Markdown and Manuscripts

What I’m Currently Working On:

The Commissione of Gerolimo Morosini is a late 17th century manuscript that
serves simultaneously as a letter of appointment, a professional code of
conduct, and a list of legal actions and precedents. It was issued to Morosini,
a Venetian noble from a prominent family, by Doge Marcantonio Giustinian, whose
short reign of four years helps to accurately date the work. Currently housed
in Washington and Lee’s own Special Collections, working with this text offers
me a rare opportunity in several ways:

  • Commissioni are unique, as no more than two copies of each were ever made,
    meaning little, if any, research has already examined this piece
  • Transcribing and translating the text allows me to apply the Italian I am
    learning in class this year
  • Working with an item such as this might normally happen in graduate school,
    but I’m beginning this project as a sophomore

Needless to say, I’m extremely excited to have this chance to make some really
cool discoveries. But the problem with transcribing a manuscript, regardless
of its age, became apparent the very moment I began. How closely should I
replicate the appearance and context of the original text? In a poetic work,
elements such as enjambment and line breaks have an impact on the reader’s
perception of the work, and therefore ought to be preserved. Prose lacks these
restrictions, and may be rendered in a less restrictive format, but the issue
of chapters, titles, page numbers, and more can still pose a problem. No two
projects are identical, and it is up to the researcher to decide how to
approach the text.

Because the manuscript I am working on was written in prose and not verse, and
the text lacks page numbers and other identifying features, I have decided to
transcribe it in a manner as close to plaintext as possible. To this end I
have made use of Markdown, a simple way to format text without all the
complexity of a markup language like HTML or XML/TEI. It’s also very easy to
export to these formats later on, so Markdown presents the best option for me
to start transcribing as quickly and painlessly as possible.

While plaintext is great for its simplicity, it still helps to have a few more
features that Notepad lacks. Using the text editor Atom allows me to keep
track of particular elements by highlighting Markdown syntax, as seen here:


Items in orange are bold and indicate important sections of text, such as
passage headers/titles. Items in purple have been italicized by me, indicating
a word whose spelling or transcription I am not 100% certain of. I’ve used
dashes to indicate a hard-to-read letter and the pound symbol (not a hashtag!)
for headers to indicate recto and folio pages for my own ease of use.

As I spend more time working with the manuscript and studying Italian, I’ll go
back and edit the text appropriately. The ultimate goal for this project is to
have the entire commissione transcribed and then translated into English,
with both the Italian and English versions encoded using TEI/XML and made
publicly available.

– Aidan Valente

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