Blog //Teaching Transcription (and Secretly Metaphysics)

As part of the Praxis program’s unit on pedagogy, each member of the cohort has developed a low-tech workshop on a digital humanities topic. Mine focuses on print-to-digital transcription, and the materials are freely available here: lesson plan and slides.

Below, I share some reflections on how I came to this topic and what my goals for implementation are.


I came to the academy from a journalism background, and though I’ve done plenty of public writing, I found my more menial tasks at the magazine to be a surprising source of intellectual stimulation. Skills like copy-editing, fact-checking, layout, design, and transcription—yes, I have typed up some faxed typewritten pages in my day—do not constitute the creative structural work considered properly “editorial,” but they prepared me well for literary scholarship, the only other field to which I could think to apply these hyper-close reading skills. As I spent all day every day attentive to kerning, spelling, font, and facts, I was trained to switch fluidly between multiple modes of reading. I operated at the level of the character during the work day, took breaks to observe the sentence on Twitter, and refreshed myself with the paragraphs and pages of library books on my commute home.

Since beginning my graduate program, I’ve found myself drawn to editing as a form of scholarship. My projects reflect this: I am collaborating on the Multepal edition of the Popol Wuj (developed in Allison Bigelow and Rafael Alvarado’s digital humanities course) and working on a digital edition of Bartolomé de las Casas’ confessionary (developed in Jim Ambuske and Loren Moulds’ digital history course). Meanwhile, I study colonial Spanish writers who edited indigenous and Catholic religious texts to address alternative worldviews. Before coming to UVa, I had no idea that textual scholarship was a thing, let alone that I had been engaged with it for years. It was only through this coursework and these projects that I have been able to understand my research interests as legitimate intellectual activity, with theoretical stakes and everything. I’d like to pay that forward.

With that in mind, I designed a workshop that is nominally about transcription but secretly about metaphysics. Go big or go home, right?

I am considering different implementation possibilities for this workshop. One possibility is that I give it “in-house” to my fellow Praxis participants. It’s a good time for it, since our cohort is shifting into our project phase with the broad objective of developing a toolkit to celebrate the long-awaited release of materials from 1923 into the public domain. That means we are getting excited about remediation—taking works from one medium and transferring them into another. We’re excited to perhaps do that ourselves, but even more so to create a toolkit that allows others to do so independently.

My main goal is to speak with an audience interested in remediating these newly released works, and to give them a chance to pause and consider the intellectual work involved in that process. I would hope to empower workshop participants to consider remediation as intellectually legitimate work, whether their interventions into public domain works are as minimal as a diplomatic transcription or as transformative as creative remixing. With that in mind, I am considering implementing the workshop with a wider audience at the library in conjunction with Public Domain Day 2019.

If you’re interested in bringing this workshop to an audience near you, contact me personally or download the materials here.

Cite this post: Catherine Addington. “Teaching Transcription (and Secretly Metaphysics)”. Published October 27, 2018. http://scholarslab.org//blog/teaching-transcription-and-secretly-metaphysics/. Accessed on .