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.
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.
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!