Pandemic Escape: Volunteers Transcribe Sally Ride’s Papers, Rosa Parks’s Recipes, Walt Whitman’s PoemsBreaking News
tags: museums, archives, public history
Worldwide, museums and research libraries are reporting huge spikes of do-it-yourself historians such as Venkataswamy. With so many staples of daily life out of reach, these digital stenographers are reaching into history to put their quarantine time to good use, soothing their psyches in the process.
“I think we all expected there would be an influx with so many people staying at home,” said Victoria Van Hyning, who is one of the community managers for the transcription project at the Library of Congress.
But the number of sign-ups has been staggering, officials said, and is growing exponentially. Teachers scrambling for engaging distance learning projects sign up their students, who in addition to learning about cool historical figures have also discovered something called cursive writing.
In Washington, the Library of Congress reports a fivefold jump in new transcriber accounts since mid-March. The Smithsonian has seen new transcribers jump from 100 to 200 per month in pre-pandemic times to more than 5,000 per month now, according to Caitlin Haynes, the project’s coordinator. Organizations are scrambling to upload documents to meet the insatiable demand.
With history being history, there’s something for everyone. Recipes from Rosa Parks. Diaries of suffragists. Walt Whitman’s poems. Slave letters. The papers of English philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Depression-era menus. Whaling logs. Crop reports. Science-fiction fanzines. School yearbooks. The corporate files of Maidenform, the pioneering bra manufacturer.
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