We've started celebrations of the Walt Whitman bicentennial early with a Poetry Month launch of our first new campaign! The Library of Congress holds the world’s largest Whitman manuscript collection. “Walt Whitman at 200” presents nearly 4,000 pages of his writings, including poetry from the Charles E. Feinberg Collection and the Walt Whitman Miscellaneous Manuscript Collection, which includes drafts, personal letters, and more. Exploring, transcribing, and tagging these materials will allow you to see how Whitman lived and wrote firsthand. We'll be highlighting Whitman and this campaign in the lead up to his birthday on May 31.
We're kicking off this campaign today with a 4 p.m. ET, virtual transcribe-a-thon co-hosted with the National Council of Teachers of English. The 1-hour webinar will bring together educators and Whitman and crowdsourcing experts from the Library to unveil the campaign and discuss how students can analyze, transcribe, review and tag the Whitman papers. There's still time to Register here.
Today the By the People/Concordia web development team released a new Social Share feature on crowd.loc.gov! If you find something cool or interesting that you want to share with members of your Twitter or Facebook community or which you just want to copy to your clipboard and paste into a document or email you can now do this from the site in just a few easy clicks.
For example, I've found a page in the Letters to Lincoln Campaign that needs review. I carefully check the transcription and hit accept, and then I decide to share this page, which makes reference to conflict avoidance in a battle.
First I decide to share this with my Facebook friends and family, so I click the 'F' icon. This opens Facebook or prompts me to log in:
Next, I decide I want to share this page with my Twitter followers, so I click the bird icon.
Then, I decide I want to email this page to a historian friend of mine who boycotts all social media platforms, so I copy the link to the page I've transcribed by clicking the chain-link icon, which copies this link to my clipboard:
We hope that you'll enjoy these new features, and find it easier to share pages with friends and fellow volunteers online.
You may have noticed a few changes to By the People this week. On Monday we released Concordia version 0.4.17, which includes updates and new features we’re really excited about!
A reminder that Concordia is the open source crowdsourcing platform built by the Library of Congress for By the People. We will release code updates regularly and will continue to share those changes here and in our e-newsletter!
Not seeing an improvement that's on your wishlist? You can see what we’re working on AND add your own bug and feature tickets by visiting our Github.
We've published the first batch of By the People #LetterstoLincoln transcriptions! That's right, your work is already searchable in the Library of Congress website. Less than three months after the launch of By the People, we have published 781 transcribed pages. There are actually several thousand other completed pages, but we started with this test batch from Letters to Lincoln. Browse them by following this link or searching for "project at crowd.loc.gov" in the search field at loc.gov.
It is very important to us that we acknowledge your work, so there is an attribution banner and a short sentence in the text file stating that the transcription was produced by project volunteers.
As you might have guessed, volunteers are transcribing at an amazing rate. To keep up with demand we released #LettersToLincoln pages from 1863 in January and just last week opened 1864 as well. Only one project remains unavailable, 1865-1889: Assassination and aftermath. What will you find in these pages? Keep transcribing and we’ll unlock this last fascinating segment of Lincoln’s life soon!
This is a guest post by for the Library of Congress blog by Julie Miller, a historian in the Manuscript Division, and Victoria Van Hyning, a senior innovation specialist in the division. This post coincided with National Handwriting Day on January 23, 2019. Reblogged here on January 25, 2019. Visit the original.
“That’s so beautiful, but what does it say?” This is what we often hear from visitors to the Library of Congress when they see letters and other documents written by hand. This phenomenon — the inability of so many people to read handwriting — is the byproduct of a moment of technological change that is every bit as significant as the one that began with the introduction of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the middle of the 15th century. The digital age has transformed us from people who read and write by hand to people who type and read on a screen, from letter-writers to emailers, texters and tweeters.
This change is so recent that our population now includes a mixture of people born before the digital age, who learned the techniques and conventions of handwriting and letter writing, and younger people, who grew up online. While older people have had to learn the ways of the digital age, younger people know less and less about the ways of the analog world, even when its language and symbols persist into the digital — “cc,” for example, which appears inklessly atop every email message, recalls the inky blue sheets of carbon paper typists rolled into their typewriters to make copies.
Why does it matter? This isn’t just a question of nostalgia, of regret for the old ways, such as the lost art of cursive, which few children now learn in school. It matters because when people are unable to read old documents, they lose the ability to make personal contact with the past.
Some very old documents necessarily require interpretation by experts. For example, the Library’s collection of cuneiform tablets, written by the Sumerians on clay more than 4,000 years ago. Or the leather-bound volume of town records, in Spanish, from 16th-century Peru in the Library’s Harkness Collection. Or the 17th-century manuscript law books, in Shakespeare’s English, collected by Thomas Jefferson.
But documents from the 18th century, when the United States was founded, are written in English that, with a couple of differences, is essentially modern. We sell ourselves short when we think we can’t read them. There are a few things to learn, such as the long “s,” which looks like an “f,” the relatively nonstandard spelling and punctuation and some unfamiliar abbreviations. Another key to learning how to read 18th- and 19th-century writing is just to spend time looking at it, learning the writing conventions of the relatively recent past, as well as the idiosyncrasies of individual writers. In time, the letters of George Washington will become as familiar to you as, say, a postcard from your Uncle Melvin.
We saw living proof of this at a Nov. 19 event at the Library marking the 155th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Members of the public and students from local Washington, D.C., schools were invited to the Library to view a copy of the Gettysburg Address and try their hands at transcribing letters and other documents in the Abraham Lincoln Papers on the Library’s newly launched crowdsourcing website. Titled “By the People,” the site makes images of thousands of original documents available to volunteers online, inviting them to type documents, tag them with keywords to make them searchable and review typed documents for accuracy. The transcripts are then added to the Library’s website alongside the original documents.
At first, many of the visitors on Nov. 19, viewing 19th-century handwriting, said “I can’t read this.” But when asked to pick out a letter or word anywhere on the page and then build on that kernel of understanding, they soon started to identify familiar words, then phrases. By the end of a half hour, they were able to read 70 percent or more of documents. Dozens teamed up to arrange the full text of the Gettysburg Address using a large-format printed “puzzle” made of the words composing Lincoln’s speech. They eagerly hunted through piles, looking for letters and words that were becoming increasingly familiar.
Patrons, and students from local DC schools learn cursive with a large printed version of the Gettysburg Address where each word is cut into pieces. A dozen patrons work together to arrange the words in order.
Many said they wished that cursive was still taught in schools, as do many people who come to the Library. Some teachers and students vowed to take the project back into their classrooms or afterschool clubs.
Although we live in a world where writing by hand is less necessary than before, it is vital that we keep the knowledge of cursive and other handwriting alive. “By the People” is just one way in which you can encounter original documents and hone your skills, but we encourage you to give it a try. The more you transcribe and review, the more you will learn. At the same time, you will help to make Library of Congress collections more readily available for everyone.
Scroll down for more examples.
Professor Chandra Manning of Georgetown University shares the following case study of bringing By The People into her "HIST 480 - Lincoln" classroom and student observations gleaned through contribution to the Letters to Lincoln Challenge. How are you using transcription and tagging of Library of Congress for education or recreation? Share your story here on History Hub!
On Nov. 14, History 480 made its mark on history! Or at least on the sources available to people investigating the history of Abraham Lincoln. Together, students participated in the Letters to Lincoln Crowdsourcing Project.
For two and a half hours, they zoomed in on letters written to Abraham Lincoln in 1858 and 1859 that had been scanned by the Library of Congress, and they painstakingly transcribed them letter by letter. In the process, they came face to face with idiosyncratic 19th century spelling and the challenges of sloppy handwriting, but they also caught a glimpse of Lincoln's world in a new way.
They encountered letters to Lincoln the lawyer about upcoming legal cases or recent judgments, which were often mundane but sometimes included amusing tidbits, such as one young man's note about how he is sure that Lincoln won't mind that he has named him as a reference since Lincoln knows his mother and father.
They waded through missives of political intrigue as supporters assured Lincoln that his chances of the Republican nomination were good as early as 1858 or 1859, which were earlier dates than we expected. They were struck by the logistics of politicking; several worked on a letter from a supporter who trekked the state of Illinois drumming up support for Lincoln. They also could not help but notice a lot of trash talking about Seward, the front runner for the Republican nomination, who was alternately portrayed as "weak", "lame" or full of "chicanery." And they nominated "cabal" as the most frequently used 19th century political word, which has now fallen by the wayside.
The class also reflected on the letter as a medium. Even though the letters we viewed were chiefly legal or political in nature, they often revealed a surprising intimate and confiding quality. A writer from Auburn, New York wrote all about living as Seward's neighbor, while another good friend of Seward admitted that he thought Seward was too weak to be nominated. The tone seemed notably different from email communications today, in which we all keep up a bit more of our guard. "The only time I really write an actual letter is a thank you letter," one student reflected, "and these feel different."
The students' efforts made a measurable impact. When we began, 31% of the project's 1858-1859 letters had been completed, but by the time we finished, that number had jumped to 36%.
Our small but important contribution to the project was both a foray into the work of historians and a glimpse into the intimate concerns of Lincoln and his contemporaries.
Save the date to join us in-person or online Monday, November 19! The Library of Congress will mark the 155th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's delivery of the Gettysburg Address with a one-day celebration, featuring a pop-up exhibit of the earliest known draft of the speech, and a Letters to Lincoln transcribe-a-thon for volunteers on and offsite.
In the Washington-area on November 19th?
You're invited to the Great Hall of the Jefferson Building (Library of Congress) for the rare opportunity to see the Nicolay copy of the speech person starting at 10:30 a.m. Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden will kick off the celebration at 10 a.m., followed by a special talk about Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address by Lincoln historian and curator Michelle Krowl. After the speakers, we’ll fill the Great Hall with transcribing stations for a hands-on experience exploring and transcribing Lincoln documents on crowd.loc.gov.
Off site but online?
We’ll livestream the Librarian and curator’s talks, and the reading of the Gettysburg address from 10:00-10:30. After that, people at the Library and online can participate in the #LettersToLincoln Challenge on crowd.loc.gov! Choose an item to transcribe or review, and join in the discussion here and on Twitter!
Opportunities for students
At 10:30 a.m. students onsite and in their own classrooms are invited to transcribe, tag, and review documents received by Abraham Lincoln throughout his career. To confirm participation for your class or students, please e-mail the Community Managers at firstname.lastname@example.org for further instructions.
Help us transcribe 30,000+ pages of the Abraham Lincoln Papers by the end of 2018!
Around half of the digitized Abraham Lincoln Papers, primarily materials written by Lincoln, have been transcribed by other volunteers at Knox College and elsewhere, and are already keyword searchable at loc.gov. The remaining 10,000+ items including letters and other materials sent to him have not yet been transcribed. These include materials by writers ranging from friends and associates from Lincoln’s Springfield days, well-known political figures and reformers, and constituents writing to their president. There's even the occasional document in Lincoln's own hand! Completing the Letters to Lincoln Challenge will make all of the digital Lincoln Papers word-searchable and accessible to future readers. Just imagine the new research that will be possible once we've achieved this goal.
Your Community Managers, reference librarians and curatorial staff here at the Library of Congress will be cheering you on with bonus historical context and resources all along the way, as well as some special rewards for goals met!
Our first challenge milestone is completion of all the material in the first two Campaign projects: "1830-1839, first forays in politics and law" and "1840-1849, marriage, election to Congress" by November 1. Can you transcribe even just one letter and share the challenge with one friend to help push toward our goal? When the project completes we’ll move onto the next exciting decade of Lincoln's life, the 1850s when he returned to politics.
As you dig in to the Letters to Lincoln Campaign, we hope you'll take time to share news of your experiences here on History Hub. What exciting things are your finding? Is this having an impact on your research or the books you're reading for pleasure? What requests did the general public have for Lincoln and how did they make their arguments about the causes that mattered to them? How did his friends address him once he became President? What personal connections can you make to the writers and their subjects? We can’t wait to hear what you learn!