Author Topic: Historic Penmanship - Volunteer Opportunity  (Read 1241 times)

Offline Zivio

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Historic Penmanship - Volunteer Opportunity
« on: August 08, 2023, 08:25:57 PM »
I just stumbled upon the Smithsonian's Digital Volunteer program where anyone over 14 years old may contribute to transcribing historical handwritten documents! 

An excerpt from the project page states:

Become a Smithsonian Digital Volunteer and help us make historical documents and biodiversity data more accessible.
Since June of 2013, our community of “volunpeers” have collaboratively transcribed and reviewed over a million pages of field notes, diaries, ledgers, logbooks, currency proof sheets, photo albums, manuscripts, biodiversity specimen labels, and historic audio recordings ...


What I love about the opportunity, besides being able to see some great examples of handwritten historical documents and penmanship, is that there is really zero commitment to volunteering!  You can just browse the projects for things of interest, or if you decide to help transcribe you are not committed to completing any particular document! Just save as much as you've done and start another one or quit. 

I haven't yet done any work, but I did make an account and am looking through some projects. I was just too excited not to post this up!  Here's a link to a video explaining the process and a couple of screenshots of what I've seen so far.

https://youtu.be/bpQFmtE9v6U

« Last Edit: August 08, 2023, 09:44:57 PM by Zivio »
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Offline Zivio

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Re: Historic Penmanship - Volunteer Opportunity
« Reply #1 on: August 08, 2023, 09:47:24 PM »
By the way, I did go into the site after registering and reading the instructions and contributed some transcriptions! It's fun and easy to do. I will not likely contribute huge amounts of time, but it is kind of addicting and an hour and a half went by with little notice.  ;D
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Offline Erica McPhee

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Re: Historic Penmanship - Volunteer Opportunity
« Reply #2 on: August 08, 2023, 10:50:09 PM »
This is AMAZING!!! What fun!! Thank you so much for sharing. I will definitely be taking a gander and probably transcribing.  :)
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Offline Zivio

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Re: Historic Penmanship - Volunteer Opportunity
« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2023, 12:28:36 AM »
PS:  Some are challenging … and are restoring faith in my own penmanship.   ;D
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Offline Zivio

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Re: Historic Penmanship - Volunteer Opportunity
« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2023, 10:28:53 AM »
I just discovered that the National Archives has a similar Citizen Archivist program! I’m signing up to see the nature of the documents available there. Here is the link:

https://www.archives.gov/citizen-archivist/get-started-transcribing
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Offline K-2

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Re: Historic Penmanship - Volunteer Opportunity
« Reply #5 on: August 11, 2023, 03:09:54 PM »
Thanks for posting these, @Zivio - it's really fun to participate in these projects.

Some professional perspectives that might be useful (speaking as a paleographer):

1. It is okay if your transcription is not 100% correct! Multiple people will independently transcribe each document, and afterward, scholars like me will review the transcriptions to see what the consensus looks like and base the critical analysis around the most likely possible readings.

2. Don't pick documents at random: You will have the most fun (and do the best work) if you choose documents that have content in an area you are already very familiar with. For instance, I often go for the recipe books, because I also have professional (and plenty of home) experience cooking, and it makes it easier for me to interpret ambiguous markings, since I have practical experience with how recipes in general work.

* So you might choose to transcribe letters or documents from professional fields that are adjacent to your own - like, if you have professional experience as a lawyer, go for the court documents! (there are so. many. court documents - one of the court documents from the 14th century that we just recently got around to transcribing actually exonerated the poet Geoffrey Chaucer in a "rape" case - it turned out that he wasn't a "perpetrator" of "raptus" in what turned out to be a labor dispute (not a sex crime), but a co-defendant!)
* Or you might focus on letters or documents related to activities or hobbies - like, are you a sailor? (recreational or professional). There are a LOT of letters from the age of sail, written by sailors to their families & friends, and generally they like to talk about what goes on in their daily lives at sea, so knowing the technical jargon really helps!
* Or you might be especially familiar with a local dialect of a language that a document is written in, and thus be able to make better judgments about alternative spellings and idiomatic usages.

3. When you transcribe, transcribe exactly what you think you see - try really hard not to make "corrections" to spelling or to include missing words or letters that you know the writer must have intended.

4. Once you find a niche you enjoy - stay there a while! You'll produce better transcriptions as you get more experience interpreting a particular scribal hand or type of document.

@Zivio @Erica McPhee
Thank you for putting your efforts into these projects! Your work as Citizen Archivists/Volunteers can really enhance the work that specialists do in academic and archival settings!

--yours truly, K

Offline Zivio

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Re: Historic Penmanship - Volunteer Opportunity
« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2023, 03:38:40 PM »
* Or you might focus on letters or documents related to activities or hobbies - like, are you a sailor? (recreational or professional). s

Does landsailing count?  This is a recreation I most definitely enjoy on the long stretches of beach here, but it'd doubtful I'll find any cursive documents related to this more contemporary activity.  ;D

Thank you for the tips and encouragement! I most definitely will search out more opportunities online. I've so far stuck with a series of court documents pertaining to one Polly Humphry's court petitions for continuance of a her late husband's pension. He was a Revolutionary Way veteran and the documents include his original court filings for pension ($43.33 per annum!) in 1833. Lots of early 19th century cursive, which has held my interest.  I've also dipped into other volunteers' transcriptions to decipher words they were unable to make out as well as offer corrections.

Another tip I discovered was to do some online research regarding names of commanders and towns referenced in many of the documents. Since there's a lot of documentation surrounding the war, this was helpful for confirming some of the transcription.  Your comment about sticking with a project also bears out. Much of the court language and style of writing carries through the some 36 documents, and I was often able to circle back on a previous transcription with information gleaned from a later one that clarified it.

Your comments make me want to look for other opportunities of this sort.  The Smithsonian's online experience is much easier to browse and locate projects and contribute to, but many have already been completed.  The National Archive's navigation/search/contribution process is really unwieldy, but I've contributed the most there.  I'm hoping, as you suggest, to find other projects that might suit my interests other than the older handwriting.
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Offline Erica McPhee

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Re: Historic Penmanship - Volunteer Opportunity
« Reply #7 on: August 13, 2023, 02:42:57 PM »
My only complaint is how ADDICTIVE it is!  ;D  :-*
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Offline Starlee

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Re: Historic Penmanship - Volunteer Opportunity
« Reply #8 on: August 13, 2023, 02:51:56 PM »
Thank you sooo much for sharing this. This project has been around for 10 years. Cannot believe we are only catching wind of this now. Better late than never :)
Star

Offline Zivio

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Re: Historic Penmanship - Volunteer Opportunity
« Reply #9 on: August 13, 2023, 06:27:14 PM »
My only complaint is how ADDICTIVE it is!  ;D  :-*

Omigosh, don’t I know it!! I had to swear off it for awhile, as it has been cutting into my handwriting and music practice.

And in case others are following this ( @Starlee ?) I just discovered yesterday that Library of Congress also has LOTS of projects posted up https://crowd.loc.gov/ As @K-2 said, it is helpful, or maybe even more satisfying to find items that are of personal interest.  Interestingly, the Library of Congress projects don’t even need to register an account — you can just dip into any documents and transcribe your heart out. 

I imagine there are many, many more online calls for citizen archivist/transcription volunteers. It might be fun to start a list of web links with a short description of nature of documents and ease of use here, or maybe start another “clean” topic that just contains the list for ease of future reference. 

I’m definitely going to be looking for other projects! 
« Last Edit: August 13, 2023, 06:29:07 PM by Zivio »
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