Transcription in a Digital World

28 09 2010

I would like to bring your attention to an excellent post on the ActiveHistory blog about digital transcription. The post is by Krista McCracken, a public history consultant and who is currently working as a Digitization Facilitator for Knowledge Ontario. She begins her post with this:

“You are cleaning out the attic of your house and find a diary from the early 1900s written by a distant relative.  What do you do with the diary? How do you make it useful to the general public? Donating it to a museum or an archive is a good start.  However, in order for the diary to be useful to a wider audience it needs to be transcribed.  A transcribed document can be made full text searchable, copies can be made of the text, and the entire document becomes accessible to a wider audience.  Transcription can be a time consuming and a painstaking process.   But, once a document has been transcribed its usefulness increases exponentially.”

Krista shares some interesting information about how Optical Character Recognition has facilitated digital transcription. She also includes information about crowdsourcing, which is the strategy of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to a large group of unpaid volunteers, through an open call. Krista tell us about the Bentham Project, which allows interested members of the public to try their hands at transcribing scanned images of the great intellectual’s correspondence.  In an effort to harness the spirit of competition to generate lots of  quality transcriptions, the Bentham Project awards points to the best transcribers.

According to the Bentham Project’s blog post of 22 September 2010, the top transcriber was “currently Maureencallahan who has already racked up 2700 points for her contributions! Snefnug and Auto-icon are in joint second place with 2600 points.”

As someone who is helping to plan something similar to the Bentham Project for a major Canadian historical figure whose career was spent largely in the pre-typewriter age, I was very interested to read Krista’s informative post.

More details of the Canadian project will appear on this blog at a later date.

Update 1: Check out these blog posts about crowdsourcing and digital transcription. Here and here.

Update 2:

Checkout out the blog of the Transcribe Bentham crowdsourcing project. They have some great images there that allow potential volunteers to get a sense of what the various stages of the project.

Digitisation of Bentham's Correspondence


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28 09 2010
Ben Brumfield

I was amused to read Krista’s hypothetical, as I’ve been trying to digitize my own great-great grandmother’s diaries for the last few years.

Quite a lot of work has been done lately on online tools for transcription, and many projects have been willing to share their work. For your own project, you may want to start with Melissa Terras’s post on transcription tools as well as perhaps my own blog on the subject.

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