Category Archives: M. Ratliff

History: No Longer a Thing of the Past

Now that we’ve moved into a digital age and almost everything uses technology, it is no surprise that archives and anything historical have started being digitized. Digitization modernizes the research of history while still incorporating the feel of digging through documents in an archive. Using crowdsourcing for digital history projects brings anyone into the mix; historians and non-historians can involve themselves in these projects unlike ever before. It’s the combination of information and help from any person with internet access that makes crowdsourcing so important to modern historical presentation.

Crowdsourcing brings many benefits to the availability of history while also causing problems within digital history projects and any digital archive. Some benefits of crowdsourcing come from the interaction with the community. Almost all of the contributors are purely volunteers taking time out of their own lives to enjoy delving into historical information. This is an easy way to gain the help needed without the monetary costs. Crowdsourcing also brings dozens of viewpoints to broaden the opinions and abilities of its editors and contributors. Literally anyone can contribute to an online archive without having to leave their homes or without having a degree in history, but that does not always bring the benefits these archives desire. While transcribing or editing a document in a digital archive, the mistakes can add up. The lack of an official set of rules regarding editing and tagging could cause important continuity issues. Giving editors the freedom to provide their own interpretations of the information, albeit important and exciting, could bring some problems regarding the historical accuracy.

To research crowdsourcing on digital history projects, I found three websites that use the public to gather and edit historical information:

  1. The DIY History transcription project from the University of Iowa contains 19th century documents and diary entries discussing daily life of the pioneers and life during the Civil War, among others. This site exemplifies transcription through crowdsourcing. I found the site’s ease of access wonderful for any user interested in transcription, but the handwriting and the quality of the documents would be tough for a novice editor to navigate.
  2. The National Archives provides many crowdsourcing options through their Citizen Archivist program, like Transcription and Tagging, that allow anyone to involve themselves in history. The transcription option doesn’t need a login and is incredibly similar to the DIY History website, but it contains a much larger variety of documents that would attract a larger audience. The tagging option, on the other hand, requires a login and uses a review process before the National Archives accepts your tags. Both programs are put together well and are full of rich historical documents.
  3. The last website I discovered was the Cambridge Public Library’s Historic Cambridge Newspaper Collection. This site allows for correcting transcriptions on Cambridge newspapers from the 19th to early 20th centuries. You can choose specific articles within the entire newspaper and correct the transcriptions already in place. The task is a bit tedious, but it still brings an interesting aspect to transcription.

Alongside these other websites, I contribute copious amounts of time to the Martha Berry Digital Archive. This website is devoted to the letters and images within the Martha Berry correspondences, and the site includes thousands of these documents for editing and tagging purposes. Not only does it allow for the editor to contribute descriptions, dates, and titles to the documents, it also provides options for tagging and for mapping the  location of the letter. I also created an account on the Tagging site from the National Archives and the Cambridge Newspaper Collection, but I spent the most time with the National Archives. Both the tagging system with MBDA and the National Archives receive reviews before they are locked officially, in the case of MBDA, or posted by the National Archives staff. The searching ability on the National Archives website is much more organized than that of MBDA, but one must take into consideration the amount of help from volunteers the National Archives receives compared to the small scale of MBDA. For such a new endeavor and one from such a small school, the Martha Berry Digital Archive is a step above the rest. The amount of specific options within editing a document and the ability to choose a random document creates an ease of access that pushes past the cumbersome tagging system and the variations in editing techniques and styles.