Category Archives: A. Jackson

Digital History for use by the public

The use of digital history has become a growing field of interest in recent years, as well as the use of Crowd sourcing. Digital archives provide a great benefit to the public in that it allows for a greatere access for historical documents to be found and read by the public, no longer are people restrained to the hours that the archive may be open during the week days and perhaps not at all on the weekends. Along with this with the use of tags people can find documents that are related to that subject rather than having to dig through individual documents by hand, however this brings up one of the issues of digital history that documents need to actually be tagged correctly and properly in order to actually be found by the public.

While crowd sourcing is not a new concept it definitely provides a helpful push for digital archives in the fact that these archives have a greater source of editing to cover a large number of documents to get them into a digital archive. Along with this it provides the general public a sense of involvement when it comes to history, particularly if it history that is of local importance like with the Martha Berry project here at Berry. However, while it makes use of a willing public and gives a sense of importance to the community that they are involved with their own history it provides problems with trying to maintain conformity in ways of editing and documentation, though this can be limited somewhat depending on the forms that the project requires to be filled in online. Another negative is that even though you are opening up archives to the public there are some documents that may not be seen still due to an agency not wishing to give up an image that a particular person or institution may want to portray of itself through these documents.


The crowd sourcing sites that I found included the Martha Berry Digital Archive, the New York Public Library’s (NYPL) What’s on the Menu Archive, and then two projects from the University of Iowa one being the Collection of Civil War Dairies between soldiers and their family members and the other project from Iowa University was the correspondence of railroad baron Thomas Duran during the construction of the transcontinental line.  Each project has its own positives and negatives with each source. Both the projects from Iowa University provide a bar with the percentage of the document that has been looked at and marks documents that need to be reviewed so people know which documents to target first or need the most help to be looked at. However, beyond that there is little indication about the progress of each document. Though it is very easy to make changes to someone’s edits, particularly if they have left a section in brackets to indicate they only think that is what the word might be, so it allows for users to come along and confirm what people may believe what the word or even letter is.

The “What’s On The Menu?”  archive from  NYPL is an attempt to archive menus from the New York area dating all the back to the 1850s. While it provides the chance for users to transcribe the entirety of menus as well as dishes and prices, it does have an problem in the fact that there are very few new documents that have been uploaded by the Library so often times those that wish to contribute are stuck simply looking over other’s work.

Between the Martha Berry Archive and the Civil War Diaries, which are the two that I spent the most time contributing to they both provide a sense of ease between each other. However, Martha Berry requires that one be logged into the site in order to make changes to documents while the Civil War diaries were completely open sourced. Now this provides a bit of a buffer in preventing malicious changes to transcriptions of documents. In terms of capabilities Martha Berry provided a much greater use of tags for future searches into documents as well as providing authors and date ranges. It could also be considered much easier as it did not ask users to transcribe entire documents, it only asked for a brief summary of the document’s contents, location and title and when a document is typewritten it is much easier to make these edits for the document than a simply hand written dairy.