History Preserved By Us All

Oh my gosh, I’m still not over how cool this is. The University of Iowa Libraries has tons of primary source materials in need of transcription–everything from letters and diaries to recipes from cookbooks. And they’ve set up a project that allows the public to help.

DIY History

The DIY History project allows anyone to submit transcriptions of handwritten pages. You can also review existing transcriptions to double-check accuracy and fill in any gaps you can make out that others couldn’t. They don’t require registration or special software or anything. You can contribute to the preservation of historical documents during the last five minutes of your lunch break or while commercial interruption #368 runs during your favorite show.

There’s more! You can look over existing pages, even if they’ve been finished already. This is a history geek’s treasure trove (not to mention a writer’s delight). Primary sources all over the place. Random letters between average citizens. Hundreds of cake recipes. All made fully searchable by the digitization + transcription process.

Due to a recent surge in interest (gotta love when cool stuff gets reblogged by the right people), they’ve sort of…run out of things for people to transcribe. So they’re busy digitizing more documents for the next round. If you go there and don’t find anything in need of work, check back. In the meantime, read through some of the finished pages for a glimpse into everyday history.

Spreading the Love

This isn’t the only library with such a program. They’ve shared the code used for the system so that other library collections can be preserved and shared in the same way. There are links to other projects here, some of which have lots of work left to do as well.

Here’s the most exciting bit, as far as I’m concerned: University of Iowa is doing science fiction fanzines next. The only disappointing part is that it will be restricted to a small group of volunteer subscribers. Due to issues of copyright and so on, they won’t make the whole mess of images available to the public. I’m not sure whose soul I have to sell to get in as a transcriber, but man, I would be tempted.

The combination of technological advances, history geekery, and the rise of crowdsourcing everything makes this one of the coolest projects I’ve heard of in a while.

Published by Joyce Sully

Joyce Sully believes in magic and dragons and ghosts, but is not convinced her next-door neighbors are real. So she writes stories. Really, what else could she do?