Boston Public Library Launches a Crowdsourced Project to Transcribe 40,000 Documents from Its Anti-Slavery Collection: You Can Now Help

We can hard­ly under­stand Amer­i­ca with­out under­stand­ing Amer­i­can his­to­ry. Can we under­stand Amer­i­can his­to­ry with­out under­stand­ing slav­ery? Many a his­to­ri­an would answer with an unqual­i­fied no, and not sim­ply because they want to see Amer­i­cans med­i­tate on the sins of their ances­tors: plung­ing into the con­tro­ver­sies around slav­ery, see­ing how Amer­i­cans made argu­ments for and against it at the time, can help us approach and inter­pret the oth­er large-scale legal and moral bat­tles that have since raged in the coun­try, and con­tin­ue to rage in it today.

The Boston Pub­lic Library’s Anti-Slav­ery Col­lec­tion, one par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant resource in that intel­lec­tu­al effort, could use our help in mak­ing its con­sid­er­able resources more read­i­ly avail­able. “For the past sev­er­al years, we have been dili­gent­ly cat­a­loging and dig­i­tiz­ing man­u­script cor­re­spon­dences from our Anti-Slav­ery col­lec­tion,” writes the BPL’s Tom Blake, all of which “doc­u­ment the thoughts, trans­ac­tions, and activ­i­ties of the abo­li­tion­ist move­ment in Boston, Mass­a­chu­setts, and through­out New Eng­land.”

Now, “in order to make this col­lec­tion more valu­able to researchers, schol­ars, and his­to­ri­ans we are pleased to announce the launch of a new web­site which will make these hand­writ­ten items avail­able for you to tran­scribe into machine read­able text.”

It’s no small job: the col­lec­tion con­tains rough­ly 40,000 pieces of “cor­re­spon­dence, broad­sides, news­pa­pers, pam­phlets, books, and mem­o­ra­bil­ia from the 1830s through the 1870s,” includ­ing the work of some of the most notable Amer­i­can, British, and Irish abo­li­tion­ists of the day. But the com­bined efforts of every­one will­ing to tran­scribe a few doc­u­ments, will, in Blake’s words, “allow the text cor­pus to be more pre­cise­ly search­able and bet­ter suit­ed for nat­ur­al lan­guage pro­cess­ing appli­ca­tions – help­ing researchers bet­ter under­stand pat­terns, rela­tion­ships, and trends embed­ded in the lin­guis­tics of this par­tic­u­lar com­mu­ni­ty.” Which, ulti­mate­ly, will help us all to bet­ter under­stand Amer­i­ca. If you’d like to lend a hand, you can cre­ate an account and start tran­scrib­ing at the Anti-Slav­ery Col­lec­tion’s site today.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mas­sive New Data­base Will Final­ly Allow Us to Iden­ti­fy Enslaved Peo­ples and Their Descen­dants in the Amer­i­c­as

1.5 Mil­lion Slav­ery Era Doc­u­ments Will Be Dig­i­tized, Help­ing African Amer­i­cans to Learn About Their Lost Ances­tors

Freed Slave Writes Let­ter to For­mer Mas­ter: You Owe Us $11,680 for 52 Years of Unpaid Labor (1865)

Visu­al­iz­ing Slav­ery: The Map Abra­ham Lin­coln Spent Hours Study­ing Dur­ing the Civ­il War

The Anti-Slav­ery Alpha­bet: 1846 Book Teach­es Kids the ABCs of Slavery’s Evils

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (3)
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  • sfemet says:

    Thank you Open Cul­ture!

    I just tran­scribed a let­ter from Sophia Thore­au (Hen­ry David’s sister)sending 5 dol­lar sub­scrip­tion to the Abo­li­tion­ist Move­ment.

    And a let­ter from one pal to anoth­er, with details on a mutu­al friend’s engage­ment.

  • nancymctigue says:

    Who do I con­tact? I would be pleased to be a par­tic­i­pant in this project,
    the Civ­il War has always intrigued me. Ken Burns brought this sad
    peri­od in Amer­i­can his­to­ry to life, I felt I was part of it.

    Thanks for any infor­ma­tion you can pro­vide to me.

    Nan­cy McTigue

  • Charline Lake says:

    Would be hap­py to help.

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