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14 Posts authored by: Lauren Algee Expert

Today we launched "Herencia: Centuries of Spanish Legal Documents," featuring pages written in Spanish, Latin, and Catalan between 1300 and 1800. Our aim is to transcribe the documents word-for-word so that researchers can more easily discover these materials. This Law Library Collection is our first entirely non-English campaign! It includes papers pertaining to laws, statutes, instructions, and decrees of Spanish kings, government officials, and the Catholic Church, including the Spanish Inquisition and papal bulls. Aside from English language titles and short descriptions created by the Library, we know little about the texts or the topics, individuals, and significant historical moments documented within the collection. Most names, places, geographical regions, and other details that would be of interest to scholars are still waiting to be discovered. Legal documents shed light on what societies and individuals value, and the struggles, hopes, and triumphs of people across the societal spectrum.

Delve into European history and practice your skills reading and transcribing Spanish, Latin and Catalan as you help the Law Library of Congress uncover the mysteries of this collection. Remember, you can contribute at your own pace and at times that are convenient for you. While foreign language skills are helpful, you do not need to read or speak Spanish, Latin, or Catalan to participate.

Read more about this new Campaign in English on the Law Library blog, and in Spanish on the Hispanic Division blog.

We've created some special resources to help you get started with this campain, including 2 webinars: How and Why to Transcribe Herencia: Centuries of Spanish Legal Documents on Thursday, February 27th, and How to Host a Transcribe-a-thon on Thursday March 12th. These webinars will be offered in separate English and Spanish versions. Choose your language when you navigate to the sign up page using the links above. You can also find some helpful guides for transcribing Spanish and Latin on our resources page.

Finally, we hope you'll join our Herencia transcribe-a-thon on March 19th! You can take part online from anywhere, or in-person here at the Library of Congress! Our on site event coincides with a National Book Festival Presents program featuring Jeffrey Rosen who will discuss his new book Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty and Law with Dahlia Lithwick, a senior editor at Slate. Learn more about the virtual and in-person event and register here.

"I felt I was lynched many times in mind and spirit. I grew up in a world of white power . . .”

These words rock us with their hard truth. They were written by Rosa Parks sometime after her arrest in 1955 for defying a Montgomery, Alabama, bus driver’s order to give up her seat to a white passenger. They can be found among her autobiographical writings in the Rosa Parks Papers. Today, February 4th, Parks' birthday, we're launching these and other materials from her collection "Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words". The pages include letters to and from friends and family, records about her activism and lifelong fight for equal rights, programs from events that featured or honored her, and a small number of miscellaneous items, including her "Featherlite Pancake Recipe" with a secret ingredient.

We hope transcribing Rosa Parks’s writings, notes, and statements will bring you insight into her upbringing and family, her arrest and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the pernicious impact of racism and Jim Crow segregation. Parks was a powerful writer whose strong words and keen insights hit home. Many of these writings and notes are in draft form. She wrote on scraps of paper, often using the backs of incoming letters, event and sermon programs, and envelopes. The purpose of these writings isn’t always clear. Many were notes for speeches. Some may have be been intended for memoirs long before she wrote Rosa Parks: My Story (1992). Parks may have used writing as a way to process her arrest, the boycott, and their aftermath. Most of her writings are undated, although dates can be inferred from the dated letters and programs on which she wrote and from stationery letterhead. Many are featured in the Library's current exhibition (also titled Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words), which inspired this campaign.

Your transcriptions may lead to new discoveries about when and why some of these notes and drafts were written. One of the great archival myths is that archivists have time to read every word, untie every knot, and solve every mystery in a collection. They don’t, and unresolved mysteries abound. These documents have only been available for a large public audience for a few years, and to date they have not been transcribed and made word-searchable online, which is what you're doing when you take part in any By the People Campaign. What will you discover?

Explore the Rosa Parks Campaign

Update 2/3/20:

Congratulations on completing another successful challenge! Together we moved the number of completed pages in the Alan Lomax Campaign from 1,732 to over 3,000 to celebrate Alan Lomax's 105th birthday. To thank volunteers, our partners at the Association for Cultural Equity, and the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress made a special playlist of Lomax recordings inspired by the campaign that you can access via Spotify. Songs include "Worried Now, Won't be Worried Long," by Sidney Carter, "The Moonshiner," by Daw Henson and "Sink 'Em Low," by Bessie Jones. We hope you'll listen as you keep reviewing Alan Lomax pages! The more we review, the more we can publish on, and the sooner we'll bring out new Lomax materials for you to transcribe.


Update 1/31:

As of 4pm ET on January 31st we're so close to meeting our goal, but we're not there yet. 2,962 out of 3000 pages. Can you help us get over the line? As an incentive, and a big thank you for all your hard work so far, our friends at the Association for Cultural Equity, which champions the legacy of Alan Lomax and those whom he recorded, has made a special playlist for our challenge. Help us close it out while you listen to the songs and interviews of some of the very documents you're reviewing!


Update 1/15: 

As of January 15th, 2,200 pages have been completed -- 800 to go by the end of the month!


Original post:


You all are so good at challenges, we have another for the month of January! We're featuring Alan Lomax, whose 105th birthday would be on January 31st. Lomax was the most famous American folklorist of the 20th century. From 1936 to 1966 he traveled the country and the world recording thousands of musicians, storytellers, and other tradition-bearers. He worked with friends and family, as well as cultural icons such as Zora Neale Hurston and Pete Seeger. His detailed field notebooks document encounters with Muddy Waters, Lead Belly, Bessie Jones and others.


So far we've made U.S. and Caribbean materials available, and are waiting until these are mostly complete before releasing materials from the United Kingdom. So this month we ask you to put your considerable talents and energy towards reviewing pages to bring the "completed" count to 3,000 by Alan's birthday on Jan. 31. This will let us start bringing transcriptions back to, and will move us closer to adding new materials. Jump in to Lomax review here!


As of January 1st, 1,732 Lomax pages were complete -- 1,268 to go!

Update! Volunteers completed transcription of all of "This Hell-upon-earth of a prison", Samuel Gibson's diary and letter, in less than 36 hours!*  We then challenged you to review "Disabled but not disheartened" and volunteers jumped in to move 371 pages to completed!  Incredible work!  We hope that you'll share your reflections and takeaways from these campaigns in the comments below. 


Stretch goal, "Disabled but not disheartened":

So, "what's next?" you ask. With the holiday still a few days away, we hope you're up for a 2nd Veteran's Day challenge!


Let's complete all 1,572 pages needing review in the "Civil War Soldiers: 'Disabled but not disheartened'" Campaign by the end of Veterans Day. This is a lot of material, but you all have shown yourselves to be an incredible community, and we think you can do it! This campaign features entries from the left-handed penmanship competition created by a reformer, poet, editor, and clergyman named William Oland Bourne for Union soldiers who lost their right arms in the conflict. Reviewing these pages you'll encounter soldiers' personal accounts of battle and loss, as well as their lives after the war, when they trained themselves to write left-handed and returned to civilian life and work.


This was one of our original campaigns launched in October 2018. It would be amazing to round out the review of these letters by wounded soldiers, so that we could publish the full set of transcriptions back on That would be a lot to be proud of, and grateful for, this Veterans Day.


Join in by visiting "Disabled but not disheartened"


Progress: 371 pages completed! (since challenge launch 11/8, 9am EST)



Not started

In progress

In review


Thursday 11/7,  2pm EST031,5723,572

Friday 11/8, 9am EST

Friday 11/8, 5pm EST001,4273,720
Saturday 11/9, 8:30 am EST021,3713,774
Saturday 11/9, 6:15 pm EST021,3503,795

Sunday 11/10, 9:00 am EST

Sunday 11/10, 5:00 pm EST021,3043,841
Monday 11/11, 9:00 am EST021,2903,855
Monday 11/11, 5:15 pm EST021,2303,914
Tuesday 11/12, 12:00 pm EST011,2033,943



Original challenge, "This hell-upon-earth of a prison":

“Today is the holy sabbath: but there is no sabbath here; Oh Liberty; Law & Order! Thou canst not be appreciated till thou art once lost”

So wrote Union soldier Samuel J. Gibson in the depths of his agony while held as a prisoner of war at the notorious Andersonville prison camp in Georgia. Gibson’s diary of 1864-1865 documents part of his military service, capture, experience at Andersonville, and ultimate release. Today we are publishing the 200-page diary, as well as a letter Gibson wrote to his wife as "This Hell-upon-earth of a Prison."  We launch this new campaign to challenge you, the By the People community, to completely transcribe and review Gibson's writings by the end of Veteran's Day (November 11th). Once all of the pages have been reviewed we can publish the transcriptions back on where they’ll will make these important documents fully searchable.

Documents such as these connect us all to the past, but for some people this connection is personal. Several of Samuel Gibson’s descendants are alive today, including his great granddaughter, Peggy. Read her experience of learning about the diary here.

This week we invite you to engage deeply with Gibson’s writings, and to treat your volunteer service as a chance to think about the veterans in your own life and your own history. We'll track daily numbers here, so check in to see progress toward our goal!

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


Join in by visiting "This Hell-upon-earth of a prison": Samuel J. Gibson's Andersonville Diary






Not started

In progress

In review


Monday 11/6, 9am EST90000

Monday 11/6 6:30pm EST

Tuesday 11/7 9:10am EST17082
Tuesday 11/7 1:10am EST01089


*As of 11/12 one Gibson page remains "in progress" to to a user page reservation.

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

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 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

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!)

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


Mon., May 20, 9am





Mon., May 20, 5am





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.


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" in the search field at


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!

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


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! 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 for further instructions.


Full event details here


Transcribe-a-thon guide and discussion thread