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CROWD

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Starting Tuesday, October 1 the staff of the Library of Congress Manuscript Division reference team will join your By the People community managers in moderating and responding to CROWD History Hub posts. We're piloting this approach to better leverage their deep collections and public service expertise and work towards long term sustainability for Library of Congress crowdsourcing.

 

LOC Manuscript Division is already active in the community, responding to your collections-related question with their fantastic expertise. You've probably already seen their many helpful and illuminating posts (like Re: Anna E. Dickinson mother -- Marmee or Maumee?)! This new responsibility will be managed by a different staff member each month, so you'll get to meet many more of the folks who work behind the scenes with our fabulous collections to facilitate research.

 

Don't worry, your trusty community managersVictoria and Lauren are still around to help out with your crowdsourcing queries and learn from the experiences and findings you generously share in this space.

 

Please join us in welcoming the LOC Manuscript Division further into our community!

We've got something new we think you're going to love! Today we're launching a new By the People campaign The man who recorded the world: On the road with Alan Lomax. The work of 20th-century folklorist Alan Lomax is the bedrock of our understanding of twentieth-century folk music. Discover rich folk traditions by transcribing his field notebooks and correspondence with family, fellow musicians, colleagues, and collaborators.

The Lomax campaign includes notes on performances and interviews with artists like blues guitarist Robert Johnson, folk singer Woody Guthrie, country musician Burl Ives, and blues singers Lead Belly and Muddy Waters. Lomax is credited with bringing all of these artists to popular public attention. The collection also documents Lomax’s extensive travels, including his time as a Library of Congress employee, and the toll his years of fieldwork took on his personal life.

According to Bob Dylan, “Alan was one of those who unlocked the secrets of this kind of music”. Now, we need your help to unlock these documents and make them available to musicians, music lovers, and researchers all over the world. Ride along in the back seat of Lomax's sedan on the way to interview Robert Johnson’s mother, or browse through Muddy Waters’ record collection to see what inspired the iconic bluesman.

We're starting off with materials from across America and the Caribbean, and will later release materials from Lomax's fieldwork in the British Isles, Spain, and the Soviet Union.  Read more about the campaign in our Folklife Today blogpost.

 

And then dig in to spend some time traveling along with Lomax!

Photo of Alan Lomax and Raphael Hurtault listening to playback of an audio recording. La Plaine, Dominica. June 1962

Many pages on By the People are written in languages other than English or contain words and phrases with accents, such as café or coup de théâtre. Writers such as Mary Church and Clara Barton spent time in Germany and France, and sometimes practiced their language skills by writing in the local language. Abraham Lincoln received correspondence from speakers of many other languages, and Alan Lomax and his collaborators wrote down songs and stories in French, Creole, German, Finnish, Swedish, Polish, and Hungarian. We want to capture these languages as they appear on the page, just as the authors wrote them down. Here’s how you can use or adapt your existing keyboard.

 

How to Type Accented Characters and diacritic marks on Mac

For accented letters:

  1. Press and hold down the letter you wish to accent until a menu with character accents appears
  2. Choose the character accent with the mouse or press the number corresponding below the accent in the menu. These numbers appear in light grey below the accents.

 

Another way to type diacritics and ligatures on a Mac is to use key combinations:

 

  • é, ó – Acute: Hold down OPTION key + e, then type the letter you want to accent
  • à
  • ô – Circumflex: Hold down OPTION key + i + the letter
  • ñ – Hold down OPTION key + n + the letter
  • ö – Trema: Hold down OPTION key + u + the letter
  • ç – Cedilla: Hold down OPTION key + c
  • ø – Hold down OPTION key + o
  • å Å – Hold down OPTION key + a
  • Æ – AE Ligature: Hold down OPTION key + ‘
  • œ – OE Ligature: Hold down OPTION key + q
  • ¿ – Hold down OPTION key and SHIFT key + ?
  • ¡ – Hold down OPTION key + 1

 

How to Type Accented Characters and diacritic marks on Microsoft Windows

 

Below you will find links to instructions on the Microsoft support pages for how to add and switch between different languages on your Windows device. You can install as many language keyboards as you want. Instructions vary for different versions of Windows.

 

If you are unsure which version of Windows is running on your device, here are instructions on how to find that information: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/13443/windows-which-version-am-i-running

 

For entering Spanish, French, and German accents, install the "United States - International" keyboard. To add Finnish, Swedish, Hungarian and other languages, select the relevant language from the list of available keyboards in the Windows list. You can find this list by following the directions linked above.

 

To switch between different language keyboard settings on Windows

 

  • For Windows XP, 7 and 10 press left-Ctrl + left-Shift
  • For Windows 10 you may also press and hold the Windows key + Spacebar

A new challenge has arrived, volunteers! From August 12-19, help By the People complete 1,000 pages of "Suffrage: Women Fight for the Vote".

This new topic highlights the 70 year battle for women's right to vote, marking its’ 100th anniversary in 2019. Meet suffragists Susan B. Anthony, Mary Church Terrell, Carrie Chapman Catt, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Anna Dickinson! Engage with their personal letters, travel diaries, and organization ledgers to watch history unfold before your eyes. You'll see Susan B. Anthony affectionately give her friends nicknames and Elizabeth Cady Stanton write the book that almost rips the movement in half. Transcribe your way from the White House lawn to the beaches of South Africa.

Volunteer review is the crucial final step required to mark pages complete so they can return to loc.gov for research use. Honor the work of these  tireless suffrage advocates by helping meet the 1,000 page goal! Anyone can take part, you just need to register for an account to jump into review. We also hope you'll spread the news of this challenge and invite others to join us as we engage intimately with suffrage history.

If you’re new to review, read through our How-To Review guide before getting started.

 

Join in by visiting Suffrage: Women Fight for the Vote!

 

We’ll log daily numbers here, so check in to see progress toward our goal!

 

Progress so far:

By 6pm EST on Wednesday, you'd already completed over 1,000 pages!  Amazing!!!  Clearly we underestimated your suffrage zeal, so we're setting a stretch goal. Can we complete a total of 2,000 by Monday??  Are you up for it?!

Monday, 8/19, 9am EST --

2,258 pages completed!

 

DateNot startedIn progressIn reviewCompleted
Monday 8/12, 9am EST19,9661,74215,6526,257

Monday 8/12, 5:30pm EST

24,3241,76415,8386,454
Tuesday 8/13, 9am EST23,8051,79716,1436,635
Tuesday 8/13, 5:30pm EST23,7351,82116,5786,836
Wednesday 8/14, 9am EST23,0591,85216,9787,081
Wednesday 8/14, 6pm EST22,4811,92317,1877,379
Thursday 8/15, 9am EST22,1591,95117,3637,497
Thursday 8/15, 5pm EST21,6301,96317,6937,684
Friday 8/16, 9:30am EST21,2871,98917,8227,872
Friday 8/16, 5pm EST20,9982,02417,8868,062
Monday 8/19 9am EST19,7712,07118,6138515

("Not started" numbers may went up on 8/14 due to publication of new Suffrage pages!)

Carrie Chapman Catt and other suffragists gather to fight for their right to vote. Protesters hold banners, shields, and American flags.

 

Today, June 4, 2019, we're releasing the papers of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Anna E. Dickinson for you to transcribe and review, in celebration of the centenary of women's suffrage and the passage of the 19th Amendment. The struggle for women’s voting rights—considered the largest reform movement in American history—lasted more than seven decades, from 1848 to 1920. Determined women organized, lectured, petitioned, lobbied, paraded, picketed, and went to jail for daring to demand the right to vote.

 

In addition to these four new Campaigns we've added new functionality called "Topic", which allows us to group materials thematically. You'll now find the papers of Mary Church Terrell, advocate for the rights of African Americans and universal suffrage, alongside the papers of other leading suffragists such as Stanton and Anthony, whose works were we've just added.

Explore the daily lives of these determined leaders and their stories of hope, perseverance, sacrifice, courage, creativity, and conviction. Learn how everyday Americans and people around the world participated in and reacted to the suffrage movement. You can choose from letters, diaries, speeches, articles, address and appointment books, and much more!

 

Find your perfect page

 

You can use the exciting new activity prototype to search for suffrage papers to transcribe or review. Log in and search for materials by Campaign or Topic. Further instructions about the prototype are available here, and you can fill out this survey to tell us about your experience.

 

A new exhibition

 

The "Suffrage: Women Fight For the Vote" Topic is launching the same day as the Library of Congress's fantastic new exhibition, "Shall not be denied: Women Fight for the Vote", which tells the story of the suffrage movement through documents, images, and objects housed at the Library. The exhibition will be open from June 2019 to September 2020 and is free to visit. Watch out for free tours and talks, and learn more about this key period of American history.

Today By the People is launching the Activity Prototype! Test out a new way of browsing pages and finding something to transcribe or review. In this interface volunteers can:

  • Sort and filter pages all in one place
  • Choose another page to read or work on at any time
  • See more information and context about the page you are working on
  • Access basic instructions and keyboard shortcuts in the help panel

Below are detailed instructions to help you get started. This new functionality will be available through the end of July and we want to hear from you! Can you tell us more about the ways this experience makes tasks easier or harder than they were before?

Try it out and let us know what you think by filling out this survey.

 

How to get started:

First, you will need to log in or register.  Then jump in on the home page or go to crowd.loc.gov/act. Homepage carousel

 

Start by choosing what you want to do - “Transcribe” or “Review”, by clicking on one of these buttons in the top left of page. Then look for a page that looks interesting to you! You can also choose an option from the “Sort by” drop down list to group images by “Most Recently Updated”, “Most Difficult”, and “Year”. Use the campaign drop-down menu to view one campaign at a time. You can use one or more filters of your choice.

 

 

Adjust the size and number of pages you see using the slider at the top right. Once you see something you want to work on, click it.

 

Find resources to help you transcribe or review under "More info" and the "Help Panel".

Click “More Info” above the text window to see more context about the page and the larger collection of which it is one part. The context can help you decipher significant names, locations, and dates and includes broader campaign and project information.

 

 

Click the ? tab to the right to open the help panel. Here you will see basic transcription and review tips, a link to the complete instructions in the "Help Center", and keyboard shortcuts for the image viewer.

 

 

In review, carefully compare the transcription to the original page and check for accuracy. Click “Accept” if accurate or “Edit” if the page needs correction. Clicking “Edit” will move the image back into transcribe mode so another volunteer can make the needed changes.

 

 

If you are transcribing, click “Save” as you go to save your work in progress. It’s ok to transcribe only part of a page, “Save”, and move on. Click "Save" and “Submit for review” when you have completely transcribed the page.

 

 

Share pages with friends and fellow volunteers online. Click the arrow above the page name to post on Twitter and Facebook or copy the link to add to an email or save it in a document.

 

 

Choose another page to work on at any time in the right hand panel. Don’t forget to save before navigating away from your current page!

 

 

A message with a person icon will appear over pages you are unable to work on. This might indicate that someone else is already working on that page or that you have already worked on it.

 

 

To go back to view and filter all pages click “Browse All” in the top right corner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To transcribe or review in the original interface, click on the image number

 

 

Try it out and let us know what you think by filling out this survey.

Final Update: Our original 500-page review goal was well exceeded by Memorial Day morning!! Incredible work! We issued a stretch goal for the final day of 750 completed... and hit it out of the park too! Final totals as of 10am ET the following morning:  862 pages completed

 

Thank you immensely to everyone who participated.  We are still eager to hear about what you learned from the men who entered the Left-Hand Penmanship Contest.  Share your stories here!

 

 

Not started

In progress

Need Review

Completed

Mon., May 20, 9am

68

4

3,378

1,116

Mon., May 20, 5am

51

7

3,327

1,181

Tue., May 21, 9:30am4173,3051,213
Tue., May 21, 5:15pm26113,2961,233
Wed, May 22, 9:30am2293,2951,240
Wed, May 22, 5:30pm17113,2811,257
Th, May 23, 10:30am8103,2361,312
Th, May 23, 5:00pm0123,1691,385
Fri, May 24, 9:00am063,1281,432
Fri, May 24, 4:00pm063,0501,510
Mon, May 27, 7:30am042,7951,767
Mon, May 27, 7:30pm052,7131,848
Tue, May 28, 10am062,5821,978

 

In the lead up to Memorial Day (May 27) we challenge you to “Make It Meaningful” by completing review of 500 pages of “Civil War soldiers: disabled but not disheartened” campaign in honor of those who have served.

 

This campaign features entries from the left-handed penmanship competition created by William Oland Bourne for Union soldiers who lost their right hand or arm during the conflict. The handwritten pages include reflections on war and loss. Without transcription the digitized images of the original documents are not keyword searchable or accessible for many users with sight or cognitive disabilities. Focusing on review this Memorial Day offers you the opportunity to honor the sacrifices of service members by exploring and meditating on these soldiers’ experiences and helping make them accessible for others.

 

"There are many men now in hospital, as well as at their homes, who have lost their right arms, or whose right arm is so disabled that they cannot write with it. Penmanship is a necessary requisite to any man who wants a situation under the government, or in almost any business establishment. As an inducement to the class of wounded and disabled soldiers here named to make every effort to fit themselves for lucrative and honorable positions, we offer the following premiums..."

 

Thus began an announcement in the June 1865 issue of “The Soldier's Friend,” a newspaper edited by poet and reformer William Oland Bourne that focused on the needs and interests of Civil War veterans. The ad invited Union soldiers and sailors who lost use of their dominant arm during the Civil War to submit penmanship samples in competition for a monetary prize. Bourne served as a chaplain at Central Park Hospital during the war, where he was exposed to the often debilitating injuries sustained by soldiers and sailors. Winning entries were displayed in New York and Washington to advocate for the capacity and resilience of disabled veterans. The writings tell the individual veteran’s stories of service and sacrifice and were used by Bourne to advocate for the injured soldiers' value and experiences in post-war society.  Learn more about Bourne and the contest here.

 

And speaking of learning more, we have a special Challenge blog post by Michelle Krowl, a historian in the Manuscript Division. It tells the story of Alfred D. Whitehouse, one of the soldiers who entered Bourne’s penmanship contest twice. This post was written to inspire you during this challenge, and as a way for us to mark and reflect upon the significance of Memorial Day. What other stories can you find in this campaign?  Or in the Letters to Lincoln or Clara Barton Diaries?

 

We'll start the clock at 9am ET May 20 and will track review and completion progress here. Can we review 500 Left-Handed Penmanship Contest pages by the end of Memorial Day? Jump in!

(the below post is reproduced from the Library of Congress blog)

Michelle Krowl, a historian in the Library’s Manuscript Division, recently was working with Barton’s diaries inClara Barton: ‘Angel of the Battlefield,’ puzzling over a blurred name. For those of you drawn to such literary mysteries, and who might be intrigued to try your hand on the project, here’s a story of her detective work. Share your By the People stories with us, too!

I recently delved into Clara Barton’s diaries and stumbled across the kind of puzzle that makes my work so fascinating. My story might help you, as a kind of a how-to, in using the Library’s resources in your own research.

It began when I was looking into Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s biography, Clara Barton: Professional Angel. The task at hand was to determine if Pryor used Barton’s diaries to help document Barton’s work following the Sea Islands Hurricane of Aug. 27, 1893, which devastated South Carolina. Yes, it turned out: Pryor cited several dates, and quoted from Barton’s diary entry of October 1, 1893.

Here is that page, from Barton’s May 1893-May 1894 pocket diary. It is tiny, just 5.5 inches tall.

On the project site, I noticed a volunteer had completed most of that Oct. 1 entry, and correctly added brackets for words that were illegible or speculative. Since several brackets overlapped the quotation supplied by Pryor in her book, I added the missing words to the transcription.

Then curiosity took hold. I looked at the other doubtful words. At least one was a name, which the original transcriber reasonably speculated was “Grace.”

On the next page, though, in a sentence that reads, “Sent our telegram to…” the same name now looked more like “De G—-.”

I was intrigued. I wanted to make that identification. But how could I find the name?

First, I turned to the Clara Barton Papers, available online through the Manuscript Division.  I looked in the General Correspondence series, which is arranged alphabetically by the name of the correspondent. Scanning the “D” names in the collection finding aid, I got a hit: “DeGraw, Peter V.”

Ideally, for confirmation, in the “DeGraw, Peter V. and Emma” file, I would find a letter to Barton beginning, “I received your telegram of October 2….” That would have sealed the deal. Alas, this was a dead end. There was no such letter.

Still, I kept looking, and I discovered something nearly as good. Years earlier, in 1888, DeGraw had written a letter to Barton. On the back of it, Barton noted, “P. V. DeGraw,” in script that looked convincingly similar to her later diary entry.

That was good, but not quite proof positive.

So, next, I went back to the Barton Papers. I consulted the Letterbook series, which contains copies of letters and memoranda, written by Barton and other Red Cross officials. It is arranged chronologically.

The June 1892-January 1894 volume was promising. An index at the front listed the page numbers of DeGraw correspondence, helping me hone in quickly. And there, on page 502, the mystery was solved. A copy of an Oct. 2, 1893 telegram sent by Barton to “P. V. DeGraw,” notified him that the Red Cross accepted responsibility for Sea Islands relief work.

Telegram from Barton to P. V. DeGraw, October 2, 1893

 

The telegram includes Barton’s prediction that the work would involve meeting the needs of “thirty thousand people for eight long months with no aid from the Government,” which later accounts suggest was not far from the reality.

That was it. I had my mystery solved. I added in the name to the transcript, delighted.

I was not quite done, though. Barton’s own writings helped interpret another mysterious word in brackets… the final word on October 2:

The transcriber recorded the last two words as “all [  ].” Could I solve that, too?

Barton, I knew, published books on her life and the work of the American Red Cross, so I again consulted the Barton Papers online. First, I went to the Related Resources page, and looked under the “selected Barton publications” list. The Sea Islands relief work comprises an entire chapter in “The Red Cross in Peace and War.” Reading that, I noticed that a passage on page 202 suggested a possible interpretation: “…the Beaufort Relief Commission, as appointed by the governor, was formally released as a committee and immediate re-elected by the Red Cross as its ‘advisory board’….”

Could “all [ ]” actually be “our board.” hurriedly written in a small pocket diary? I think so, but the reviewer of my addition to the transcription will be the judge.

So, to sum up: Through the efforts of previous transcribers, my consultations of the collection finding aid and the Barton Papers, plus Barton’s own writings, the diary entries for October 1-2, 1893, may now be complete.

This might seem like a considerable effort for a short text. But I hope that this example of using numerous parts of the Barton collection to solve its mysteries might help other transcribers understand the context in which Barton wrote about her relief work, and offer ideas about how to track down the people and groups who were part of her universe.

Plus, who are we kidding? The detective work is fun!

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.

 

On April 16 the By the People/Concordia web development team released several new features, including social share, "Resources", and an updated homepage!  We hope that you'll enjoy these new features, and find it easier to share pages with friends and fellow volunteers online.

 

Social Share

 

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:

 

https://crowd.loc.gov/campaigns/letters-to-lincoln/1862-civil-war-death-of-willie-lincoln-drafts-of-emancipation-proclam…

 

Resources

 

We've added a new tab in the menu bar: Resources. The resources page links to our "For Educators" page, includes detailed documentation for hosting a transcribe-a-thon in your community, and has some recently requested information on volunteering for school or community service credit.  We'll continue to add to this page as we build out our program.

 

Homepage and other content updates

 

You may have noticed some changes to the words we use on the homepage and our instructions pages.  The By the People Community Managers are undertaking a content review of all the words and images on the site to work toward clearer and friendlier language and make any changes needed since our October 2018 launch.  Look for more tweaks in the coming months and please share suggestions that would help us continue to improve the volunteer experience.

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!

 

  • Improved review workflow!  When reviewing, you’ll see a new dialogue box when you “Accept” an item. After accepting you can keep reviewing by selecting "Review a new page" from the message dialogue. If you are reviewing and choose to edit an item, you will also be able to choose to keep reviewing.
  • You can also start reviewing from the homepage carousel. Click “Let’s go!” from the Review panel in the carousel to go directly to an item in need of review.
  • If you submit a page for review, you can reopen that transcription for editing (as long as it has not already been accepted as complete). This change comes by popular request, so we’re especially excited to hear what you think!
  • Our “Latest” page has been removed. News and press, previously found there are moving to “About”.
  • The page status "Submitted for Review" has been changed to "Needs Review".
  • We also added explanations of what you can do below each status in the transcription interface, with friendly dash of encouragement.
  • Print-friendly stylesheet for transcription page. Check this out by visiting any transcription (though completed transcriptions offer the best use case for this feature). Right click in the interface then choose “Print” (or just hit ctrl + p) to see a preview and print the page.
  • Finally, we made some investments in the behind-the-scenes architecture of the site to improve the code structure, site performance, and accessibility for screen readers.

 

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.

Washington, D.C., students learn to read cursive at a Nov. 19 event at the Library celebrating the 155th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address and a new crowdsourcing initiative for transcribing historical documents. Photo by Shawn Miller.

“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.

This is from an outline of a speech Alexander Hamilton gave at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Note where he uses the long “s,” as in “Importance of the occafion.” Can you find more?

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.

Here is an example of what the long “s” looked like in print. From “The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved,” a 1764 book by James Otis.

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.

George Washington used the long “s” only occasionally. In this 1782 letter, written during the Revolutionary War, paragraph two begins: “I am fully perswaded that it is unnecefsary.”

 

Thomas Jefferson routinely used some idiosyncratic spellings, and he generally did not capitalize the first word in a sentence. In this 1788 letter to James Madison, the second sentence begins: “the first part of this long silence in me was occasioned by a knoledge [knowledge] that you were absent from N. York.” Then he complains that a pamphlet Madison sent him “unluckily omitted exactly the pafsage [passage] I wanted, which was what related to the navigation of the Mifsisipi [Mississippi].”

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!

 

Two students work on transcribing a Letter to Lincoln

 

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 crowd@loc.gov for further instructions.

 

Full event details here

 

Transcribe-a-thon guide and discussion thread