Historical Transcription Assignment

Bamiyan Buddhas
The Buddhas of Bamiyan dated to the sixth century and were carved directly into these sandstone cliffs in the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan. They are no longer in existence after they were dynamited on orders of the Taliban in 2001, photo credit F. Jordano.

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As I mentioned in the notes on user-participation projects, one of the newer instances of crowdsourcing is public collaboration on historical transcription projects in which participants collaborate to transcribe a hand-written, manuscript document and make the document accessible digitally. In other words, you read a hand-written document online (usually it is a picture of the document) and then you type up the information as exactly as possible (usually in doc or pdf format). I think that is a great way to get people interested in working with history. One of the earliest, and largest, crowdsourcing efforts has been in operation at Ancestry.com where volunteers have been transcribing handwritten records, like the US census files, so that those records can be indexed and then searched by digital means. That work has been invaluable for genealogy researchers.

If you think about it for a moment, crowdsourcing is just the old "group project" from your history class scaled up to a larger, generally undefined group (the interested public), and these days, in almost all cases, that larger group is connected online. Crowdsourcing is characterized by its random nature; you really don't know who will become interested and choose to participate in your project. There will probably be professionals and amateurs collaborating.

I often assigned a specific historical document to a group of 4 or 5 students with the task to answer a specific question about the document; and the group uses their collective brain-power and knowledge to solve the problem. Crowdsourcing is really the same thing, and the crowd plays an important role on policing itself and making sure that its work is credible and reliable. When it comes to deciphering and transcribing some old handwritten document, it really helps to have a lot of people collaborating to make sure that the document is transcribed correctly and exactly. Believe me. That can be really hard sometimes because a person's handwriting can be very bad, and the document itself could be in poor physical condition.

Here is a bit of reading about transcription projects:

Here are some possible transcription projects that you can participate in:

Here are some Virginia projects:

Watch my video remarks on this assignment.

Here is your assignment:

After consulting with your instructor, participate in one of these crowdsourcing transcription projects (or find a different project to join). Then, after you have completed your work in the transcription project, write a one- or two-page paper in which you describe:

Here are the formal requirements for your paper:

Your assignment should be submitted on Canvas.