Community Transcription-Twenty Five Months In

May 30th, 2013

In the twenty-five months since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription, we have been steadily adding transcribers as well as finished documents to our archive. What started with just a dozen or so volunteers has grown into an active, vigorous community of volunteer transcribers.

We offer here yet another snapshot at our transcription activity.

As of this morning, we have 1,384 users-fully 231 them have transcribed within the last 90 days, which is just under 17%. This number has dropped very slightly, but continues to hold relatively steady. Those volunteer transcribers have made 11,068 saves to War Department documents, which is about 264 more than at the last update. That works out to 2,059 finished documents, along with another 17 documents begun. Additionally, transcribers have initiated 439 conversations using the “talk” feature. We also know that on average, each document is edited about three times before it is finished. Moreover, we have had 66,794 total page views.

By now we have an incredibly rich variety of folks transcribing, from researchers to active-duty military, from genealogists to graduate students, and from artists to retirees. There are folks transcribing from every American state, and from six different continents. Transcribers also include teachers at every level of education, elementary to university. We have unaffiliated transcribers as well as those attached to institutions, ranging from major research libraries to historical sites, and from the National Park Service to the more than a dozen Native American tribes. Among those that specify an interest or focus, those interests range from professional research, to family research, to classroom activities. Some of our transcribers had extensive experience with historical documents when they began; for others, this is their first encounter with two hundred-year old letters and handwriting. Many of our transcribers have only worked on a few documents, but we have a growing number of people who have transcribed dozens of them. Some of our transcribers have no particular interest in the War Department Papers, but are evaluating Scripto to use in their own projects.

The documents themselves vary widely in content. Many of them deal with pay for soldiers or officers. Others are transcripts of speeches or treaties. Some documents detail disciplinary action; there are supply lists and officers’ commissions, as well as intelligence or action reports.

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

A War Department of Twelve

May 15th, 2013

Today, the Pentagon alone employs upwards of 30,000 people. Contrast this with Secretary of War James McHenry’s diminutive War Department Staff of 1798, working out of an office “at the Northeast corner of Chestnut and Fifth Street,” in Philadelphia.

Document Spotlight-The War Department Versus the Free Market

May 9th, 2013

Clothing and supplying troops in the early Republic was almost as chronic a problem as feeding them. Officers and quartermasters spent a great deal of time and expense contracting with suppliers to get uniforms and material; unfortunately, those officers often had competition on the open market. In this week’s document, transcribed by volunteer Deblegs, we see how that competition could play out.

The writer describes a situation where the War Department wanted to purchase a lot of winter clothing for troops. Private buyers, however, wanted winter clothing, and the fact that two different buyers competed for the same goods drove the price up beyond $50,000. This drove the War Department out of the race for those goods, and officers had to turn elsewhere for the goods. Their frustration is evident in the letter.

Read the original document here.

Next week we’ll feature another installment in our transcriber spotlight series.

It is not too late–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!

Document Spotlight-Bread and Beef and Candles

May 2nd, 2013

One of the important things officers and administrators do for their soldiers is to keep them fed. Today’s document highlights the challenges associated with that process. Rations needed to be sourced, prices had to be negotiated, transportation had to be arranged. In this letter, transcribed by Perrin1, we get a peak at the prices the War Department negotiated for certain foodstuffs.

For 1796, the Department negotiated prices for bread and flour, beef and pork, candles, soap, and salt, including transportation to several different sites. The prices reflected different transportation costs; a pound of bread cost 4 1/2 cents delivered to Pittsburgh, but 9 1/2 cents transported to Presque Isle.

According to this letter, that contract included the delivery of half a million rations and fixed food prices for one year.

Read the original document here.

Check back next week for another installment in our transcriber spotlight series.

It is not too late–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!