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Crowdsourcing Transcription of the Papers of the War Department Using Scripto

Sharon M. Leon, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media

In 1800, the United States War Department burned to the ground. The important materials of that archive were lost to historians until an intrepid group for researchers began the mission to reconstitute the papers by collecting and scanning received copies and materials from other archives. Today, those images, representing nearly 55,000 documents, are available to researchers from the Papers of the War Department, 1784-1800, http://wardepartmentpapers.org/. In keeping with the origins of this non-traditional digital archive, PWD is embarking on a new venture to revolutionize the work of documentary editors by opening the archive up for crowdsourcing of transcription.

This innovation in editing practice is facilitated by the use of the Center for History and New Media’s newest open source tool: Scripto. Scripto allows users to contribute transcriptions to online documentary projects. The tool includes a versioning history and full set of editorial controls, so that project staff can manage public contributions. The crowdsourcing work with PWD serves as a case study for other documentary projects that might want to pursue similar methods for beginning transcription, measurably improving their search corpus, and creating a vibrant community of users among scholarly researchers, students and teacher, and members of the general public. CHNM will capture the lessons learned with PWD in the form of a guide for editors, and will share those lessons with the audience of the AHA’s 2012 annual meeting.

If you have questions or comments on this talk, feel free to leave them below.

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