I’ve finally returned to work at APS following two weeks of travel and one of illness (boo!). Luckily I made quite a bit of progress this week and last, and I feel like this project is now moving along at a steadier pace. In fact, beginning the week of July 17 I will be increasing my weekly hours at APS to facilitate quicker completion of the project.
I was delighted to finish digitization of the volume, and the high-resolution scans are now available to researchers in the American Philosophical Society Digital Library. This is the first time that the book’s contents have been available to researchers outside of the physical confines of the APS, since this particular volume is not reproduced in the Benjamin Franklin Papers. The next phase of the project is transcription into a structured spreadsheet, which I got started with last week.
The transcription process has instigated consideration of how to structure the data I’m transcribing to make it the most useful and accurate representation of the messier, sometimes complex manuscript version. Besides making decisions about standardization (“Wm.” or “William”?) and guessing at abbreviations (“Do.” = “ditto”?), I’ve also made sure to record page numbers and URLs of the digital pages so that they can be referred back to later. This is a time-consuming process and I anticipate that I will be working on this phase of the project for a good chunk of time. I’ve also been drafting some blog posts for APS as well as tabulating the time that it takes me to perform certain tasks for the purposes of contributing to the Digital Library Federation’s Digitization Cost Calculator Day of Data.
One of the more interesting things that I’ve been thinking about as I work through the data is what this book could actually reveal besides things like the cost of postage in 1748 or the volume of mail sent to Annapolis for any given week. As always, I’m interested in the human element, and I want to know who was using the postal service. Then, as now, there would have been multiple methods for sending letters and packages- some cheaper, some quicker, some more reliable.
My initial hypothesis was that it would have been mostly businesses or merchants who used the system the most. I can’t be sure yet, but I’m beginning to reconsider that idea. I’ve found a few women named by their given names (i.e. not “Mrs. James Wilson” or the like). I’ve also found some rather cryptic references to addressees with only one name- like “Jubbah” and “Sabinah,” shown below. Could these people have been servants or enslaved and receiving letters (which they would have had to pay for upon receipt)? I’ve been thinking a lot about how silences in historical conversations are sometimes made based on flawed evidence collection. A lot of what information is gathered depends on what the historian is looking for and where they decide to look for it- and if their eyes skim past Jubbah because Mayor Edward Shippen’s name appears below it, that’s a deliberate silence.
I will attend the Keystone DH conference Wednesday through Friday, and probably blog about it, and then I will up my hours beginning July 17th.
Hours for last week: 14
Total hours: 41