Project: Smithsonian Digital Volunteers
Few names conjure up such instant respect in the scientific community as Smithsonian. The Smithsonian Institution has been a cornerstone of preservation and research in the United States for over 150 years. Surely, working for them must be a very exclusive opportunity, right? What if I told you that there was a way that you, as a citizen scientist, could contribute to making their collections more useful to the public? That’s exactly what you can do as a transcriptionist with the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers program.
The Smithsonian’s 19 museums obviously have extensive archives and special collections. However, many of those historical documents are handwritten. While these original primary documents are obviously precious from a historian’s perspective, they aren’t very functional from a practical standpoint. By transcribing photographs of these documents into a digital record, you’d be contributing to a massive effort to make these field notes, diaries, ledgers, log books, manuscripts, specimen labels, etc. more accessible. This project has five primary areas of focus:
Discovery: Transcription turns handwritten and typed documents into searchable and machine-readable resources
Humanities Research: Digitized and fully transcribed documents are an incredibly valuable asset for art, history, & literary researchers across the globe.
Scientific Research: Transcription of handwritten collection labels will create millions of specimen data points available to the scientific community for research and discovery.
Education: From high school to graduate studies, transcription allows students to engage with primary source materials – a key part of the learning experience.
Readability: Transcription preserves these historic documents for future generations as practices like cursive handwriting are less emphasized in in school.
So how do you join the 6500 other volunteers who have already transcribed over 178,297 pages of archived material into digitally-accessible information? The process is super simple and surprisingly unintimidating (I mean, this is the Smithsonian!). You can browse projects that are available for transcription, and just choose the most recently added, or filter by institution–which is cool, because you can find one that’s a good fit with your interests. The Transcription Center provides a tips page with instructions on how to approach each type of document, as well as general guidelines for transcribing primary sources. You are encouraged to create an account, but you do not have to–you can transcribe anonymously, if you’d like, or with a username.
Keep in mind that this is a peer-reviewed process (as all good science is, right?): so anything you transcribe will be read, and possibly flagged for editing, by other volunteers. You can also volunteer to review others’ work–when you choose a project, you’ll see “start transcribing” or “start reviewing.” Just choose which role you’d like to fill. This ensures that everything that is ultimately submitted is of high quality, and hopefully gives you peace of mind that you don’t have to be a total expert to participate in this project. Everyone works together!
You don’t have to commit transcribing an entire project, or to a set number of words. You can jump from project to project, or if you only have a few minutes to spare, jump on and review a few paragraphs, making this a really flexible program. Be sure to check out Smithsonian Digital Volunteers if you’ve got a knack for citizen history, as well as science!
Photo Credit: Pixabay