Our editorial policies

Sampling policy

Forman’s and Napier’s records chronicle some 80,000 consultations and fill 64 volumes. They were written for the practitioners’ own use and are in idiosyncratic and often very difficult handwriting. In an ideal world, we would produce a full text-critical edition of the entire corpus, but given the quantity of material involved, this is logistically and financially impossible.

Accordingly, the Casebooks Project edition is primarily a data set rather than a textual edition, though it has an important textual component. Four selected volumes of Napier’s records have been calendared: that is, images of the original texts are provided, together with information about the dates of the consultations and the names of the parties involved, but without transcriptions or further details. Otherwise, we are transcribing the ‘question’ section of each consultation: that is to say, in the vast majority of cases, the first paragraph of the record. This normally features the date and time of the consultation, the patient’s name, and an indication of the nature of the enquiry. Often, it also includes further details such as the querent’s identity if he or she is not the same person as the patient, the patient’s age, address, occupation and relation to the querent or any third parties mentioned.

In the overwhelming majority of entries, all the relevant details are included in the question section. There is, however, a small proportion in which information crucial to the interpretation of the case appears only in the judgment or some other part of the entry. In such cases, the relevant text has been included in the transcription.

Other important information, such as dates of birth or death, or the identity of someone referred to under an alias, may be included in the metadata if it is ascertainable from a source external to the entry in question.

Especially in the case of Napier, the material in these volumes is far from homogeneous. Records of medical consultations are interspersed with remarks about the day’s weather, lists of expenses or medicines, news about the recovery or death of former patients, records of events in the practitioner’s own life, and so forth. Such extraneous material is not included in the transcriptions unless there is a clear indication (normally the presence of a star-chart) that the practitioner was consulting the heavens about the significance or outcome of such matters.

The transcribed section of each full entry appears in the ‘Text’ field of the electronic document and can be viewed in either of two forms, the ‘diplomatic’ or the ‘normalised’.

Diplomatic and normalised

The ‘diplomatic’ view is as literal as possible a representation of the source text, complete with such features as symbols, abbreviation indicators and archaic letter forms (such as the use of ‘y’ for ‘th’, of ‘u’ as a consonant or ‘v’ as a vowel, or the jumbling of Arabic and Roman numerals in numbers such as ‘2i’ (21). Deleted text is displayed in strikethrough or with a shaded background to indicate heavier deletion or erasure, and textual insertions are clearly distinguished as such. Explanatory mouseovers are provided to clarify the display and elucidate any archaic symbols (though obviously these will not appear in printouts of the text).

The ‘normalised’ view provides a lightly regularised version of the text in which obvious errors are corrected, archaic characters are modernised, deleted text does not appear at all, abbreviations are expanded and textual insertions are not distinguished as such. This results in a display which is slightly less faithful to the original than the diplomatic but a good deal easier to read.

As a result, a few entries that have been deleted in their entirety will not appear at all in the ‘normalised’ view.

In a few cases, however (e.g. CASE1059), deletion appears to function not as correction of a mistake but as deliberate suppression or censorship by the practitioner of some or all of an entry. Deleted text of this type — if it remains legible at all — is displayed in strikethrough in the normalised as well as the diplomatic view, with a mouseover explaining its status. Where such text has been rendered wholly illegible, its existence is recorded (as ‘{illeg}’) in both displays.

Users can switch between the two displays by clicking on ‘Switch to diplomatic/normalised text’ when viewing the Text field.

Both the ‘diplomatic’ and ‘normalised’ views of the texts are generated from exactly the same electronic files.


Normalisation has been kept to a minimum: except in the case of archaic characters, original spelling and punctuation are retained in both views. Nor has any attempt been made to ‘correct’ Forman’s highly idiosyncratic Latin, except in a few cases that do appear to be genuine mistakes as opposed to use of non-standard grammar, spelling or vocabulary.

Supplementary data

The other fields in the electronic display provide a summary of data that can be extracted or deduced from the original entry. This includes, where possible, the gender, age and title of any parties involved and the social or familial relations between them, the date and time of the consultation, and the nature of the question being asked. The ‘Further Information’ field records the presence or absence of other features of the original record, such as judgment, recommended treatment, or the practitioner’s notes on the history or outcome of the case. These categories are explained in more detail in the guide to reading the cases. The ‘Further Information’ field also states whether supplementary circumstantial details are recorded in the entry, such as the receipt of a letter, token or urine sample, or any financial transactions between practitioner and client.

Electronic coding

Casebooks Project transcriptions are encoded in XML (Extensible Markup Language), according to policies based on the latest guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), with certain local extensions to cater for the particular demands of these texts. For a full technical account of our markup policies, see our transcription guidelines.

Each Casebooks Project file records a single consultation. It consists of two sections, ‘header’ and ‘text’.

The header is by far the larger of the two component parts. It encodes, in standardised (and hence easily searchable) form, all the data mentioned above under ‘Supplementary information’, an account of which hand(s) and language(s) the entry is written in, and a record of all the work that has been done on the electronic document, who has done it, and when.

The text section contains the transcribed text of the entry and all the markup necessary to generate the diplomatic and normalised displays of it.

Document last modified: 6 June 2016

Cite this as: Casebooks Project (Our editorial policies), http://www.magicandmedicine.hps.cam.ac.uk/using-our-edition/editorial-policies, accessed 2017-02-25.