Screen shot 2010-12-28 at 11.48.13 AM.png

From a NY Times Article by Patricia Cohen:

The painstakingly slow job of transcribing often hard-to-decipher handwritten documents from history’s lead players — not to mention a lack of funds — has meant that most originals are seen by a just a handful of scholars and kept out of the public’s reach altogether. After more than five decades, only slightly more than half of James Madison’s papers have been transcribed and published, while work on Thomas Jefferson’s papers, begun in 1943, probably won’t be finished until around 2025.

Now the scholars behind the Bentham Project think they may have come up with a better way: crowd-sourcing.

Starting this fall, the editors have leveraged if not the wisdom of the crowd, then at least its fingers, inviting anyone — yes, that means you — to help transcribe some of the 40,000 unpublished manuscripts from University College’s collection that have been scanned and put online. In the roughly four months since this Wikipedia-style experiment began, 350 registered users have edited 435 transcripts.


“It’s fairly astonishing,” Sharon Leon, a historian at George Mason University, said of crowd-sourcing’s potential. Ms. Leon recently received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to design a free digital tool — a plug-in — that any archive or library could use to open transcription to the public.

Ms. Leon and her collaborators are working with 55,000 unpublished documents from the United States’ early War Department that have been collected, copied and reconstructed in the last dozen year.

See Also: Sharon Leon’s Homepage

See Also: Center for History and New Media (George Mason University)

See Also: and a List of Ships
Two Crowdsourced Transcription Projects From the UK

Via Resource Shelf


  1. The Mormon church has been doing this for decades with genealogy records all over the world. Many other groups like, USGenWeb, and RootsWeb also have transcription projects.

    Leave it to academia to think they reinvented the wheel.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail