With the rise of the Era of Internet, the way we study and research history has changed. One example of this change is the rising interest in digital archives that rely on crowdsourcing. There are many benefits to using crowdsourcing—the potential for transcription and donations increases the more people that sign up to give their time to the archival project. Having lots of people to help out can easily let a museum digitally archive their collections in a fraction of the time that it would take a dedicated team, and crowdsourcing means it’s done for free, so the funds can be allocated elsewhere. Crowdsourcing also opens up a whole new way for historians to get access to materials; by allowing contributors to post their own content instead of just edit what has already been posted, historians can gain access to a vast world of historical material that otherwise would have never seen the light of day. However, crowdsourcing is not all positive. They give the public a chance to sabotage efforts to reliably digitize sources, which can lead to inaccurate work which is harmful to the progress of the project. Crowdsourcing projects can combat this by requiring users to register before they contribute, but adding that extra hurdle can often prevent people who would have otherwise contributed from doing so.
For this project, I visited four different sites that rely on crowdsourcing and explored what they have to offer.
- The Martha Berry Digital Archives offers a wide variety of documents from the personal documents of Martha Berry; it includes her personal letters, photographs, and other such documents. It also has a variety off thematic collections that document a specific time period in Berry History, like WW1 or the family history of Martha Berry. Contributing only requires registering as an editor and then transcribing documents as they are assigned, a fairly painless process.
- The First World War Poetry Digital Archive features a collection of war time poetry by many poets, some of whom would later become famous. The site also features over 6,000 items submitted by the public since 2008; taking a brief journey through everything that’s been submitted will turn up anything from a Valentine’s Card to an autograph book from a Red Cross nurse. Contributing to this site is more challenging, because it can only be done at special times when they ask for assistance.
- The Texas Tech Vietnam Center and Archive includes a wide variety of documents relating to the Vietnam War; they have oral histories, photographs, home movies, letters, and more. They accept any kind of contribution as long as it meets their criteria for inclusion, and after it is processed they will include it in their digital archives.
- The National Archives Transcription Project includes a wide variety of documents from American history that are found in the National Archives, and relies on visitors submissions to transcribe the documents for research.
The two that I contributed to were the Martha Berry Digital Archives and the National Archives Transcription project. Submitting to these two was fairly easy; the only difference was that the Martha Berry archives required registration while the other didn’t. The National Archives had their documents organized in order of how hard they were to transcribe, which made the process more user friendly; however, the Martha Berry Archives offered the transcriber many more options, like the ability to tag the document or give it a position on a Google Maps document. In general, these two sites were easy to get involved with and contribute to, and offer a wide variety of materials to choose from.