In curating manuscript receipt books for publication, scholars, pressed with the demands of their own disciplines, in order to maximise the impact of the endeavour must also consider the needs of a variety of readerships from different disciplines (notably the history of food, medicine, science, folklore, the book and literature) as well as negotiate between lay and academic concerns. While Kristine Kowalchuk has done a service in providing readable and faithful semi-diplomatic transcriptions of three manuscripts held at the Folger Shakespeare Library (Manuscripts V.a.430, V.a.20, V.a.450), the introduction of the book loses sight of the broader applicability of the texts provided. It does not so much look at these works ‘within their historical and cultural context’, as the blurb promises, as it positions them within a theoretical frame of Bakhtinian analysis and complaints against author-centred readings—with smatterings of literary correlations—that may befuddle those not inclined toward such endeavours or bemuse those who have encountered analogous positioning too often. When it comes to the editions themselves, Kowalchuk has contributed clear and concise metadata summaries along with the transcriptions. There are moments that beg expansion, however, such as when concerning the Constance Hall manuscript, she writes ‘Doctor Morus does not seem to appear in other recipe books of the period’ thus deeming him ‘local’ (p.157). The reader is therefore left to wonder about how many recipe books were considered or how many recipe books would need to be consulted before one could make such a generalisation. The glossary and footnotes can also be helpful, but here, again Kowalchuk runs into critical issues that are not addressed in the introduction. Keeping track of the many hands in a given collection (all of her examples contain at least ten) is no small feat, and Kowalchuk tracks each hand change in her footnotes with descriptions of the handwriting. Impressive as this work is, reading through it is often remains difficult to envision which hand preceded the new one. We are thus confronted by the loss of the original manuscript even as the edition strives to represent it. The glossary holds not only words uncommon today, but also vastly divergent variant spellings. One imagines that this served as an antidote to an editorial conundrum, although it seems that marginal variant glosses would have been more expedient than adding non-definitional items to a glossary. What is more, the glossary serves as a partial index (providing page references for the more unusual items) for all three receipt book editions, while the index proper at the end of the text only serves the lengthy introduction. This decision may be the most detrimental in terms of serving all audiences, as the reader has nowhere to go to see what recipes each book contains. Unlike other collections, Kowalchuk’s do not have tables of contents included in them. As the uses of the editions are conceivably many, the fact that readers have to leaf through every recipe to find relevant content does not separate the edition from the manuscripts themselves. Finally, the justification for Kowalchuk’s choices of these particular texts is not fully articulated, and access—all three being digitized on the Perdita database and all three in the same repository—is an obvious motivator. Kowalchuk has done well bringing together texts from about the same period, and this does make for some interesting juxtapositions in terms of economic status, as she demonstrates. The relative accessibility of these manuscripts, now available through the Folger’s LUNA collection as well as Perdita, and the clarity of the italic in them requires further discussion of these choices, however. For an example of an illuminating possible focus, Kowalchuk mentions that one of the repeated attributional names in the Lettice Pudsey volume (MS V.a.450), Elizabeth Okeover, owned a receipt manuscript herself (Wellcome MS 3712), and as that manuscript has names linked to other collections, there could be an interesting articulation of networks through a focused edition. While some of the conceivable nexuses may bring us close to biographical positioning and ‘the author’, a task Kowalchuk rightfully warns against, the biographical is also likely to bring us to socioeconomics and geography, contexts most pertinent to understanding these compilations. The collections owned by Pudsey, Hall, and the Granville family are fascinating documents with infinite potentials in their juxtaposition. The edition provided, at the same time as it may facilitate comparison, does not particularly frame them in a way that is helpful beyond literary theoretical situating. While the volume itself is relatively affordable and can be useful in the classroom, it is not clear what the advantages are over introducing students to these books through digital facsimiles held at the Folger and on the Perdita database. As more of these documents are brought to light, hers will be an example to consider in the processes of receipt book curation. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Social History of Medicine. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model)
Social History of Medicine – Oxford University Press
Published: Nov 1, 2018
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