Category Archives: A. Carson

The Beast Inside the Machine: the Downfalls of Crowdsourcing

The creation and maintenance of digital archives is very valuable to those wishing to do historical research. Being able to simply go online and have thousands of primary sources at your fingertips can greatly expedite the research process. One would have the opportunity to browse and cite sources that are located hundreds of miles away without having to worry about traveling and traveling expenses. With this said, there are still a lot of downfalls in allowing the public to edit online resources as well as having resources based online.
For instance, one major problem I came across when searching for various crowdsourcing websites was the Heritage Crowd Project (http://heritagecrowd.org/ ). If you go to the link, you can see that the website was hacked. This could potentially lead to several problems. If you are using resources on a site and the site is hacked, it can obviously greatly affect the continuation of your research.
Another problem with crowdsourcing is that anyone can contribute. While you do not have to have a BA in history in order to figure out how to transcribe a document, it does help to have some prior historical knowledge pertaining to the period as well as some basic editing skills in order to accurately transcribe a document. It does help that the document can be edited and fixed by other contributors; however, there will still generally be a high frequency of errors. These errors can occasionally lead to the misrepresentation of a document and thus interfere with the legitimacy of research.
The first site that I looked at, though not really recent US history, was on the University of Iowa’s website (http://diyhistory.lib.uiowa.edu/transcribe/scripto/transcribe/3110/70425 ). This website had a large collection of letters written between 1850 and 1900. Many of the letters were written by soldiers that fought in the Civil War. You can go onto the website and search for letters and immediately begin editing straight on the page. While it is very easy, there are not any tags provided. Tags make it much easier to find letters that actually pertain to your research and would greatly improve navigation on this site.
The other two sites that I looked at worked with the digitization of newspapers. The University of California created the California Digital Newspaper Collection (http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc). The documents on this website have been scanned and transcribed onto the site. You can easily go online and begin editing. You pick a paper, highlight a section, and begin correcting the text. The Cambridge Public Library has a similar editing process on their website (http://cambridge.dlconsulting.com/cgi-bin/cambridge). This process is actually one of the better ones I have seen, however, the Martha Berry Digital Archives is the best of the four that I looked at.
The Martha Berry Digital Archives is better than the other sites that I looked at for several reasons. MBDA is easier to navigate and has a more user friendly editing process. There is also an easy way to keep track of the documents you have edited (https://mbda.berry.edu/items/browse). In addition to this, there are tags for all of the documents, which can really help you during the research process. The map that allows for the documentation of location is also very helpful and sets the MBDA apart from the other sites I looked at.
Overall, crowdsourcing is very helpful in historical research. Despite the fact that it’s helpful, there are still a lot of negative aspects that must be addressed for it to truly be a reliable database.

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