Transcribing the Diary

By Meredith Dabek

When Joyce Timms, grand-daughter of Albert Woodman, donated his diary to our class for the purposes of this project, she also very graciously and helpfully provided transcriptions of not only Woodman’s diary entries, but also of the varied and diverse inserts included with the diary (maps, newspaper clippings, poems and drawings). Though Timms’ hard word provided us with the bulk of the transcription we needed for the project, editors Meredith Dabek and Joshua Savage carefully compared the transcription provided against the digital images of the diary itself to ensure the greatest level of accuracy possible in representing Woodman and his original words.

While the Woodman Diary Project is not a strict documentary edition, we did strive to preserve, as closely as possible, Woodman’s original linguistic nuances, whether it was a misspelled word, curious punctuation, or a turn of phrase that sounded strange to modern ears. Sometimes, this meant undoing silent corrections in the original transcription that the class received, and other times, it meant making an educated guess as to whether a spot of ink might be a period, a comma, or a simple slip of the wrist.

For example, Woodman frequently used contractions in his entries, which usually appeared without any apostrophes. Rather than correct or change these words, we left them as Woodman wrote them—so can’t is rendered as cant and don’t appears as dont. Woodman was also quite casual in his use of capitalization, and so words we might expect to see capitalized, such as the days of the week or the first letter of the first word in the sentence, were deliberately encoded as they were written to reflect Woodman’s original content. Additionally, Woodman routinely changed how he wrote the date for each day’s entry. Once again, we choose to keep his original syntax, and relied instead on our TEI encoding to normalize any dates.

We also kept Woodman’s line breaks intact, which allowed us to present website visitors with two views of the transcription. The first view, encountered on any “View the Diary” date, provides visitors with a user-friendly reading transcription. This view excludes Woodman’s original line breaks, but includes links to annotations and tools to navigate to other dates in the diary. The second transcription view appears when visitors click on the digital image of the diary page that corresponds to a particular date. A pop-up lightbox fills the screen, giving website visitors a documentary-style view of the transcription (with Woodman’s original line breaks) side-by-side with the image of the diary. By creating two different versions of the transcription, we have given more control to the site’s visitors, allowing them to choose how they read through Woodman’s transcribed diary.

Though we did not formalize our transcription guidelines beyond deciding that the text should reflect the original source, Joshua and Meredith worked closely together and kept detailed notes in the transcription file itself to ensure that the final transcription of Albert Woodman’s diary accurately reflected his original words as they were written in 1918.