Crowdsourcing Digital Archives… A Long Road to a New World for History

In this digital age, crowdsourcing has become popular for many fields. From creating films to border control, crowdsourcing provides organizations with an easy way to enlist the help of interested parties without the expense of hiring them ( History is one area of study in which crowdsourcing has the potential to become extremely valuable. Several crowdsourcing projects already exist for history, often funded by government grants and sponsored by museums, and provide great opportunities for history. Firstly, crowdsourcing allows for more efficient availability of primary sources. All it takes for these to become available to the public is for the source itself to become digitized. Once scanned into the database, it is available. Secondly, these crowdsourcing projects provide documents to the public for free allowing virtually anyone to access these valuable pieces. This benefits students and historians alike who need access to these sources, but might not be able to travel to see the actual source. Also, a lot of colleges and universities possess useful sources, that once put into a digital archive will make research much easier. Finally, crowdsourcing allows the general public to take a greater interest in history. One of the best ways to generate interest in any subject is to allow people to take an active role in the project. Therefore, opening these archives up and asking for help will generate an interest in the field, because people feel more connected to the subject.
Despite these positive elements of crowdsourcing digital historical archives, there are many kinks that need to be worked out. Though it is wonderful that these documents are available to the public and anybody can contribute to transcribing them, that quality in and of itself poses the biggest issues. Because anybody can edit these sources, often the quality of the edits is questionable. In my personal experience, some of the transcriptions had so many grammatical errors, it would have been better if the document had been left alone. Also, the general public may not know the importance of tags and of accurate tags. Therefore, some sources, though now transcribed are as good as lost because they are not tagged and that means a researcher or historian must wade through all the articles to find what they are looking for.
I looked at four digital archive sites that allow crowdsourcing. The first one I looked at was California Digital Newspaper Collection. This site provides Californian newspapers from 1846- present. Upon reaching the site and finding an article, the researcher finds the newspaper clip to the right of the page and the transcription of the article to the right. This serves to provide an easy to read version of what is in the article. This site is sponsored by the University of California, Riverside.——-en–20–1–txt-txIN——
The second site I reviewed was the Historic Cambridge Newspaper Collection, sponsored by the Cambridge Public Library. Similar to the California collection, the site provides newpaper articles based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts from 1846-1923. This site primarily draws its articles from the Cambridge Chronicle (1846-1923), the Cambridge Press (1887-1889), the Cambridge Sentinel (1903-1912), and the Cambridge Tribune (1887-1923). This site is structured like the Californian newspaper digital archive, with actual articles on the right and a clear text of the article on the left.——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——
In my opinion, the DIY History project sponsored by the University of Iowa was the most beneficial and well done American archive I found. This site, though focusing on Iowa natives and citizens, provides researchers and historians with letters and diary entries. Also, this site allows readers to look at cookbooks from the 19th century. This site is also structured with the text followed by a transcription.
The final site I reviewed was not an American history site, but interesting nonetheless. The archive was Europeana 1914-1918. This site was created so that World War I survivors and families could tell their story through pictures, official documents, films, diaries, and letters of correspondence. This site was extremely fascinating. The site is structured like the Martha Berry Digital Archive site, with a document or picture and then a general description next to it as opposed to an exact transcription.
I contributed to the Cambridge Library project and the Martha Berry Digital Archives. Contributing to the Cambridge project was an exercise in frustration because it consisted of editing what others had already transcribed, making the process tedious.
All in all, crowdsourcing digital archives have great potential for the field of history. It allows for historians and researcher to have ready access to more primary sources. As with all new systems, some problems need to be worked out before it can become beneficial.

One thought on “Crowdsourcing Digital Archives… A Long Road to a New World for History

  1. drcjsnider says:

    I thought your pros and cons analysis was very thoughtful.

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