2016 Workshop Participants’ Blog Posts

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 3.43.40 PM May 16th, 2016 – First day of the Spanish Paleography Workshop, also known as the Meet the Manuscript Project.  We had two wonderful presentations by Ana Rodriguez, who addressed the principles behind a critical edition, and Ben Schmidt, who discussed the basic principles of TEI encoding practice.  In the afternoon we had our first hands-on workshop with Tim Barrett. Everyone got to make two sheets of their own paper. Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 3.44.07 PM This handmade paper will become part of the historical binding that we get to make on Friday morning with Melissa Moreton!  Here are two participants making and couching their sheets of paper, supervised by the wonderful Tim Barrett himself! – Heather Wacha

photo 41May 18, 2016 – Today’s discussions seem to be focusing on the translation of certain concepts that we are encountering in this interesting manuscript.  We have more or less resolved the the various translations of mayorazgo, memoria and racionero with no raised voices or fist fights.  Ben, Spenser and Wyatt: “Are you serious? You want to translate it like that?” – Heather Wacha

May 19th, 2016 –

You and me and the screen makes three

We’re all fascinated by screens
no idea what’s on the other side
we stare at doom
like an uptight groom
and live our lives like a drunken bride.
Greg Brown, Billy From the Hills on Slant 6 Mind ( Red House Records, 1997 )

You and me and the devil makes three
(a traditional song lyric, a saying – one subject to various interpretations)

I do not consider myself a Luddite. Were I one I would not be writing this, not here anyway. But I do worry about what these newest tools that we continue to invent at an ever faster pace might be doing to us. What the things that we make might be making us into. And, one could, after all, argue that the Luddites have gotten a bad rap. The onward rush of industrialization put them face to face with the prospect of being transformed from users of tools into parts of a machine.

photo1This apprehension is nothing new, I know. It may well date back to the time when some of us began to discover the clever things we could do with rocks, sticks, and the embers left behind by a lightening strike. But, like most of our tools, until recently anyway, those objects were present in the physical world from which they emerged. Even our most abstract and powerful tool, language itself, has its roots in the soil, in the breath. Those roots give words their heft, their weight.

doc21But the more words weigh, the more bulky they are, the harder they are to carry from one place to another, from, say, one language to another. The harder they are, in other words, so to speak, as it were, to translate. In order to bear them along that journey, the translator may need to make compromises along the way. She may need to leave some pieces by the wayside, for the time being at least. Just to get the words to where they need to go.

What about words translated from the physical world to a virtual one? Does anything happen to them? Now they can go anywhere, or almost anywhere – the virtual world itself still operates under physical restraints, even if its contents do not. The words look the same as they do in the physical world. They would appear to have suffered no loss, to be no worse for the wear.

But the question nags. What happens to words when, in order to make them available to as many people as possible, they must be, in at least the literal sense of that word, unbound? When they are ever more attenuated from the sources from which they were drawn.?

What happens when each virtual page of words is just one of an infinite regression of pages, of words and images? An infinite regression of turtles all the way down. What happens to your page, to your project, the one you labored over with such care and effort when it becomes just one more click on the counter towards infinity? One more drop in an ever expanding sea of content?

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 2.32.58 PMWhat happens when, to get at those pages, we become ever more surrounded by screens? What happens when the screen becomes the norm? Computer screens, phone screens, T.V. screens, one after another, hanging like portraits upon the library walls, one moving image after another of faces mouthing silent words about stock prices, international agreements, deals on fishing equipment, truck commercials, horse race previews, all blurring together, one after another. What happens when your eyes are more drawn to the screens than the people around you, each of them, in turn, staring at their own personal screens, reading messages sent by people from anywhere and nowhere while they too stare at a screen. An infinite regression of screens held up against an infinite regression of pages and moving images.

calligraphyThese words, the ones you are reading, have no physical weight. They float upon a field of white which itself has no weight. The screen through which you see them is physical. It has weight. But it is a flat, uniform surface. It never varies, never moves. It emits a constant, steady glow. It serves only as an intermediary, one between you and the image of a thing. It is not the thing itself. You can touch the screen, but you cannot touch the words. Can they, then, touch you?

What happens to us, to our sense of reality, to our sense of contact, when a field of white is only an illusion of paper and the words upon it illusions of ink?

On the afternoon of our first day we learned about paper. About where it comes from, where its roots lie, nourished by soil and water. We learned about its weight.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 3.43.40 PMTo make paper also requires a screen. But this screen must bear weight. The weight of water. You feel that weight as you plunge it sideways into a deep tub of water brimming with pulp. The pulp is what remains of rags, pieces of cloth, made of linen and flax, plants grown in the soil. The rags have been literally beaten into that state, into pulp. Before you plunged the screen in you added more pulp to the water, about two liters worth. It looks like oatmeal. You feel the weight, the water’s resistance, as you pull the screen towards you and tilt it and pull it up and out of the water like a tray, all in one motion. Your arms are wet. Flecks of beaten rags cling to them.

Water drains down from the screen, back into the tub. The pulp remains behind. You shake the screen gently, side to side. You have through your actions brought it to a new state. It holds together as a flat, thin, white rectangle, like a layer of bread dough. You carry the screen to a sheet of felt, set it on its edge and tilt it down until it lies flat and yank it up, leaving behind a newborn sheet of paper, fragile and wet. – Peter Small

IMG_0283May 20th, 2016 – Today we were able to gain a better understanding of our document by adding another level of access to the information it offers, the “making” part.  By reconstructing the historical binding (and using the paper we made last Monday as part of the textblock) we IMG_0306found that this document was probably first tacketed in a rough and ready manner in order to keep the folios together; and only at a later date was the cover placed around the paper signature.  Since our document is a copy of an earlier will, with an addendum, it may be that the signature was tacketed together before the writing even took place.

As I concentrated and struggled with the sewing and threading of IMG_0302the alum-tawed laces into the cover, I was struck by the fact that the original binder probably made our binding very quickly; it is clearly not a fine binding but rather a more practical one.  It was interesting to contrast the image of the original binder making this binding as sort of a speedy filler binding in between other more important commissions and my own experience, which was slow and difficult.

IMG_0315In the end however, after only three hours, eleven new books had been born into this world, and for many this was their first-born!  Thank you to Tim Barrett who directed the paper-making and Melissa Moreton who acted as a very skilled mid-wife and helped us achieve a new experience with manuscript production and study! – Heather Wacha

photo 1 (3)photo 2 (4)Tuesday May 24, 2016 – Lots of yawns today.  The hard work is taking its toll.  But we are over half-way done with the workshop and transcriptions/translations are going much faster!  Yesterday we were able to take a bit of a break in Special Collections, looking at contemporary manuscripts and print editions! Thank you John Fifield! – Heather

photo 13May 25, 2016 – Today, we’re trying to imitate the script of our manuscript.  It’s like learning how to write all over again.  Welcome to first grade!  As for quill cutting, well perhaps we’ve moved up to fourth grade but it takes immense concentration.

photo 11 photo 12 photo 10

Thanks to Cheryl Jacobsen for showing us how to cut quill pens and how to make sure your paper is sized before embarking on your scribal adventures!  Rather ironic that in the morning we were dealing with translations of taxes and payment made to and by the royal scribes of Cuenca.  Now we’ve turned into those scribes.photo 14 – Heather Wachaphoto 17




May 26, 2016 – One of the most interesting things we’ve encountered in transcribing this manuscript is absolutely not in our wheelhouse as primarily scholars of language, literature, and history. Numbers, particularly zero, are especially fascinating in this manuscript. When written as numerals, we encounter both large zeroes and small zeroes, but it took some work to figure out the meaning. numbers

It took some consultation of the text itself, which spells out in longhand what the numbers should be (there was a bit of an aha moment when we discovered that quento meant million), to figure out why some of the zeroes were large and some small. The difference turned out to be quite significant.

The small zeroes are exactly what they appear to be. They stand as zeroes. Ten would be written out 1o (with a small zero here represented by the letter o). Large zeroes, however, serve to represent where we might put a comma between the thousands and hundreds place. Thus, one thousand and five would be written 10oo5 rather than 1,005.

Once we cracked this, life became much easier. – Spenser Santos

Thursday, May 26th 2016 – A Hurried Hand

My participation in the workshop was a little different than most. As I was working full-time during the week,  I was volunteering my time in the evenings and on weekends mostly doing transcription (my Spanish skills were not quite up to par in comparison to the rest of the group).  This morning, however, I was able to take some time off from work and had the benefit of working on my transcriptions in the room with the other fellows.

As I began transcribing folio 17v (pg. 34) today, I found myself off to a slow start.  More than I had before, I found myself struggling to make letters and words out of the lines and curves of the ink marks on the page.  Attributing my struggles to it being the morning and the first page I looked at today, I shrugged it off and worked my way through the page.  After reaching the bottom,  I began to look back over my transcription and the parts I had marked as trouble spots.

After attempting to decipher some of our author’s words and scribbles, I asked my tablemate Spenser for assistance.  Having been unable to do this before, I was excited to take advantage of being able to ask for help and collaborate with the other workshop participants.  Spenser’s first comment upon looking at the page of the manuscript I was working on was something along the lines of “This is awful!”  Perhaps his words were not that strong, but the meaning was clear: something was different about this page.

I had not noticed until Spenser brought it up, but the handwriting on 17v differed greatly from 17r and 18r.  Side by side we pulled up the pages on our laptop screens and noticed the letters were not as crisp, the lines not as straight, and overall it had a messier look.  If someone else who had not been working with the pages for over a week as we had looked at this particular set of pages, perhaps they would not notice much difference: most of the script, abbreviations and flourishes remained the same.  Nevertheless, we saw a noticeable difference.

And with that questions began whirling in my head.  What caused our previously meticulous writer to hurry his hand? Did 17th century scribes have deadlines the way writers and editors do today? Had he injured his hand or was it sore from days of writing?  The possible reasons are endless and for the most part answerless.  As for myself, I like imagine our scribe was writing by the light of a very low candle – so low that there was barely a pinky’s width of wax left as he hurriedly worked to finish his page before his last candle burnt out and he could get some well-deserved rest after a long day’s work. – Maureen Owens

photo 21May 27, 2016 – The final day of the Meet the Manuscript workshopphoto 20 and we’re all still alive… AND focused.  Amazing!  What a wonderful group of scholars, digital humanists and paleographers!  Onward to a catered lunch and celebration of a job well done! – Heather Wacha

May 27, 2016 – last day of the workshop

Collaboration for a Book

By Wyatt Brockbank

In his book The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness (2005), Stephen R. Covey wrote about the idea of assembling a team of workers such that their strengths complement each other, and their weaknesses become irrelevant. The important assumption is that people have different strengths. For this workshop Heather and Patricia assembled a cadre of people who were specialists in languages, history, literature, linguistics, wills and other religious documents, social studies, computer coding, translation, pedagogy, and more. Although we were specialists in our own areas, still we were different people, who brought our individual experiences to the workshop. It has been fun to see how some of our strengths complemented each other’s strengths, and often one’s experience or expertise compensated for another’s lesser expertise, or lack of experience.

This collaboration has been key. In the past 2 weeks, it has been my pleasure to work with a group of specialists as we transcribed and translated a will from a wealthy couple who lived in Spain in the late 17th Century. Working together, we achieved more and worked faster than I initially estimated we’d be able to do. Our skills and experiences dovetailed nicely, which worked to our advantage as we worked as a group. We increased our capacity for memory by using online documents and dry erase walls to house the decisions and guidelines we’d developed as a company, and the knowledge we assembled as we culled it from our own heads, and frequently from our friend the Internet. Through the ongoing conversations we had, we kept that knowledge accessible and fresh. It was very convenient to be able to spout out, “What have you guys been using for alhajas?” Sometimes we even weighed in on other people’s discussions about how to render difficult phrases and words in English. The atmosphere was respectful and collaborative. The important thing seemed to be working together to produce a respectful translation.

This is not to say it was all successes. There were many times Spenser and I threw our hands up and said, “We’ll have to leave that to Ben to work out the code!” or, stuck on a thorny translation or in trying to transcribe an almost legible word, we left a simple note pleading, “Patricia, help!”

I found it enriching to participate in the ancillary research experiences. We started by making our own paper, then binding it by hand to create books. We cut our own quills and wrote with iron gall ink. I think I was the only one who, so far, wrote in his own book. My signature nearly tore through the page with the wet ink being pushed by a sharpened feather onto un-sized paper. Among other things, this workshop has helped me appreciate the existence of the book, the skill that goes into it, and the wide accessibility of knowledge that books provide.

One of the ultimate goals of this project has been to make this historical document accessible, searchable, and more readily understandable. I hope that our efforts from these two weeks will be put to good use by people who study history, law, Spanish culture and language, and other endeavors.

Wyatt Brockbank, University of Iowa College of Education

Wow!  I can’t believe how fast the workshop went!  I wish to thank all of the participants and especially our convenors, Heather and Patricia.  It was an amazing learning experience filled with collegiality and the occasional pun to enliven the spirits.  The document proved to be quite the challenge from time to time, but, as Wyatt alluded to in his blog just above, the team really came together to produce a fine transcription and translation.

Although my dissertation focuses on eighteenth-century wills from Monterrey, Mexico, most of the wills that I study were are only a few pages long.  They follow the same basic structure of the types of wills that Carlos Eire studied in From Madrid to Purgatory.  In that work, Eire surveyed over 400 wills from sixteenth-century Madrid.  The basic structure is as follows:

  1. Approaching the Divine Tribunal (Invocation, identification, profession of faith)
  2. Disposing of the Body (Funeral, burial, dress)
  3. Saving the Soul (Pious bequests)
  4. Dividing up the Estate (Distributive clauses)
  5. Closing Work for the Survivors

The document we focused on pertained mostly to the división and partición of Lord Don Francisco Muñoz’s impressive estate, though it also included details concerning his funeral and pious bequests. The notary records the death of Don Francisco on 7 August 1787 (see 1 recto).  Don Francisco’s testamento begins on 1 verso and was drawn up almost four months after his death, on 3 December 1787, by virtue of the powers he gave to two high-powered church officials before the notary, Sabastian Rasero.  Rasero was an escribano de número, or a special kind of notary who specialized in private contracts (Eire, 35).  Spanish law fixed the number of these types of notaries.

Because his will was written by the powers of these two individuals, it employs the 3rd person rather than usual 1st person that I am accustomed to seeing in wills.  Furthermore, it lacks the typical invocation and creedal language often presented at the start of a will.  The will, however, is filled with many details about Cuenca and the surrounding area as well as his family history. Much of the early part of the document is really concerned with keeping his wealth in the family, to be distributed among his three heirs.  His fortune was on full display as he requested more than 3,000 masses to benefit his soul and allocated over 30,000 reales on his funeral, masses, and pious bequests.  Spanish law limited how much wealth could be used for such requests (mandas) to a fifth, ensuring that the bulk of a testator’s wealth went to his or her designated heirs.

John R. Kennedy