Anna S. Agbe-Davies & Ben Brumfield: Tools and Techniques for Enhanced Encoding of Account Books from US Plantations

MEDEA Spring Meeting, Wheaton College, Norton, Mass.
Friday, April 8, 2016 [return to program overview]

Anna S. Agbe-Davies and Ben Brumfield
University of North Carolina

Main House, Stagville Plantation (Durham, N.C.)

Main House, Stagville Plantation (Durham, N.C.)

The researcher wishing to involve novices such as students or volunteers in the transcription and encoding of historic accounts faces several technological and methodological challenges. We propose to discuss early results of our collaboration to develop a user-friendly, researcher-friendly application for encoding account books, using examples from plantations in the US South.
At the MEDEA workshop in Regensburg, we discussed the challenges and possibilities involved in the encoding of daybooks and ledgers from the Stagville (North Carolina) plantation store. These present difficulties in transcription due to variations in terminology and orthography. In addition, the semi-tabular arrangement of the text requires a more structured transcription format than would be needed for prose text.

In order to encode the Stagville daybooks, we are extending the functionality of FromThePage, an open source digital edition platform that has been used previously on prose material like literary drafts and historic diaries. The collaborative, wiki-like editing tool has been deployed for novice users in the past, including classroom projects in literary and historic editing, as well as crowdsourcing projects enlisting amateurs to transcribe scientific field books. Terms mentioned within the text can be tagged, providing support for indexing and analysis across variations in the verbatim text. The resulting edition is readable online or exportable as P5-compliant TEI-XML.

At the Wheaton workshop, we will discuss the encoding mechanisms we have added to FromThePage to support the transcription and analysis of these manuscript accounts. This will include a description of the user interface designed for transcribers, summary of the early results of user testing, and examples of analysis based on the data exported from the tool in spreadsheet format. In addition, we will discuss the applicability of this work to our second example text, the Graves plantation account books, results of analysis of and the implications for the tool’s use in other projects encoding tabular data within irregular texts.

Manuscript accounts from plantations come in a variety of forms: accounts of plantation residents (enslaved and free) as they frequented local stores; records of the daily expenditures and income realized by slave owners as a direct result of their human property; and accounts tracking economic exchanges between plantation owners and the laborers on whom they depended for their livelihood. The data recorded in these sources present an unparalleled opportunity for scholarly analysis of the economic and social structures that characterized the plantation for people throughout its hierarchy.

 

Image credit: Main house of Stagville Plantation, N.C., by Larry Lamb. (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, via Wikimedia Commons)


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