Category Archives: Digital History

First Monday Library Chat: National Library of Medicine

Founded in 1836 and located in Bethesda, MD, the US National Library of Medicine is the world’s largest medical library, with nearly 22 million items in its collection. Within this is the NLM’s History of Medicine Division, which features over 600,000 printed works (including more than 580 incunabula), manuscripts dating back to the 11th century, and a rapidly growing digital collection of texts, images and audio files. Today I’m chatting with Michael North, Head of Rare Books and Early Manuscripts, and Beth Mullen, Manager of Web Development and Social Media.

Readers of this blog use recipes as a source for talking about larger trends in cultural history, history of science and medicine, and culinary history, among other topics. Can you recommend any relevant subject guides, calendars of manuscripts, or digital resources that could help them start exploring the NLM’s vast collection?

Thank you for this opportunity to tell people about our extensive collection of recipes, cooking and nutrition at the National Library of Medicine.

The best approach to finding our recipes is to delve into our online catalog, http://LocatorPlus.gov, which covers our entire collection. Our earliest printed books about food and cooking include five 15th-century editions of Bartolomeo Platina’s De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine, considered the first printed cookbook, which focuses on medieval and Renaissance dishes. The Library also has three 16th-century editions of the Roman cookbook De Re Coquinaria by the fourth or fifth century gourmand Apicius.

We have digitized over 11,000 books from our collection, primarily 19th-century printed material from the United States and Latin America, but some of it dates back to the thirteenth century. I would recommend that people go to our Digital Collections page and type in “recipes” or “cooking” into the search box at the top- you’ll instantly see hundreds of books with recipes. Because of our bent towards health and medicine, and because we were founded as a military medical library back in the 1830s, you will see an emphasis on cookery for the sick, at home or in the hospital, and on cooking for soldiers. But the variety is vast.

Last month, the NLM hosted the symposium The National Library of Medicine, 1984-2014: Voyaging to the Future, reflecting on the successes and setbacks of the last 30 years and considering opportunities for the future. What changes and opportunities do you see for the History of Medicine Division?

There has been—and there will be for many years to come—an ever-rising expectation of our collections being available in digital form and our related databases being easily searchable and cross-searchable to enable the best possible discovery of materials for research, education, and learning. As HMD voyages into the future as part of the NLM as a whole, we are committed to preserving our collections for future generations, curating them through our exhibitions and our blog, Circulating Now, and generally providing excellent access to them, whether for scholars seeking material for their next book or article, health professionals wishing to explore the history of their field, educators seeking resources for their classroom, or members of the public interested in the history of medicine generally.

Could you tell us about your bound and unbound early manuscript recipe collections?

Early manuscripts in the collection extend back quite far, including the Library’s oldest European manuscript called Recepta Varia, created in England in the late 12th century, containing hundreds of recipes for keeping the body’s humors in balance. You can see a detailed catalogue of our early manuscripts and incunabula in Dorothy Schullian’s A Catalogue of Incunabula and Manuscripts in the Army Medical Library, published in 1950.

Manuscript circa 1150
Recepta Varia (England, ca. 1150). Therapeutic recipes from Byzantine physician Alexander of Tralles’s Collection of Remedies.

Your collection also includes an impressive number of print recipe collections and related items, including formularies, herbals, and domestic guidebooks. Could you give us a couple of highlights? Do any of these items ever feature in your public programming events or digital exhibitions?

Several items in the Digital Collections stand out, including Annie Wittenmyer’s A Collection of Recipes for the Use of Special Diet Kitchens in Military Hospitals, published in St. Louis at the height of the Civil War in 1864, and produced by the U.S. Christian Commission, which took over the kitchens of many of the Union Army’s hospitals. Another interesting book is Mary Anne Boode Cust’s The Invalid’s Own Book: A Collection of Recipes from Various Books and Various Countries, published in New York in 1853; it is the result of having gathered recipes while caring for an invalid family member while living in “The Spanish Main, many of the Dutch, French, Spanish, English West Indian Islands and North America.” The oldest Latin American item containing recipes is the anonymous Novisimo Arte de Cocina, published in Mexico City in 1831 and dedicated to “las Señoritas Mexicanas.”

Novisimo arte de cocina, ó, Escelente colección de las mejores recetas (Mexico City, 1831).
Novisimo arte de cocina, ó, Escelente colección de las mejores recetas (Mexico City, 1831).

We have used our digitization program to supply content for a number of online exhibitions, including our latest one, From DNA to Beer: Harnessing Nature in Medicine and Industry, which focuses on how life forms such as bacteria, yeasts, and molds can cause sickness or restore health, and help produce foods and beverages. Featured in this exhibition website is The Golden Treasure, or, A Choice Selection of Well Tried Domestic, Experimental, and Medical Receipts, published in New York in 1835. Also on view, with a look at food from a different angle,  is James Cutbush’s Lectures on the adulteration of food and culinary poisons, published in Newburg, New York in 1823.

Mary Anne Boode Custs, The Invalid’s Own Book: A Collection of Recipes (1853).
Mary Anne Boode Custs, The Invalid’s Own Book: A Collection of Recipes from Various Books and Various Countries (New-York, 1853).

The NLM recently launched the blog Circulating Now. What was the impulse behind this? Are there any posts that might appeal to our readers?

The National Library of Medicine is a federal institution—its collections belong to the nation—and the Library’s mission includes a strong element of public access.  In the History of Medicine Division we develop and maintain a range of reference and interpretive resources to support the use of the collection by the public, Images from the History of Medicine, IndexCat™, Profiles in Science, and an award winning Exhibition Program to name a few.  Our new blog, Circulating Now, blog is both part of that effort and a portal to these and other resources. It provides opportunities to share timely and relevant information with the public, highlight collection materials, enhance collaborations, and reach new audiences. Your readers might find our posts about chocolate, childhood obesity, beer, smoking, or horse care to be of interest and I hope many others to come in the future.

Thanks, Michael and Beth! More information about how to visit the NLM is available on their website. Next month we’ll be back in England with the Royal College of Physicians.

New Resource for Late Medieval English Magic

By Laura Mitchell

Late Medieval English Magic: English Manuscripts Containing 15th-century Magical Texts is a project born out of the dissertation research I conducted at the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto. I undertook a survey of English manuscripts containing magical texts from the fifteenth century, which became the basis of and wider context for my dissertation project. Rather than have this information languish in a static form in my dissertation, I decided to put it online in the form of a catalogue so that it could be more widely available and easily updated.

L0031855 Witchcraft and magic Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Witchcraft and magic: a man conducting magic rites, devils and a ghost appearing, and a hunter cowering in terror. Coloured engraving. Published: [18--] Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
L0031855 Witchcraft and magic
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
http://wellcomeimages.org
Witchcraft and magic: a man conducting magic rites, devils and a ghost appearing, and a hunter cowering in terror.
The information in this catalogue is based on and expands on this original research in various ways – because of the improvements over the past few years in digitization projects and better online manuscript catalogues I have been able to include several more manuscripts that were not included in my original survey, and I have been able to discover more detailed information about manuscript contexts and the exact kinds of magic texts that survive.

The Late Medieval English Magic catalogue contains a general search function and it is organized into categories by city, library, magic category (charm, ritual magic, etc.), and charm motifs. The charm motifs are fairly broad. They are based on the semantic motifs discussed by Lea Olsan and others, but I have also included descriptive terms such as whether it uses an object like a plate or ring, or food. There are also links to digitized copies of manuscripts where they are available, as well as to other major online manuscript projects such as the Digital Index of Middle English Verse and Manuscripts of the West Midlands projects.

This catalogue is very much still a work in progress. As of this writing I have only uploaded 43% of the total manuscripts in my survey and I haven’t even begun to include the manuscripts from the British Library and Bodleian collections! Suggestions and recommendations are always welcome. You can contact me through this contact form, in the comments to this post, or on Twitter. My hope is that this catalogue will serve as a resource for other scholars and anyone interested in the history of medieval magic.

Mapping Women’s Social and Cultural Influences: An Exercise in Historical GIS

By Rachel A. Snell

Winterthur Library, Doc 47, Mrs. E.A. Phelp's recipe book
Winterthur Library, Doc 47, Mrs. E.A. Phelp’s recipe book

Dear Lizzie, You are quite welcome to the recipe & I wish you success in making the cake. I will come & see your cousin as soon as possible. Yours in such haste, Anne[1]

The above note accompanied a recipe for Hallowell Cake tucked into a recipe book kept by Mrs. E.A. Phelps of Canandaigau, Ontario County, New York. Manuscript recipe books from the nineteenth century overflow with examples of women’s social networks including notes marking the exchange of recipes like the example above, but also references to printed cookbooks, newspapers, churches, and social contacts.

In Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives through the Cookbooks they Wrote, Janet Theopano argued, “women’s cookbooks can be maps of the social and cultural worlds they inhabit.”[2] Cookbooks record not only what women cooked, but also their reading material, purchases, spirituality, and social networks. Occasionally, manuscript cookbooks contain enough information that the researcher can use GIS techniques to literally map these connections.  An extraordinary example of a manuscript cookbook from the Winterthur Museum and Library recently presented just that opportunity.

The inscription in the Rappe Family recipe book attributes the book to Grandmother Rappe. Dates recorded with some recipes as well as newspapers listed as sources for recipes suggest Grandmother Rappe complied the cookbook between 1810 and 1840. It consists of recipes for food and medicine as well as hints for housekeeping and gardening. A variety of categories are represented including cakes, puddings, preserving food, keeping cheese, creating a vegetable chimney ornament, various dyes, several recipes of tomato ketchup, advice to make cows come home, and remedies for common injuries as well as diseases like cholera and dysentery.

In most respects, the Rappe Family recipe book is typical for the period. Uniquely, the volume has an unusually precise record of recipe sources. Whoever compiled the Rappe Family recipe book included a source for nearly two-thirds of the recipes contained in the book. These sources include printed cookbooks, newspapers, almanacs, and individuals. Furthermore, for many individuals their location is recorded with the recipe. This inclusion of locations allows the researcher to create a GIS map of recipe sources, thus allowing us to view spatially Grandmother Rappe’s network: the connections and influences that shaped her cookbook and, by extension, her everyday life. As I start exploring GIS as a tool to better understand women’s networks, what follows is a description of my process thus far and some research questions I’m currently investigating.

Printed materials constitute a major source for the work; about half the attributed recipes were copied from newspapers or almanacs (marked in blue on the map). The Rappe Family recipe book references newspapers and almanacs published throughout the Mid-Atlantic including New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. A handful of recipes originated from newspapers published in Indiana and Virginia. The state of Ohio, unsurprisingly, is the best represented with The Ohio Repository contributing sixty recipes largely devoted to remedies, preserving food, and household hints. Published in Canton, Ohio under varying names from 1815 to the present, the domination of the local paper is unsurprising. While the recipes from The Ohio Repository are sprinkled throughout the text, suggesting it was consulted on a regular basis, the recipes from other newspapers appear in clusters such as six recipes from The Hagerstown Almanac (published in Hagerstown, Maryland) recorded successively in the volume.  This clustering suggests these publications were not regularly available and perhaps shared amongst friends forcing the cookbook compiler to transcribe the desired recipes in one sitting.

Winterthur Library, Doc. 512, Rappe Family Recipe Book
Winterthur Library, Doc. 512, Rappe Family Recipe Book

Other printed sources include two cookbooks printed in Vermont and Massachusetts (marked in red on the map). The first, New England Cookery, is a pirated edition of Amelia Simmon’s American Cookery published in Montpelier, Vermont in 1808. The second is Lydia Maria Child’s classic work, The Frugal American Housewife first published in 1829. Like the non-local newspapers, the recipes copied from these two printed works appear in clusters. Again, it is likely the compiler borrowed these cookbooks from a friend or neighbor.

Winterthur Library, Doc. 512, Rappe Family Recipe Book
Winterthur Library, Doc. 512, Rappe Family Recipe Book

Finally, the remaining attributed recipes are from individuals. A portion of these individuals are identified in the cookbook by their name and location, suggesting the compiler of the recipes had contacts within the state of Ohio in Akron, Newark, Sandusky, Columbus and Dover and with persons residing in Pennsylvania and Virginia (marked in purple on the map). My hunch is that the individuals lacking locations, the majority of the individuals appearing in the cookbook, were the compiler’s close friends and neighbors.

Once again, cookbooks prove to be powerful tools for better understanding the lives of ordinary women. When mapped, these sources reveal the far-flung nature of Grandmother Rappe’s connections and influences. Of particular note and deserving of more research, is the greater significance of newspapers and almanacs as sources of recipes and domestic advice.  What prompted women to create manuscript recipe books? Does the compilation of the Rappe Family recipe book reveal something about the availability of printed cookbooks in early nineteenth-century Ohio? Did collecting recipes from newspapers and friends provide a low-cost means for women to create personalized recipe books?

 


[1] Mrs. E.A. Phelps, Cookbook [1800?-1899?] Doc. 47 Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera. Winterthur Library, Winterthur, DE 19735.

[2] Janet Theophano, Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives through the Cookbooks they Wrote, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 13.

The map for this post was created using arcGIS.com and can also be viewed here.

 

First Monday Library Chat: Folger Shakespeare Library

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC has one of the most significant collections of English Renaissance books and manuscripts in the world. Today I am talking with Dr. Heather Wolfe, Curator of Manuscripts.

As Curator of Manuscripts at the Folger, you oversee approximately 60,000 manuscripts, with the wide range of sources. What are some of your institutional priorities for the manuscript collection at this time?

Our institutional priorities are two-fold: grow the collection, and continue to make it more accessible.

To that end, our goal is to acquire manuscripts that provide a window into society in early modern England, and beyond that, any manuscript, typescript, or other unpublished item that relates to Shakespeare up to the present day. Before we purchase a manuscript, we always ask ourselves: What is its current or future research value? How does it relate to other manuscripts, books, and visual materials in the collection? Our collection development policy for manuscripts provides further detail.

Katherine Packer, fl. 1639 A book of very good medicines
MS V.a.387 – Katherine Packer, fl. 1639
A book of very good medicines

Accessibility involves every division at the Folger. Conservators regularly stabilize, mend, and conserve manuscripts so that readers can access them and the public can see them in exhibitions. Our Photography and Digital Imaging department adds new images of manuscripts to our digital image database on a weekly basis. Our Acquisitions department makes new acquisitions available as quickly as humanly possible. Our rare materials cataloger, Nadia Seiler, does a great job of describing manuscripts in Hamnet (our catalog) and in our finding aids database. Beyond that, we highlight manuscripts on a regular basis in our research blog, The Collation, and through other social media. Directors of Folger Institute seminars are always encouraged to use manuscripts in their classes, and in general, we talk about them whenever we are given the opportunity!

Congratulations on your IMLS grant for Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO)!  Can you give us a project overview and an update on where you’re at now?

Thank you — we were so excited and honored to receive the grant! EMMO is a project to transcribe all of our early modern English manuscripts and make them available in a searchable database alongside digital images and catalog records for each item. They will be keyword searchable, but also searchable by many other categories. A brief overview of EMMO can be found on the Folger’s research blog, The Collation. Of course, EMMO will include transcriptions of all of our receipt books, which we hope will really push research forward in a variety of ways.

We are still in the very early stages of the grant — hiring a project manager, two project paleographers, assessing the needs of our users, and talking to potential partners about software development.

Last month, I interviewed Jen Wolfe of the University of Iowa’s DIY History about crowdsourcing manuscript transcriptions. By comparison, the Folger is taking a more hands-on approach to crowdsourcing. I suppose this is partly because secretary hand can be very difficult to read, but can you talk a bit more about your thoughts on the training and standards required for transcribing?

I love DIY History, and I hope that our crowdsourcing platform is as successful! Our biggest challenge is figuring out a way to get the right manuscripts to the right transcribers. The majority of our early modern manuscripts are written in English secretary hand, which requires training in order to learn how to read accurately. There are plenty of good online paleography tutorials out there; in particular, the ones at Cambridge, the National Archives (UK), Scottish Handwriting, and a new one connected to Oxford’s Bodleian Library. English paleography is also taught at a number of places, including the Folger, the Huntington Library, and University of Virginia’s Rare Book School.

For EMMO, we are thinking about developing some sort of game with different levels–each time you get to a higher level, more manuscripts of increasing difficulty are made available to you to transcribe. Obviously, the number of “citizen humanists” we attract will be smaller than most crowdsourcing projects because of the special skills involved, but we believe that if people are interested, they can learn and contribute. And we’ll provide a simple set of guidelines for making semi-diplomatic transcriptions.

We would LOVE if the readers of this blog would volunteer to share transcriptions with us (partial ones are okay) in whatever form they have, or incorporate transcription into their coursework, or become some of our crowdsourcing superheroes! We will let people know via our research blog and social media when we are ready for crowdsourcers, but feel free to contact me before then if you have transcriptions that are ready to go.

Could you tell us about the scope of the Folger’s collection of recipe books? Are you still collecting in this area?

I just did an advanced search in our catalog, Hamnet, for the form/genre term “Cookbooks” and material type “Manuscript” and got 74 hits. I did another search with the form/genre term “Medical Formularies” and material type “Manuscript” and got 114 hits. Obviously, many of our recipe books have both genre terms attached to their records, but that gives you a rough estimate: over one hundred medical and culinary recipe books, ranging in date from ca. 1550 to ca. 1800.

We acquire a few recipe books every year — they are a big strength of our collection and one that is important for us to grow. They provide such a wide variety of research opportunities.

Cookery and medicinal recipes, ca. 1675-ca. 1750
MS V.a.429 – Cookery and medicinal recipes, ca. 1675-ca. 1750

Several years ago, Adam Matthews produced a fantastic microfilm collection of Folger manuscript recipe books, for which blog editor Elaine Leong wrote the introduction. Now that online digitization is more common than microfilm, are you considering updating this?

The microfilm collection is a great way for people to access our recipe books, and I often point people to Elaine’s helpful introduction to it online. It includes 89 recipe books, but we have acquired many others since then so it is no longer complete. Our long-term strategy for EMMO is to digitize and transcribe the entire early modern portion of the manuscript collection, so at some point, users will be able to see and read everything in one place. Here’s a link to the recipe book images currently in our digital image database.

 Choyce receits collected of the book of Receits, of the lady Vere Wilkinson, 1673/74
MS V.a.612 –
Choyce receits collected of the book of Receits, of the lady Vere Wilkinson, 1673/74

How do recipe books feature in some of your public programming events?

Rebecca Laroche curated a great exhibition at the Folger in 2011 called “Beyond Home Remedy: Women, Medicine, and Science”, which included many of our recipe books. She teamed up with the Smithsonian to create a video on the science of the syrup of violets.

Another recent exhibition, in 2009, also featured recipe books with recipes for sleep: “To Sleep, Perchance to Dream”.

We welcome ideas for other ways to feature recipe books. The EMMO transcriptions will certainly provide many more opportunities to share their contents!

Thanks so much for the interesting interview, Heather! If you’re interested in featuring a library on the First Monday Library Chat, please email Michelle DiMeo .