Making and Knowing
A minimal edition of BnF Ms Fr 640 in English Translation

About the Course

“What Is a Book in the 21st Century? Working with Historical Texts in a Digital Environment”

This History course (HIST GR8975) introduced graduate students at Columbia University to techniques of working with texts in digital environments. The course was supported by the History in Action initiative of the History department, The Making and Knowing Project, the Provost’s Hybrid Grant in collaboration with The Center for Teaching and Learning, and the Collaboratory Program. Through hands-on assignments (with plenty of assistance), students have learned a variety of skills that constitute literacy in digital humanities, and are now able to take their newfound digital literacy with them to pursue their own study, research, and future work.

Please see our course syllabus and course schedule which charts the gradual acquisition of digital competencies throughout the course.

Throughout the course, skills were built by implementing them to collectively create a minimal digital edition, which is the site you are now viewing. This digital edition draws on collaboration with, and research done by the Making and Knowing Project on an anonymous sixteenth-century French compilation of artistic and technical recipes (BnF Ms. Fr. 640). The Project’s existing English translation (still a work in progress) constitutes the “data” with which students worked to create this minimal digital edition. This rare French manuscript resulted from the compilation of craft knowledge over time, followed by its subsequent “disassembly” in a late sixteenth-century workshop by an author-compiler-practitioner who experimented on techniques contained in the manuscript’s entries. While the course focused on this intriguing manuscript and the research that has been carried out on it, the skills students learned over the course of the semester are widely applicable to other types of Digital Humanities projects, and, indeed, in many fields outside of traditional academic study.

The Making and Knowing Project has produced the transcription and English translation of this manuscript, “disassembling” Ms. Fr. 640 through research seminars and workshops, involving multidisciplinary teams of students and scholars. The Project is currently engaged in creating a complete critical digital edition for publication in 2019, which represents a reassembly of this manuscript in a 21st-century form. In this course, each student was an active participant in the Project’s exploration of the technologies that allow not just a reading of the text but an interaction with the content itself. This is in direct resonance with the ways that this sixteenth-century recipe collection can only be transformed from text to knowledge when the techniques contained within it are practiced, whether in the sixteenth century or in the Making and Knowing Laboratory reconstructions today. Through this exploration, the course fostered reflection on the constraints of the codex as a framework and vehicle for the production of knowledge, and a re-thinking of the technology of the book and what it means to read a text. To this end, the course also included collaboration with Professor Steven Feiner’s Computer Graphics and User Interfaces Lab.