DIY History

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work in an archive and spend hours trying to read handwritten notes and other letters? Now, you have the chance to practice and learn with this incredible resource by the University of Iowa!

Developed from the University of Iowa’s Special Collections, this website is about crowd-sourcing transcriptions of 17th to early 20th century letters, cookbooks, and other ephemera. Some of the materials, for example, come from documents about the transcontinental railroad. Other materials are letters of settler women. Perhaps the most interesting are the various cookbooks, with recipes for a wide range of dishes.

The website offers a way for the viewer to join in helping transcribe the material to create searchable material. To get started the user selects one of the categories. Once one has selected the category, he or she can then choose a book, letter, author, or other specific title. The book opens to multiple pages where it lists how far the transcription process has been for the book. As a part of the process, one first can write a new page, or one can edit another person’s work to approve it. Every project undergoes the same process of first transcription followed by edits.

After only being available for a short period, the project has already made substantial headway with many collections completed. The project is the perfect way to practice the observation skills of a historian, trying to identify letters and other features of writing. In order to take advantage of this resource, one should get over to the website and try it out for him or her self.

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