Digital history and crowdsourcing appears to be the way of the future when it comes to the transcription of historical documents. Due to the development of this phenomenon, the public has been able to take a more active role in uncovering their personal histories or histories of places and times they have interest in. What was before a topic that one could only experience through TV screens or pages of a book has become something anyone can include themselves in. One can imagine that there are a multitude of benefits to this type of archival process: more documents can be transcribed and organized more quickly, more resources become available to scholars, and much more. However, downsides exist to this practice as well; just as a person has the power to create, they also have the power to destroy. Because it would be nearly impossible to an expert to review all crowdsourced documents, there is always a possibility that a person could have transcribed it incorrectly. These incorrect transcriptions have their own negative results, as a historian could then cite the incorrect transcription and ruin whatever work they were doing.
For the purposes of this project and to become more familiar with the topic and process of crowdsourcing, I have researched a few crowdsourcing websites and done by part to contribute to a couple of them. The first of these was the Martha Berry Digital Archives, which is the crowdsourcing website run by Berry College. This site deals solely with documents associated with Martha Berry herself and other documents associated with Berry College.
The next site was a crowdsourcing site run by the University of Iowa called DIYHistory. This site has a far broader range of documents, from Iowa specific documents, pioneer diaries, and also cookbook entries. This site gives the public to completely transcribe the works in their entirety, including whole books.
The NYPL also has their own crowdsourcing archive, which differs slightly from the previous to archives I become involved with. Theirs was What’s On the Menu? and dealt exclusively with transcribing historical restaurant menus. It also gives more detailed information on the various dishes that are listed on these menus, showing when they were the most common on a timeline.
The National Archives also have a crowdsourcing project where the public can help aid in transcribing the content of documents, much like Iowa’s DIYHistory project. It is quite interesting due to the varieties of documents that it makes available, which range from typical historical documents to acts of theatrical workings.
The two projects that I contributed to were the MBDA as well as DIYHistory. Both were very easy to become involved in, as the account creation process was simple and straightforward. DIYHistory didn’t actually require an account for certain elements of the site, but it was encouraged in order to become fully involved in the transcription process. Both are quite valuable in terms of the documents that they have made available, but DIYHistory could be a bit more useful because it has documents from more varied topics and document types. DIYHistory also gave participants more choice in the documents they transcribed, and they make it easy to see what documents need more attention and how much work has been put into them.