Darwin Online manuscript transcription policy v12

The manuscript transcriptions undertaken by this project serve the dual purpose of being readable as well as electronically searchable. They are published online in conjunction with facsimile images of the original manuscript when reproduction permission and images can be obtained. The texts are prepared in accordance with the XHTML 1.0 (Transitional) DTD. UTF-8 encoding is used for all content. A separate transcription guide is provided for the transcription of published or printed materials: 'Darwin Online print transcription policy'.

The general method of transcription is based largely on the example of the Correspondence of Charles Darwin. This means an essentially 'clear-text' transcription, which leaves the text mostly free of editorial symbols and comments. The spelling, punctuation and grammar of the original document is strictly retained.

The transcribed text follows as closely as possible the layout of the source, although no attempt is made to produce a type-facsimile of the manuscript: word-spacing and line-division in the running text are not adhered to.

It is important to emphasize that transcriptions that are intended to be presented side-by-side with a facsimile do not need the exhaustive notations that were formerly used to allow the reader how the to reconstruct the manuscript's appearance and any layers of composition. These are totally superfluous when the reader can see the margin, or what has been inserted. What is of the most value today is to help modern readers to read the text of a manuscript.


[some text] 'some text' is an editorial insertion
[some text] 'some text' is the conjectured reading of an ambiguous word or passage
[some text] 'some text' is a description of a word or passage that cannot be transcribed or has been destroyed, e.g, [3 words illeg] or [text excised]
text deleted by the writer, or in some transcriptions it is not recorded
Bold is pencil text overwritten with the same words in ink
Text in small red font is a hyperlink or notes added by the editors.
Square brackets [ ] used by the writer are changed to parentheses ( ) to avoid confusion with editorial insertions.
Text underlined by the writer is given as underlined.

Darwin's insertions and interlineations are silently inserted where he indicated or where the editors have judged appropriate. (However some documents, as noted at the top of each, record insertions specifically.)

Footnotes, rendered in smaller red text, are numbered consecutively, though independently on each page. This makes the adding or deleting of notes easier.

Textual notes are given at the bottom of a transcribed page in smaller red text, below any footnotes. The text which the textual note pertains to is given first, followed by a square bracket, which is followed by the editorical comment in italics. This system is used in Charles Darwin's notebooks (1987).1 The textual notes can be ignored by readers not interested in the writing medium or details of the manuscript's composition or appearance.

The Beagle field notebooks are presented with slightly different conventions, as explained in the general introduction to the notebooks.

Paragraphs are often not clearly indicated. In these cases, and when the subject is clearly changed in very long stretches of text, a new paragraph is silently added. Special manuscript devices delimiting sections or paragraphs, for example, blank spaces left between sections of text and lines drawn across the page, are treated as normal paragraph indicators and are not specially marked or recorded unless their omission would make the text unclear.

Hand-drawn illustrations and diagrams are usually omitted as facsimiles of the manuscripts are provided. Their place in the manuscript is approximately indicated with an editorial comment such as [sketch].

A standard metadata record is included with each document. The following is an example:

RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 2.1835. 'The position of the bones of Mastodon (?) at Port St Julian is of interest'. CUL-DAR42.97-99. Edited by John van Wyhe. (Darwin Online, http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed and edited by John van Wyhe, checked against the microfilm by Gordon Chancellor 7.2007. RN7

NOTE: Reproduced with permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library and William Huxley Darwin.

John van Wyhe


1 Barrett et al eds. 1987. Charles Darwin's notebooks, 1836-1844: Geology, transmutation of species, metaphysical enquiries. British Museum (Natural History); Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


File last up21 October, 2023e -->e -->