Community Transcription – Fifty-Nine Months

April 5th, 2016

March seventeenth was the five year anniversary of community-sourced transcription, and March marked the fifty-ninth month since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription. We continue to receive regular requests for transcriber accounts. Here is a snapshot of transcription activity for the month:

Forty-one new transcribers signed up last month, and as of March 31, the total number of transcribers was 2,564. These new transcribers come from a variety of backgrounds and included genealogists, students, librarians, archivists, and members of the military,

The individuals who signed up to transcribe in February mentioned an interest in people and topics such as Indian affairs, medicine, Seneca leaders, the Indian Intercourse Act, provision of shoes and boots, and Virginia military history.

Transcribed documents include documents regarding whiskey for troops at Fort Franklin, orders for the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellionauthorization of militia use in Washington County, Pennsylvania, George Washington’s speech to the Five Nations delegation, and talks from Bird King to Indian Agent James Seagrove,

Our community of transcribers have added 563 transcribed pages to War Department documents, with the total number of saves being 17,507. Overall, we have had 406,951 page views.

We also interviewed Scribe of Poland as part of our fifth anniversary celebration. Check out her interview to get an idea of the kinds of documents transcribers come across while volunteering for the PWD.

As we continue to move forward with the project, individuals may still register for a transcription account.

Transcriber Interview: Scribe of Poland

March 23rd, 2016

As a part of our celebration of the fifth anniversary of community sourced transcription here at the PWD, we reached out to one of transcribers, Scribe of Poland (SofP), to ask her about her experience transcribing documents for the project. Hailing from northeastern Ohio, Scribe of Poland is an active and prolific transcriber.

PWD: How did you discover the PWD?

SofP: My interest in crowd-sourcing began when I was working on my family tree. To return the favor for data I garnered from FamilySearch, I started indexing and reviewing genealogical data for that group. My curiosity led me to search for other groups who were transcribing historical records and I found PWD.

PWD: What motivated you to volunteer as a transcriber?

SofP: Transcribing is a far better hobby than gaming or watching television. It gives me a chance to employ my skills, and enrich my love of language, history, and civics, and carry out a mission to allow others to access information. When transcribing a document I generally search for other information on the subject matter and learn more about our country’s rich heritage.

PWD: Is there a specific document(s) you transcribed and found particularly interesting or memorable?

SofP: The most memorable is General Washington’s acceptance to become the Reserve Commander of the troops in 1798. McHenry writes on the eve of the acceptance that Washington is probably going to agree with provisions, but, he will be giving up the happiness that he enjoys in the “charming shades” of Mt. Vernon. Washington, now 66, who would die 17 months later, knows that his country needs his leadership and will again choose service to country over all else.

PWD: What is the most rewarding part of transcribing for this project?

SofP: We are providing free, searchable text for documents that were obscure before the advent of the digital age and crowd-sourcing volunteerism. It is also most important that we “translate” this beautiful penmanship into printed form. As our society moves away from teaching cursive script, these documents will appear as hieroglyphics to future generations.

PWD: How has transcribing for the PWD changed your perspective on the Early Republic?

SofP: I think more about the involvement of Native and African Americans in the Early Republic. The Native Americans must have been frightened by the intrusion. Through the Treaties and the writings of James Seagrove, appointed by Washington as an agent to live among the Creek tribes, we learn more of the negotiations for a peaceful resolve between the Native Americans and the settlers. The documents also define the contributions of Native and African Americans patriots. How many people know of the great spy, James Armistead Lafayette, or Crispus Attucks, who was killed during the Boston Tea Party, or the other slaves that fought and worked to create a great Republic, while they were living under oppression? These records will give people a greater perspective of their patriotism and their sacrifice.

PWD: Can you briefly discuss your background with respect to historical transcription?

SofP: I am a retired medical writer and editor. I spent years deciphering the cryptic handwriting of doctors. My vocation trained me for my avocation of transcribing. Additionally, historical transcription and research is in my genes. My great aunt, Elizabeth Bethel, worked for the War Department and one of her duties was to compile the War Departments Collection of Civil War Records. Through our volunteerism, we continue the important mission to document American history, making it readily available for the masses.

If Scribe of Poland’s account of transcribing for the PWD inspired you to transcribe, take a moment to read through our guidelines and sign up to become a transcription associate. You will be doing important work by adding to the historical record, and you never know what you will read!

Celebrate the Five Year Anniversary of Community Transcription!

March 17th, 2016

March 17, 2016

For Immediate Release: Celebrate the Five Year Anniversary of Community Transcription with the Papers of the War Department

Celebrate the five year anniversary of community sourced transcription with the Papers of the War Department 1784-1800 (http://wardepartmentpapers.org). An ongoing innovative documentary editing project, the Papers of the War Department is comprised of 0ver 42,000 digitized manuscript documents made freely accessible on the web by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) (http://chnm.gmu.edu/). In 2011, RRCHNM embarked on the effort to engage the larger community of citizen historians in the process of transcribing these important documents. By transcribing the digitized manuscripts, users contribute to the collection’s usability and searchability. March 17, 2016 marks five years since the launch of the community transcription project  Papers of the War Department and we are delighted at its success thus far.

After a devastating fire at the United States War Office in 1800, what has been considered the “national archive” of its time was thought lost. The collection was reassembled from scattered fragments found in over 200 diverse repositories before being transferred to the RRCHNM in 2006. These documents are invaluable sources of information on militia and army matters in the Early Republic. The War Department was responsible for frontier diplomacy, Indian affairs, veteran affairs as well as being a considerable commercial goods consumer.

Since inviting members of the community to assist with the transcription effort in 2011, the Papers of the War Department has amassed 2,538 registered users. These users come from varying backgrounds including genealogists, public historians, students and educators from all levels of educational institutions, and members of Native American tribes. With the help from these community transcribers, the Papers of the War Department now has over 1,500 documents transcribed, totaling 6,279 pages. Without the hard work and dedication of our community transcribers, the Papers of the War Department would not have been as successful. We are ecstatic with the contributions the project has received over these first five years and look forward to seeing its continued growth.

The Papers of the War Department was made possible through funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

About the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media

Since 1994, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) <http://chnm.gmu.edu> at George Mason University <http://gmu.edu> has used digital media and computer technology to democratize history—to incorporate multiple voices, reach diverse audiences, and encourage popular participation in presenting and preserving the past. The Center itself is a democratic, collaborative space where over fifty scholars, technologists, and researchers work together to advance the state of the art. RRCHNM uses digital media and technology to preserve and present history online, transform scholarship across the humanities, and advance historical education and understanding. Each year RRCHNM’s many project websites receive over 20 million visitors, and over a million people rely on its digital tools to teach, learn, and conduct research. Their work has been recognized with major awards and grants from the American Historical Association, National Humanities Center, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Council on Public History, U.S. Department of Education, Library of Congress, Institute of Museum and Library Services, American Council of Learned Societies, and the Mellon, Sloan, Hewlett, Rockefeller, Gould, Delmas, and Kellogg foundations.

Community Transcription – Fifty-Eight Months

March 1st, 2016

February was the fifty-eighth month since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription, and we continue to receive regular requests for transcriber accounts. Here is a snapshot of transcription activity for the month:

Thirty-eight new transcribers signed up last month, and as of February 29, the total number of transcribers was 2,523. These new transcribers come from a variety of backgrounds and included university students, members of the military, and genealogists.

The individuals who signed up to transcribe in February mentioned an interest in people and topics such as John Watts, James White, Henry Sherburne, John Murray, uniforms, music, the Navy, and Maryland.

Transcribed documents include George Washington’s acceptance of appointment as reserve commander of the army, a request for bell tents to store music and arms, the receipt for two music coats, construction of a frigate, delivery of musician supplies, Lincoln’s appointment as commissioner to treat with hostile Indians, and the pardoning of Jobe Harrington.

Our community of transcribers have added 204 transcribed pages to War Department documents, with the total number of saves being 16,944. Overall, we have had 328,226 page views.

As we continue to move forward with the project, individuals may still register for a transcription account.

The War Department in the Classroom

February 24th, 2016

In this guest post, Zayna Bizri describes her approach to using the Papers of the War Department in the classroom and offers suggestions for those who wish to do the same. Bizri is a doctoral candidate in History at George Mason University; her dissertation is tentatively titled “Selling Her the Military: Recruiting Women into the Armed Forces in World War II”

In the Fall semester of 2015, I taught an upper-level undergraduate course, War and American Society, which focused on the connections between the military and the broader culture. I wanted my students working with primary sources as soon as possible, so I used the Papers of the War Department Project as part of a series of Workshop Days where they learned the day-to-day job of being a historian. The PWD project covered two Workshop Days.

I randomly divided students into work groups of 5-6 students each; each group selected documents to transcribe that all fit in the same theme of their choice. Each student would be responsible for transcribing at least two pages, and reviewing at least two others, meaning that each page had at least two sets of eyes on it. Most groups selected a series of documents, letters or reports on the same topic. One group found a letter that was a report of an attack on a frontier settlement and were able to follow the correspondence to its end. Two groups of six students selected 12-13 page documents; in these groups each student transcribed two pages and reviewed four, so that each student saw at least half the document.

Students needed to register as transcriptionists, and we did that during the first Workshop Day. They then browsed through the list of documents needing transcription and made their selections. The final transcriptions had to be submitted to the site by the next Workshop Day, and each group presented their findings in class.

The students enjoyed the opportunity to work with documents so early in the semester, though the eighteenth century handwriting proved confusing for several. I had thought that some of the students would use documents from the PWD project as a part of their semester-long research project. None did so, but several found documents or topics that set them on a search that led them to their eventual topic. I hoped that a few would be inspired to continue transcribing, and some have.

Based on my experience, I have a few recommendations for others who want to use the Papers in their classes.

First, coordinating with the admins of the Papers of the War Department is crucial to the success of the project. Warn them when your students will be signing up. I gave them a few days warning that 50+ new logins were coming in, and I told my students that it would take some time to get all the logins approved, so everyone was aware of the lag time.

Second, I believe that this assignment would work for either individual or group work. I opted for group work because I felt that a group was more likely to take on a large document.

Third, there is currently no way to “park” or reserve a document to transcribe at a future date. If a transcriber begins entering information on the document, other transcribers will see that it is in progress, but there is no guarantee that they will not transcribe it anyway. In our case, the group that selected the 13 page document completed their transcriptions offline, and found that in the two weeks between selecting and posting, another transcriber had completed and posted the document. In that case, they provided the transcription to me.

Finally, I believe the in-class presentation of findings was an important part of their selection process. Because they would have to present a coherent set of documents, and then answer questions about their choice, they took their time reviewing the documents, instead of picking what they thought would be the simplest set to transcribe.

I found this project to be quite successful. It introduced students to both primary source documents and the role of the digital in historical work. I will refine it for future classes based on the recommendations above.

Community Transcription – Fifty-Seven Months

February 2nd, 2016

January was the fifty-seventh month since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription, and we continue to receive regular requests for transcriber accounts. Here is a snapshot of transcription activity for the month:

Thirty-two new transcribers signed up last month, and as of January 31, the total number of transcribers was 2,485. These new transcribers come from a variety of backgrounds and included high school teachers, university professors, students, independent scholars, genealogists, and active and retired members of the military.

The individuals who signed up to transcribe in January mentioned an interest in topics and people such as the Indian Removal Act, James WilkinsonYazoo lands, Battle of Kings Mountain, Braddock’s Campaign, and Forts Nelson, Norfolk, and Cumberland.

Transcribed documents include an assessment of a dispute between Georgia and Creek Indians, Anthony Gamelin’s speeches to the Ouabache (Wabash) and Miami nationsuse of carriages for Washington’s funeral, and information on the funeral ceremony honoring Washington.

Our community of transcribers have added 359 transcribed pages to War Department documents, with the total number of saves being 16,740. Overall, we have had 310,408 page views.

As we continue to move forward with the project, individuals may still register for a transcription account.

How to Transcribe Letterbooks

January 21st, 2016

A letterbook is a bound collection of copies of letters sent and received by one person, usually organized chronologically. Clerks, who often had neat penmanship, were employed to create copies of their employer’s letters. Some early Americans wanted to utilize letterbooks when writing their memoirs; others simply found it useful and practical to have copies of their correspondence on hand. From a technological perspective, letterbooks were quite useful in the event that a person’s original correspondence got lost or, in the case of the War Department, fell victim to fire. From today’s perspective, a letterbook is akin to an email’s sent mail folder.

There are many letterbooks in the Papers of the War Department. If you are unsure of whether or not you are viewing a letterbook, check the document format field found on the document view page. When you come across a letterbook, it is important to note exactly which document is being described in the document view page and then transcribe only that document. Our system is not equipped to show only the specified document in the letterbook, and multiple pages of the letterbook will be accessible via the initial document.

The transcribe view page of the document does not specify which document to transcribe, but generally it is the first document that appears after clicking “transcribe this document.” If it is still not clear, check the date, author, and recipient names in the document information box on the document view page to ensure they match the letter you are transcribing. If there are multiple letters written on a single page within a letterbook, make sure to transcribe only the document described in the document view page. Each document within the letterbook will have its own document page; if an entire letterbook is transcribed through one single document, the metadata associated with the documents within the letterbook will not match up properly.

Community Transcription – Fifty-Six Months

January 5th, 2016

December was the fifty-sixth month since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription, and we continue to receive regular requests for transcriber accounts. Here is a snapshot of transcription activity for the month:

As of December 31, we had 2,453 transcribers; we created twenty-two new accounts in December. These new transcribers included students at various levels, members of the Creek nation, as well as a self-described “History lover” and a “history bug”.  Our transcribers’ interests continue to be as varied as their backgrounds. One new transcriber is researching a historic site near their home, another is interested in the lives of the lesser-known officers and soldiers in the frontiers and borderlands of the early United States, and a third works at one of the historic sites which features prominently in our documentary collection.

Our community of transcribers have added 358 transcribed pages to War Department documents, with the total number of saves being 16,381. Overall, we have had 295,859 page views.

As we continue to move forward with the project, individuals may still register for a transcription account.

Transcribe This: Williams Declines Promotion

December 17th, 2015

Brigadier General Otho H. Williams explains his reasons for declining a promotion to Henry Knox in this letter dated May 6, 1792.

While Williams describes himself as “very highly complimented” by Knox’s favorable opinion and understands that “the President is pleased to entertain of my abilities,” he writes that he “could not… accept a command in the army, even if the President were to think me worthy of commanding in chief.” Williams writes that his health has been “extremely precarious” for two years and requires much care and attention. If he accepted the position, Williams believes that the happiness of his family would “be for a time suspended, if not sacrificed.” Williams also notes that he has in his charge “a number of orphan children” which engages his “integrity and affections,” who would also “lie neglected.” Williams asks to be excused for “declining the honor proposed to be conferred on me” and writes that when it is in his power “to render any efficient service to my Country I shall be most happy in the opportunity.”

Are you interested in transcribing this document and adding to the searchable content of the PWD? Learn about the transcription process and sign up for a transcriber account here.

Community Transcription – Fifty-Five Months

December 3rd, 2015

November was the fifty-fifth month since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription, and we continue to receive regular requests for transcriber accounts. Here is a snapshot of transcription activity for the month:

Forty-six new transcribers signed up last month, and as of November 30, the total number of transcribers was 2,431. These new transcribers come from a variety of backgrounds and included historians, teachers, writers, students, genealogists, and members of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The individuals who signed up to transcribe in November mentioned an interest in topics and people such as the San Lorenzo TreatyEbenezer Sprout, Patrick Henry, Israel Chapin, and the states of Virginia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

Transcribed documents include an assurance of friendship from Don Josef Ignacio de Viar to Henry Knox, the enlistment pledge of Samuel Burrows, the deposition of Joseph Barnett, rumors of an Indian attack on Detroit, a return of public stores deposited in Rhode Island, and confidential information on an act to be passed by Congress.

Our community of transcribers have added 130 edits to War Department documents, with the total number of saves being 16,023. Overall, we have had 292,969 page views.

As we continue to move forward with the project, individuals may still register for a transcription account.