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!

Volunteer Spotlight-A Beginning Transcriber

March 21st, 2013

Even though there are more than 1300 transcribers signed up to work on documents at the Papers of the War Department, each transcriber is an individual. Some have only ever worked on one document, while some have transcribed dozens. We have not done this in several months, so today we turn to a short interview with one of our newest transcribers, user ddunnett, to learn a little more about his background and experiences with the Scripto/PWD project. Please stay tuned over coming weeks as we feature other transcribers and their work.

PWD: Can you briefly describe your background with respect to history and transcribing?

DD: I have never transcribed before. I personally find other people’s handwriting interesting, and I thought it would be fun to take a look at historical handwriting to see if I could read it.

PWD: How did you hear about Scripto?

DD: Someone I follow on Twitter mentioned it, so I searched for Scripto and found the War Department.

PWD: Did you find the tool easy to use?

DD: Yes. I found the handwriting more challenging than I expected, but the tool worked fine.

PWD: Were you surprised by anything you found in the papers?

DD: I have only transcribed two documents, but I did not expect the handwriting to be so difficult. Some words were spelled wrong, and there were many crossouts and mistakes.

 

It is not too late for you–there are many more documents awaiting transcription. Take a moment to register (http://wardepartmentpapers.org/scripto/register.php) and choose a document to begin your adventure. You will be doing important work by adding to the historical record, and you never know what you will read!

Scripto User Spotlight-DIY History

March 13th, 2013

Today we bring you the first of several spotlights on a different sort of Scripto user. Before, we have featured individual transcribers who have devoted time to transcribing War Department documents. Here, though, we feature an institution that has implemented their own verison of the Scripto tool to power their own transcription project. The project is called DIY History, and is brought to us by the University of Iowa Libraries.

We recently sat down with two of the folks responsible for DIY History: Shawn Averkamp, Data Services Librarian; and Jennifer Wolfe, Metadata Librarian, to talk about DIY History, Scripto, and crowdsourcing.

How did you get started using Scripto?

Shawn Averkamp: “Well, it really began with the Civil War Diaries and Letters Transcription Project. Within eighteen months, volunteer contributors transcribed something like 15,000 pages. So with the diaries and letters nearly completed, we expanded to include transcription opportunities for other handwritten materials; DIY History was launched in October of 2012.”

And what were your goals going into the project?

SA: “The main goal, as with most crowdsourcing projects, was to make historic artifacts more accessible. We wanted to be able to handle the records better—for example, making them more easily searchable; but also  by asking the public to interact with the materials in new ways. Another example:  texts can be scanned with OCR (optical character recognition) add full text searchability, you can’t do that other primary source materials like handwritten documents or photographs. To make the documents usable requires time and money—paying people to transcribe or describe each item; and anyway that that doesn’t scale with traditional library workflows. By asking volunteers to do this and attaching their contributions to the artifacts in our digital library, users can search on this added text to more quickly and easily find what they’re looking for.

What did you have to do to make Scripto work for you? And were there any technical challenges?

Jennifer Wolfe: “To run its crowdsourcing project, DIY History uses Omeka and Scripto. We are using Omeka as our content management system. We pretty much use Scripto right out of the box, with some minor tweaking. Which we did in-house, by the way. Scripto allows us oversight of all these transcriptions with a modest staff of editors. We really try not to do much editing—most transcriptions remain pretty much as our transcribers finish them.”

Are there challenges you did not anticipate?

SA: “We face some of the same challenges any crowdsourcing project would face—formatting, for example. Many of our transcribers feel it is important to reproduce the actual look of the documents, and that is sometimes hard to do. We would rather they focus on the content and not so much the appearance.”

JW: “Scaling was another consideration. Our project includes many more primary sources than some do, and we needed to be able to deal with materials from several collections. The sheer number of items, hundreds of thousands, means that we needed an efficient workflow.

With more than 30,000 finished transcriptions, DIY History continues to be an example of what crowdsourcing can do. Take a few dedicated volunteers and some tools, and you can empower them in new ways.

 

Who are these transcribers, anyway?

September 6th, 2012

We now have more than 800 transcribers signed up to work on documents at the Papers of the War Department. Some have only ever worked on one document, while some have transcribed dozens. We have not done this in many months, so today we turn to a short interview with one of our more active transcribers, Nicole Salomone, to learn a little more about her background and experiences with the Scripto/PWD project:

PWD: Can you briefly describe your background with respect to history and transcribing?

NS: I am an independent scholar with over 15 years of research behind me, primarily focusing on the History of Medicine as Published in London in the Late 18th Century and the Physical Health and Mental Well-Being of Washington and His Advisors (Cabinet) 1789-1797.  Both foci have lead me to handwritten documents, which I have transcribed for my research.

PWD: How did you hear about Scripto?

NS: The first time that I heard about Scripto was for the Papers of the War Department Project.

PWD: Were you surprised by anything you found in the papers?

NS: Due to the decorum of appropriate topics to discuss in the late 18th century, I have been positively surprised by how frequently other people’s medical conditions are discussed.  Conversely, I have been minorly disappointed by how seldom the care that they received for the ailments is touched on in the discussions.  I have also been surprised by how many officers who served in the American Revolution were later given administrative positions in the government of the Early Republic.

 

It is not too late for you–there are many more documents awaiting transcription. Take a moment to register (http://wardepartmentpapers.org/scripto/register.php) and choose a document to begin your adventure. You will be doing important work by adding to the historical record, and you never know what you will read!

Three Months On-A Transcriber Spotlight

June 30th, 2011

Three months into our Scripto-War Department Papers partnership, we have over 200 transcribers. We thought it would be interesting to learn a little more about the volunteers who have devoted many hours to transcribing. We turn now to a short interview with one of our more active transcribers, Patricia Gerard, to learn a little more about her background and experiences with the project:

PWD: Briefly, what is your editing background, if any?
Patricia Gerard (PG): I have edited publications for over thirty years, off and on, from marketing to educational publications and newsletters.

PWD: Why were you interested in helping transcribe?
PG: As a recent graduate student and employee in the Archives of Appalachia, I was fascinated by the necessity for me to “translate” older documents to researchers because of their inability to decipher script. This led to a seminar research paper on the fading literacy of cursive writing. I have a continuing interest in both history and the role of writing in society. Providing access of archival materials to researchers and interested users is a key component of being an archivist.

PWD: What things did you find challenging about either the editing or the tool?
PG: I found that the more one spends time reading the scripts of documents, the more fluency develops in understanding the style of script and formation of letters. I have not made use of all aspects of the tool but find it quite simple to use.

PWD: What surprised you about the documents or the tool?
PG: The greatest surprise I have found was in the literacy of the writers; most of the documents I have transcribed were written by very educated individuals. I found far fewer mistakes than I would find in papers by a class of high school seniors today. All, with the exception of one, were quite simple to transcribe, requiring only a small degree of concentrated thought to ascertain the individual letters or words.

PWD: Has the tool met your expectations with regard to its utility or its ease of use?
PG: The tool is quite simple to use.

PWD: Do you have any suggestions to improve the tool, the site, or instructions?
PG: I seem to find the “editor’s note” function one which I frequently use. If there is a way to bring up this function in the same way the “strike through” and “superscript” keys operate, this would be helpful. The same suggestion applies for “[undecipherable].” I use the “signature” key to sign-off my work when transcribing is complete but I am not sure whether this is the purpose of this application.

From time to time we’ll offer theses spotlights as a way of getting to know the kids of folks who transcribe historical documents for fun.

Until next time, keep transcribing!