German, but you won't really have to read the text to understand what's going on. Also, we will have to adjust for a couple of things. A sword fight usually starts at long range unless someone is jumping out from behind a bush or something. So we'll have to adjust for that. In reality moves would be quite large. All right. So he could actually go to the toilet and then kill me with just one step. So we will be symbolizing the onset of the fight by him doing a little step instead us both taking several steps. All right.

So basically, this is what it's all about. These techniques also work in castles and small hallways. [laughter] All right. Now, again we are Langes Schwert we have been doing the historical German martial arts since 1992. We train here in Cologne and today we would like to show you how we get from the written source to an actual working fighting. You can all calm down now from now on it's going to be a slow match. So, in case you didn't get what happened the whole thing in slow.

Okay, so how do we know what to do? We have books that tell us. For this presentation we will be using four primary sources: fencing books from around 1450 to 1490 all dealing with the same source material. On the right hand side you can see our second source the text you see there will be exactly what we are doing now. Also, we use a transcription by Didien de Conier from France. He did that in 2003, but since the words don't change we can still use it. All right, so how do we know what to do? I can talk in this direction.

He's the good guy, I'm the bad guy.

GEORGE: We can see that. [laughter]

RICHARD: So how does he know what to do? I'll be basically reading this to you in English, we've translated it. In our group we have several historians. Several other members as well can actually read the original sources, but still in training we go the easy and do the transcription. But still usually we have the originals with us in PDF format so in case we figure, “Well, maybe something's wrong there,” we can still look at it. For the most part that doesn't really matter, but the difference between seine rechte seite and deine rechte seite -- "his right side" and "your right side" can make a difference. [laughter]

Okay, so what we're dealing with today is the easiest cut, the wrath cut. The sources tell us that the wrath cut breaks all attacks that from above with the point of the sword and yet it's nothing but the poor peasant's blow. Essentially what you would do with a baseball bat, all right? But very refined. [laughter] So, usually his plan would be to come here and kill me. Sadly, I was better than him. I have the initiative so he has to react. and it says, do it like this, if you come to him in the onset, symbolized, and he strikes at you from his right side with a long edge diagonally at your head like this...then also strike at him from your right side diagonally from above onto his sword without any deflection or defense.

So that's his plan. It would be a very short fight if I didn't notice that. [laughter] So, thirdly it says if he weak—oh no, if he is soft in the bind which implies that I survive the first part which looks like this then let your point shoot in long towards his face or chest and stab at him. See we like each other so he doesn't actually stab me. [laughter]

Okay, it says this is how you set your point on him. Okay, next part, if he becomes aware of your thrust and become hard in the bind and pushes your sword aside with strength...then you should grip your sword up along his blade back down the other side again along the blade and hit him in the head. [laughter] All right, this is called taking it all from above. Okay. This is the end of our source right here. Now we have left out lots of things. There are a lot of things that are not said in the text. For example it says if he's weak in the bind, or soft in the bind, actually I'm not, I'm neutral and then I become soft. How do I know this? It doesn't say, so right here. Well maybe I could just try it being soft. It would basically look like this.

It doesn't really work. [laughter] Now, if being soft doesn't really work maybe being hard does. So I'll try that next. It doesn't really work either. Okay. So this is an example from fencing, from actually doing it you know that in the bind you have to be neutral. If you decide too early he can react to it and you can change your mind too fast.

All right, now what we read here is just one possible outcome of a fight. A fight is always a decision tree. Whenever something happens you can decide to do this or do the other thing and if you fight at the master level which is this you lots and lots and lots of actions that happen and the opponent notices it, reacts accordingly and now if you were to carry out your plan you would die. So you have to abort your plan and do something else instead. So now we'll show you what our actual plans were and what happened or didn't happen. So, I was the lucky guy who got to go first. I have the initiative. So my plan A is always this.

And then I'll go have a beer. [laughter] And the talk is over, but he's the good guy so he notices what happened and his plan is this. He hits my sword and my head at the same time. So if I just did what they do in the movies notice that he's going bang, he is not dead, I'll do something else, no it doesn't work. I'm already finished. So I have to notice this while I'm still in the air. Abort the attack, right? I was going to go far like this, now I'm not going to do that. I'm going to shorten my attack and my stab. And from here I'm going to keep going. He is strong in the bind so I will work around his sword and hit him in the face. How to do this is described I think two pages later or three.

All right. Now, remember I was supposed to be weak or soft in the bind. My plan was to kill him, it didn't work. I had to abort it. When I hit his blade he was strong, I go around it which makes me soft which is what is says there. Okay, sadly he doesn't really give me the time to do my attack and instead, he keeps going. I was going to hit him in the face, but since I was soft he took the middle, hits me in the head. All thrusts are depending on the range. In here we don't have much range so we'll always be hitting. If we're farther apart it will be a thrust. Okay, but I notice that, so I'm not afraid for my head I'm afraid for the people. [laughter]

MAN #1: Divine intervention!

RICHARD: So I notice him hitting me in the head so I'll just take the middle and hit him in the head. It usually works. Okay. Now, obviously, the smart move for him is to just take his sword away, let me drop into the hole because I was pushing in that direction anyway and then he'll keep me from getting back inside by just going down this way. And that, basically, is how the good guy wins. Except, of course, there is a page over there where it tells me how to win. And it says, well if he tries to go up and down you just go in. See, you have to stand here.

So, basically there is never any foolproof way to win. It's always a case of initiative and feeling the right thing. Actually, there is one foolproof way, but we're not going to tell you. [laughter] This concludes our small demonstration. [applause] I'm not finished yet. So, what we did was about 60 to 70% speed. We couldn't go full speed here because of the beam. Also it was just a fraction of the possible power we could do it at. We counted yesterday, we had been for the practice session what you just saw are nine different actions that are taken within about one-and-a-half seconds and that's not studied or choreography. In each instance you feel what is happening. You feel soft, hard, left, right, whatever, it's not magic, everyone does it. Well, all martial arts do it once they get to a certain level. So we would like to thank Didier de Conier who, unknowingly, provided us with the transcriptions. We would like to thank Wiktenauer even though we don't need it that often because we can actually read this stuff. It's a great resource for everyone else and as always we have that. And oh yeah, we train at the Uni Mensa every Sunday at 2. So whoever wants to drop by and join is invited to do so. [applause]

AUDIO END: [0:20:51]

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Encoding Account Books Relating to Slavery in the U.S. South at MEDEA Regensburg

On October 22-24 of 2015, I was fortunate to attend the NEH/DFG-sponsored MEDEA workshop in Regensburg, Germany. The workshop gathered together American and European scholars, editors, and technicians working with digital editions of financial records, and often-overlooked type of textual source.  I presented along with Anna Agbe-Davies, a faculty member at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, with whom I am collaborating to extend FromThePage to support tabular data within texts.  You can read background on the project at our abstract at the MEDEA website.

This document is a composite of the prepared text delivered by Anna Agbe-Davies and a transcript of the ex tempore talk by Ben Brumfield.  Each section will be preceded by the name of the speaker in boldface, with editorial interventions in [brackets].

Neither of us is an historian.  I am an archaeologist and, as is usual in the US, also an anthropologist.  I came to texts such as the “Slave Ledger” discussed below with a straightforward question: what were enslaved people buying in 19th-century North Carolina?  In this sense, the store records complement the archaeological record, which is my primary interest.  Clearly, however, these texts have additional meanings and potential for addressing much more than material culture and consumption.  This is exciting for the anthropologist in me.  I have experience with the methods of historical analysis, but the technological advances of the last few years mean that I have much to learn about the best techniques for harnessing the potential of such documents.
Ben and I are collaborating to extend the capabilities of his online transcription tool FromThePage, to unleash the full analytical possibilities embodied in such texts, including the archive he will now describe.
I'd like to introduce the papers of Jeremiah White Graves.  These are three volumes that were bound posthumously from approximately thirty notebooks with roughly 1600 pages worth of diaries, formal accounts, and informal accounts that are held at the Alderman Library at the University of Virginia and which may be accessed online at in facsimile edition.
Jeremiah White Graves moved from Louisa County, Virginia to Pittsylvania County, Virginia when he was fifteen years old.  In 1823, at the age of 22, using the skills that he learned as a store clerk, he began keeping accounts on his own.  These accounts cover his activities trading with his neighbors, but primarily [cover his activities as] a plantation owner.  He acquired the plantation of Aspen Grove, as well as inheriting other plantations.  Aspen Grove is 120 kilometers north of Stagville, which is the plantation that Anna will discuss, and--like Stagville Plantation--it primarily produced tobacco crops for cash through the work of enslaved laborers.
Some of his accounts are formal.  These may look very familiar to many of you.  These are how he started his accounts in 1822, but he soon found that a formal accounting system did not serve his needs very well.
He started keeping informal accounts to track other activities, such as (in this case) visits by a doctor to treat members of his household, both slave and free.  These informal accounts also covers shipments of logs, corn or cotton to mills.  They cover days his children attended school  They also cover articles of clothing his children took with them to boarding schools.

One of the most interesting things about these accounts is the light they shed on the relationship between Graves and his enslaved laborers, and the relationships among them and the rest of the community.  One of the challenges of the accounts is that they have a very complex topology.  Because the accounts are informal, accounts will be written in separate, unrelated [inaudible].  

In this case, we have a two-entry account between Graves and "my Henry"--who is one of his primary enslaved laborers--who he loans money to.  Henry then pays him back.  So we have two entries in this account.

This account is stuck between shipments of cotton and logs to mills in a previous year, sticks of tobacco [stripped], a later account of tobacco cut in fields, and then a much earlier account of tobacco [stripped] in prize barns.

You see a similar challenge over here [points to second page], where--over the intriguing entries on meat sent to laborers at Aspen Grove Plantation from a different plantation--you find this fascinating account with entries between "my Frederic" (another one of Graves's laborers) and Graves.  One of the fascinating things about this account is that Frederic dies, and--in one of the only instances in which Graves records women in his informal accounts--Graves settles his account with Malissa, Frederick's enslaved widow.
Another challenge of the accounts is that they have a complex order.  Graves began his notebooks with diary entries from front to back.  He would write his accounts from back to front. Then when they met in the middle, he would start a new book, [though] sometimes returning to the older books.

As you see here, we have a four-year-long account that starts on the second-to-last page of the book, continues on page 18, then on page 17, and finally finishes up on page 5 of the volume.

While these accounts are complex, they are not unique, so I will hand this over to Anna.
Stagville was the founding farm for a vast plantation complex assembled by several generations of Bennehans and Camerons1.  A local historian estimates that at their most powerful, the family owned around 900 men, women, and children (Anderson 1985:95). Some of the people at Stagville stayed on after Emancipation, allowing for a fascinating glimpse of the transition from slavery to tenancy and wage labor.

1. The Bennehan/Cameron holdings included nearly 20,000 acres in Durham, Wake, and Granville Counties in 1890 (McDuffie 1890).  Anderson estimated a peak 30,000 acres along the Flat, Eno, and Neuse Rivers, not to mention thousands more in western NC, plantations in Alabama and Mississippi, as well as residences in the county seat and the state capital.

Daybooks and ledgers from plantation stores owned by the Bennehan-Cameron family cover the years 1773 to 1895. Many of the men and women whose purchases are recorded therein were the family’s chattel property and, in later years, their tenants or employees. There are forty-five daybooks and twenty ledgers in the family papers, which are collected in the University of North Carolina’s Southern Historical Collection2.  Eleven volumes are flagged by the finding aid as including purchases by “slaves” or “farm laborers,” though many volumes have no summary and may contain as-yet unidentified African American consumers.

2. In addition to the daybooks and ledgers, there are also cash books, books of ready money sales, and personal/household account books, numbering 142 “financial volumes.” 
My aim is to digitize and analyze a selection of these daybooks and ledgers.  This project augments the Southern Historical Collection’s effort to make important manuscripts available via the Internet.  My project not only increases the number of volumes online and in a format that enables analysis by users with varying levels of expertise, but makes the contents of these documents available as data, not merely images.

One of the questions guiding my research is this: What did it mean to shop in a store, if you yourself can be bought and sold? I am interested in both the financial and social aspects of accounting in the plantation context.  Daybooks, and ledgers offer an important compliment to the archaeological record at Historic Stagville, in Durham, North Carolina.

[omitted from the oral presentation:] Archaeologists can speculate about, but seldom demonstrate, the paths by which goods reached the quarter. Artifacts may reflect the actions of the owner who issued clothing or tools and passed along hand-me-downs. Conversely, finds may speak to the agency of the owned, as when they hunted or grew food for their own consumption or purchased items of personal adornment with cash earned on the side. However, neither interpretation is evident in the artifacts themselves. Archaeologists need additional sources of information because these distinctions have implications for how we view material aspects of the relationship between owner and owned—how power was wielded, how demands were negotiated. The daybooks and ledgers are one way in which to capture how African American consumers at Stagville—pre-Emancipation and during the years of Jim Crow—fashioned lives with the things that they bought.
Brumfield: What we plan to do is to use the open-source digital edition tool FromThePage--which I run, though I welcome contributions from anyone else--to digitize these documents -- to transcribe them.
FromThePage already handles transcription and presentation online.  The core functionality of FromThePage is the wiki-link.  FromThePage handles mark-up using a wiki syntax that is backed by a relation database that suggests mark-up.  So if a user sees the phrase "Renan" and they transcribe it, this then is expanded to the canonical name "Renan, Virginia".
This this is used for presentation: Users who see Renan can see the explanation.  If they explore the subject, they can see an automatically-generated index. 
What we plan to do--now we're moving to the draft design--is to add new wiki mark-up to handle sections that will define different blocks within the text.  To continue this, to use MarkDown wiki mark-up to describe tables.  This addresses data entry.  (We're not big fans of hand-coded XML as a user interface; hand-coded wiki?  We'll see how that works.)
But what's important and relevant here is that this [mark-up] is interpreted by the software and then displayed -- in HTML we have a display as simple HTML tables.  For TEI, we'll expand to TEI tables with the wiki-links expanded using A tags for HTML or references strings to elements within the TEI header.
We have further ideas for exports -- I'm very interested to see other presentations for ideas for those.
However, to serve Anna's analytical needs, we need to export these tables in CSV format.  So what we have designed is the ability to export all records from the collection in a single spreadsheet.  The spreadsheet will be sparse, so that entries from different tables that contained the same column header when they were encoded will appear in the same column on the spreadsheet.  If one table contains an extra column that other tables did not, that will appear in the final spreadsheet, but tables that did not contain that column will [have blank cells] in the spreadsheet.  We also plan to expand the data columns to handle the wiki text, so that both canonical subjects and verbatim text will be included.
Agbe-Davies: I have transcribed one document called the “Slave Ledger,” but have found the result to be inadequate for the analyses I would like to perform. The combination of qualitative and quantitative research goals means that neither transcription, nor a spreadsheet can handle the range of analyses necessary.

The many goods listed in the document (spelled variously) need to be categorized in several ways.  Sometimes they are purchases, other times, sources of credit.  I would like to be able to find both instances of “shoes” but also other instances of “footwear” and “clothing” and “goods made by other members of the plantation community”  Not to mention being able to, in various circumstances either merge or separate “shoes” from “repair of shoes.”
Another form of analysis enabled by tags is pulling out purchases by a single canonical individual, even when different names are used.  Using my transcription of the Slave Ledger, I still had to pick out individuals for this chart by hand because no text search would pull out all and only references to Frank Kinnon, when there are multiple “Frank”s and his second name appears with several different spellings and grammatical constructions3.

As this slide also shows, the ability to pull together records by categories—with those categories being multiscalar—is important for the quantitative analyses that I perform.  In order to examine both trends and change over time, I will be performing analyses within, across, and among manuscripts.  Thus, these tags should live somewhere outside any single document.

I will be examining how people spent precious cash or credit to determine whether gaps were left by the provisioning system during slavery times. If the Benehans’ and Camerons’ human property regularly purchased basic staples it would offer an interesting contrast to the paternalistic, “enlightened” slaveowner of their own imaginations (Anderson 1985:96). In addition, I want to know whether people on the Bennehan-Cameron farms were making similar purchases to folks elsewhere in the plantation South (Heath 2004; Martin 1993).  Also what (dis)continuities exist between the pre- and post-Emancipation eras, as households assumed greater responsibility for their own sustenance?

3. For example, Frank Kinnon, Kennon Frank, and Frank Kennon, not to be confused with Old Frank/Old Frank Eno.
Because I am not an expert on account books, I don’t know how unusual this is, but I am finding in the Stagville accounts, many instances of debtors trading credits among themselves, using them as a kind of currency unconnected to store purchases, also, instances of someone buying an item for another debtor, and even instances of cooperative purchase or credits.  Again, these don’t fit neatly into a standardized recording structure, hence the need for something that is more flexible than a database or spreadsheet, but which nevertheless retains some of the qualities of those kinds of documents.  I am as interested in Solomon’s relations with Britain, Mark, Sam, and Ben, as I am in his relationship to R. Bennehan & Son.
At the moment, I have to choose between capturing the qualities of this text as a physical document, or capturing the information that the text contains.  It is doubtless significant that Ned’s and Miller George’s entries are off-set here.  I don’t want to lose this information in an effort to fit these transactions into a one-size-fits-all structure, such as a database.  Likewise, some accounts (like Davy’s, here) are reconciled frequently, others run for long periods of time without a full accounting of what is owed or credited.  It will be important to be able to record interim calculations as well as individual debits and credits.
Once digitized, the resulting product will allow users easily to identify seasonal patterns in purchasing, follow individual shoppers, or discover the popularity of store-bought clothing over time, for example.  Such resources can reach audiences with different levels of expertise or interest and provide them with rich, attractive materials for their own use, or let them explore the end result as a virtual museum to complement the physical museum experience. Users could easily search on characteristics of the transactions, such as individual account holder, item, or date, to independently answer their own questions about plantation life and modern consumerism.   This exploration may even take place on-site.  Historic Stagville has had great success with their genealogical database and the staff and board are eager to work together to develop more resources to share with their visitors and other stakeholders, such as the Stagville Descendants Council, an African American heritage group.

My aim is to open transcription up to include friends of, and visitors to, Stagville State Historic Site. My time in the museum world largely predates the blossoming of the digital humanities, but I do know how compelling interactive experiences can be, and that audiences understand and appreciate knowledge so much more when they have a hand in its creation (Smith 2014).

There is no conclusion.  This project is an ongoing effort and we feel fortunate to engage with a community of like-minded researchers before we finalize the protocols for transcription and before Ben does additional programming for FromthePage.  We have come to this meeting to learn from the successes, mistakes, and experience of others and look forward to many fruitful exchanges with you all.

Anderson, Jean Bradley
           1985    Piedmont Plantation: the Bennehan-Cameron family and lands in North Carolina. Durham, North Carolina: Historic Preservation Society of Durham.

Heath, Barbara J.
           2004    Engendering Choice: Slavery and Consumerism in Central Virginia. In Engendering African American Archaeology: A Southern Perspective. J.E. Galle and A.L. Young, eds. Pp. 19-38. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press.

Martin, Ann Smart
           1993    Buying into the world of goods: Eighteenth-century consumerism and the retail trade from London to the Virginia frontier Ph.D. dissertation, History, The College of William and Mary.

McDuffie, D. G.
           1890    Map of Honorable Paul C. Cameron's Land on Flat, Eno, and Neuse Rivers in Durham, Wake, and Granville Counties, March 1890. Manuscript map in the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Smith, Monica L.
           2014    Citizen Science in Archaeology. American Antiquity 79(4):749-762.