Deciphering the Past: Transcription Hour

Programs, Lectures, and Talks
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m. EDT (UTC -4)

Have you ever been interested in transcription and the mysteries it can unlock?


Alchemical engraving

Alchemical symbolism and apparatus combine in this engraving from The Twelve Keys of Basil Valentine, part of Musaeum hermeticum reformatum et amplificatum (1678), a compilation of famous alchemical texts.

Science History Institute

Join the American Philosophical Society (APS) and the Science History Institute for this three-part series on deciphering historical documents throughout time. Puzzle through mysterious writing and try your hand at decrypting colloquialisms and unfamiliar spellings with Newberry Library fellow Julie Fisher. In each session we’ll be working with a specially selected manuscript straight from our vaults. Learn tips you can use when transcribing historical documents, practice new skills, and discover your inner detective.

Our April session features Michelle DiMeo, the Institute’s Arnold Thackray Director of the Othmer Library, who will talk about Lady Ranelagh, alchemy, and take us back in time to transcribe one of our earliest documents, a 17th-century letter that shows us how alchemy’s secrets helped create modern science. The letter is in the digital collection of the James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.


About the Speakers

Michelle DiMeo is the Arnold Thackray Director of the Othmer Library. She was most recently the associate library director at the Hagley Museum and Library. Previously, she held the position of director of digital library initiatives at the Institute, overseeing the construction and launch of our digital collections platform. She first fell in love with the Othmer Library’s collections when she held an Allington short-term research fellowship here in 2014.

Michelle earned a PhD in history and English from the University of Warwick and a certificate in curation and management of digital assets from the University of Maryland. She is the author of Lady Ranelagh: The Incomparable Life of Robert Boyle’s Sister(University of Chicago Press, 2020), part of the Institute’s Synthesis book series.

Julie Fisher is a public historian with a PhD in history from the University of Delaware. Currently a fellow at the Newberry Library, before that she was a fellow with the American Philosophical Society, a consulting editor with the Yale Indian Papers Project (now the Native Northeast Portal), and the primary investigator for the National Park Service at the Roger Williams National Memorial. She began transcribing and learning paleography skills for her first book, Ninigret, Sachem of the Niantics and Narragansetts: Diplomacy, War, and the Balance of Power in Seventeenth-Century New England and Indian Country. She has been transcribing ever since.