DIY History Category

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Crowdsourcing continues!

Pioneer Lives transcription collection-in-progress

Pioneer Lives transcription collection-in-progress

Special Collections staff survey World War II letters and diaries

Special Collections staff survey World War II letters and diaries

A letter for transcription about transcription!

A letter for transcription about transcription!

Things might seem a little quiet at DIY History, the Libraries’ transcription crowdsourcing site, but behind the scenes we’ve been working on several new initiatives that should be launching over the next few months.

First up is a long-overdue redesign of the DIYH home pages that we hope will make for a less cluttered and easier to navigate user experience. That will be rolling out next month along with the debut of a new collection up for transcription: Pioneer Lives, featuring hundreds of letters and diaries from Midwest settlers during the mid- to late 1800s. While conservation and preservation staff continue the pioneers treatment and digitization work that’s taken up much of their summer, our curators have already begun compiling lists of handwritten materials for the next initiative, which will focus on the Libraries’ small but growing collection of World War II diaries and letters. In the meantime, there’s still plenty of transcribing left to be done on cookbooks, women’s lives, and railroads at DIY History, so please stop by and help improve access to these historic documents.

Along with a new look and new content, we’re also working on a new collaboration; this fall, the Libraries is teaming up with the IDEAL (Iowa Digital Engagement and Learning) initiative on a pilot project to teach DIY History in Rhetoric classes for incoming freshman. Currently wrapping up the four-week assignment module, students have transcribed a document, conducted research on its writer’s life and times, performed a rhetorical analysis of its contents, and created brief video screencasts to present their findings on YouTube. We hope to showcase some of these videos here, so check back soon.

Alas not all of our new developments are good ones. The past few weeks have been challenging as we figure our way around the project without the support of superstar library assistant Christine Tade, who recently retired after 27 years with the Libraries. From overseeing workflows, to training student assistants, to fielding user comments and questions, she was instrumental in keeping the project running smoothly. We’re very grateful to Christine for all her dedication and hard work that helped make DIY History a success.

Christine Tade, circa 1970

Christine Tade, circa 1970

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35,000 transcriptions

DIY History milestone

DIY History milestone

The diligent and talented contributors to DIY History have now transcribed more than 35,000 pages of manuscript diaries, letters, recipes and telegrams! And this number does not reflect the thousands of pages of proofreading our crowdsourcers have also accomplished, bringing these documents to life and to the eyes of researchers. The transcribed pages tell the stories of Civil War soldiers and their families, of Iowa women making lives for themselves and their communities, of the glories of the kitchen from the 1600s to the twentieth century, of the machinations of railroad  barons, and the high ideals of a football hero. Thanks to all of you for the gift of your time and talents.

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Move over, fried twinkies: Iowa State Fair historic recipe contest

To make almond cheese cakes, Ann Kenwrick cookbook, 1770 | Szathmary Culinary Manuscripts

To make almond cheese cakes, Ann Kenwrick cookbook, 1770 | Szathmary Culinary Manuscripts

This August, traditional Fair fare such as deep-fried Twinkies, Snickers, and sticks of butter will be making room for even more old-school treats featured in the UI-sponsored Szathmary Historic Recipes cooking contest. Up for recreating 18th- and 19th-century desserts like Almond Cheese Cakes, Summer Mince Pies, and Mrs. Matson’s Marlborough Pies? Unintimidated by units of measurements such as “about the bigness of an Egg” and ingredients like “Orange Flower water”? Then see contest details on page 53 of the Iowa State Fair food booklet.

And to get in a historic mood, please visit our Iowa Digital Library Pinterest site to view a selection of digitized State Fair cartoons and clippings, ca. 1894-2004.

Iowa State Fair @ IDL Pinterest

Iowa State Fair @ IDL Pinterest

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Transcription addiction

We’ve been in touch with one of our most faithful DIY History transcribers, Roger. He didn’t intend to get so drawn into the project when he first visited our site, but now he admits that “things like eating and mowing get in the way but I’ve managed to blow off most other things cause I’m addicted to this.” Besides transcribing the manuscript pages, at which he has become expert, he likes to monitor the “Recent changes” log, which records all the work done by various contributors, and is accessible to anyone who creates a DIY History account. Like other frequent transcribers, he has an eerie sense of entering the private thoughts of writers long ago: “I keep thinking we’re almost invading something private these people from 200 years ago never expected anyone, but maybe a daughter or grand daughter would ever see their writings. It’s a great look into the “olden” times.” Roger has spent a lot of time transcribing recipes in the Szathmary Culinary Manuscripts and Cookbook collection, and has come across some really harrowing dishes, which make full use of body parts. He knows someone who worked at a meat locker for years, and even she “has no interest at all in the tongue, feet, head or any other questionable parts of meat, like udder. She hated to handle a tongue, no way is she going to eat it.” Ah, how times and palates change. Roger has found a way to multi-task his hobbies: “I use my 46 ” flat screen as my monitor so I can kick back in the lazy boy and start typing and deciphering. I finally decided Sunday I wasn’t able to watch TV and type at the same time and a Nascar race was on. So I did a bit of rearranging so I could watch on the older 27 ” TV while online and if something interesting came up I could jump back on the flat screen to see wrecks or whatever.”

Another of our best transcribers is British; his hobbies include deciphering Minoan Linear A and Mycenaean Linear B, gardening, and fine cooking. He has dedicated himself to transcribing and proofreading the Civil War Diaries and Letters, and sometimes reports to us his discoveries about old American slang and expressions, such as “wooden nutmegs and flannel sausages.”

We love to hear the transcribers’ stories, as they help us share the stories of these old manuscripts.

English Cookbook, 1700 | Szathmary Culinary Manuscripts and Cookbooks

English cookbook, 1700 | Szathmary Culinary Manuscripts and Cookbooks

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Transcribing Iowa women’s lives: the diary of a teenage girl in 1876

"Boys are not allowed" - Belle Robinson diary, 1875-1877 | Iowa Women's Archives selections

“Boys are not allowed” – Belle Robinson diary, 1875-1877 | Iowa Women’s Archives selections

Now awaiting transcription at our DIY History crowdsourcing site is the late-19th century diary of Belle Robinson, a charming document of a girlhood in Iowa spent playing croquet, attending picnics, making taffy, and going nutting. And like another girl who lived in a little town on the prairie, Belle had literary aspirations. Included in her diary are verses written to amuse school friends, reviews of library books (usually described as “very interesting”), and references to story writing, as in this series of entries from 1876:

Tuesday 15th
Club tonight at Meg’s. I am elected secretary. We are going to have a paper next time like they had in Little Women. I am editor and promised to try and write a kind of dime novel story.

Wednesday 16th
Began story.

Thursday
Am going to a party at Flora McCreery’s, we have slighted them so much lately, that I shall have to go – although I hate to dreadfully.

Friday
Have finished my story. It’s perfectly horrid, “The Gipsy’s Secret” is the name. Went to the party last night & did not get home till twelve oclock. Perfect martyrdom for 4 hours it was. May’s club held here, they are in the other room making an awful noise.

February 15-18, Belle Robinson diary, 1875-1877

Sadly, Belle died in 1887 at age 25. Had she lived, she would likely have joined her older sister May — fittingly “making an awful noise” with her girlfriends in the above excerpt — who became active in the women’s suffrage movement in Iowa.

Robinson-Lacy three-generation portrait, 1880s | Women's Suffrage in Iowa

Robinson-Lacy three-generation portrait, 1880s | Women’s Suffrage in Iowa

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The poetry of pudding

From the Szathmary cookbook collection, a rhyming recipe from an 1860 English cookbook:

A Paradise pudding

English cookbook, 1860 | Szathmary Culinary Manuscripts and Cookbooks

English cookbook, 1860 | Szathmary Culinary Manuscripts and Cookbooks

If you’d have a good pudding pray mind what you’re taught

Take two pen ‘sworth of eggs when they’re twelve for a groat

Take of the same fruit which Eve once did cozen

When pared & well chopp’d at least half a dozen

Six ounces of bread (let your maid eat the crust)

The crumb must be grated as fine as fine dust

Six ounces of sugar won’t make it too sweet

Some salt & some nutmeg to make it complete

To these you may add if you are willing and handy

Some good lemon peel & a large glass of brandy

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“It means a lot to me to see this picture”: connecting with historic photographs at DIY History

Slezak-Hubbard house, Iowa City, ca. 1920 | Iowa City Town and Campus Scenes on Flickr

Slezak-Hubbard house, Iowa City, ca. 1920 | Iowa City Town and Campus Scenes on Flickr

Along with transcribing handwritten diaries and letters, users at our DIY History crowdsourcing site can comment, tag and favorite historic photos at the University of Iowa Libraries’ Flickr site. Most frequently, we receive feedback on factual errors in our metadata, e.g. Flickr user Metaltype noticed an incorrectly identified typesetting machine in this image from the 1950s, while KandyK2013 used hairstyle clues to provide a more accurate date estimate for this 1940s photo of student life at the UI.

But occasionally commenters let us know about a personal connection to one of the photographs. The residence pictured above, with its gables and stained glass windows, is more than just a stately example of 19th-century architecture for user bay.miller, who’s related to the people who built the house. And djgeorge2012, of whom we suspect a family connection to UI baseball player Jim George (pictured below), left a comment with a biographical sketch of the athlete that greatly enhances the research value of the image.

We’d like to increase this type of public engagement through our application for membership in Flickr Commons, where we hope to join the Library of Congress and other institutions in their mission to widen access to and enrich the content of the world’s historic photograph collections.

Jim George playing baseball, University of Iowa, late 1930s | Iowa City Town and Campus Scenes at Flickr

Jim George playing baseball, University of Iowa, late 1930s | Iowa City Town and Campus Scenes at Flickr

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DIY History: 30,000th submission, new collections for UI Libraries’ crowdsourcing project

30,000th transcribed page: “Remedy for a woman with child taken harm by fall or fright or any mischance,” Francis Smith medical recipe book, 1704

30,000th transcribed page: “Remedy for a woman with child taken harm by fall or fright or any mischance,” Francis Smith medical recipe book, 1704

Thanks to the public’s voracious appetite for historic cookbooks, the University of Iowa Libraries has recently reached a new milestone for its DIY History crowdsourcing site: 30,000 pages transcribed. An English medical recipe book from 1704 contains the project’s 30,000th page, detailing a “remedy for a woman with child taken harm by fall or fright or any mischance.” This document, along with hundreds of other historic manuscripts, is now fully searchable due to the efforts of volunteer transcribers from around the world.

In addition to cookbooks, DIY History users have also completed an earlier initiative to transcribe more than 15,000 pages of Civil War diaries and correspondence. To complement those materials, the following collections have been added to the site to help provide researchers with a fuller picture of American life in the mid- to late 19th century:

DIY History: Building the Transcontinental Railroad
Business correspondence and financial papers belonging to railroad baron Thomas Durant, documenting the construction of the transcontinental line that transformed the nation. A colorful and unscrupulous figure best known for the Crédit Mobilier financial scandal of 1872, Durant holds a place in current pop culture as a character in the AMC television series “Hell on Wheels.” Typical of his high-pressure style is this note to chief engineer Peter Dey (former owner of University of Iowa’s Dey House), who eventually quit the railroad when asked to pad his estimates for work:

“Want preliminary survey at once to make location of starting point. Delay is ruinous. Everything waits for you.” — Thomas Durant letter, 1863

DIY History: Iowa Women’s Lives
Diaries, letters, and other documents of Iowa women. Currently featured are the papers of Ellen Mowrer Miller (1848-1922), wife of a Civil War veteran and farmer, who recorded her thoughts on a variety of topics including women’s suffrage:

“[A neighbor] is very hard against woman voting, ‘because, because’ was the only argument he could put forth. Was a little tickled at him in the evening, when it was a raining he said, ‘Well, Miss Mowrer, now how would you like to be out in the rain at a woman’s rights convention.’ ‘O,’ I said, ‘the rain is pure, it comes down from heaven you know, refreshes and serves all things.’” — Ellen Mowrer diary entry, 1869

DIY History is the latest public engagement initiative from the University of Iowa Libraries, a staunch supporter of new forms of scholarly publishing, digital humanities, data curation, and open/linked data.

DIY History

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A good beginning

Perhaps your New Year’s resolutions include a self-documentation project, like more frequent updates on Facebook, Twitter, or even a good old-fashioned diary? For inspiration, we present Iowa Byington Reed (1851-1936), an Iowa City native, teacher, seamstress, and housewife who wrote daily diary entries covering her life from age twenty to just a few weeks before her death at age eighty-four. Now part of the holdings of the Iowa Women’s Archives, all of Byington Reed’s diaries were recently digitized and added to Iowa Digital Library.

Excerpted below are just a few of her January 1sts, with transcriptions courtesy of our volunteers at DIY History.

Diary entry, Jan. 1, 1872 | Iowa Byington Reed Diaries

Diary entry, Jan. 1, 1872 | Iowa Byington Reed Diaries

Jan. 1, 1872: Did not teach today nor did we have company as we usually do. It was the busiest day I have put in for some time if I only work so well all the year I will accomplish wonders. But according to rule a good beginning makes a bad ending hope I will prove an exception… Mr Huebner called a few minutes this afternoon enjoyed his call very much. In the evening sewed on the waist of my black dress, retired early as I was suffering with a severe cold Recieved from Mr McSparen the sum of $26.00 my wages for the first month I taught Thus ends the first day of the week and the first day of the new year.
http://diyhistory.lib.uiowa.edu/transcribe/scripto/transcribe/172/14612

1874: What a lovely day for the first of the new year. As soon as Hattie and I got the morning work done We got into the buggy and took a drive over to the depot to see if Winnie had come… We got Emma Middleton in the buggy with us and went down to Jim McCallister’s. We found Grandma and Grandpa there. Aunt Mary had an excellent dinner and we enjoyed our visit very much indeed. Came home in good season. I sewed all the evening. Altogether I was well pleased with the manner in which I spent the day. We heard from Father today. I never saw so pleasant a January 1st it was a remarkable winter day. Emma came home with us to stay all night.
http://diyhistory.lib.uiowa.edu/transcribe/scripto/transcribe/163/13279

1875: …I helped Aunty a little and spent the day very pleasantly. The weather was not very pleasant, I thought a great many times today of what a beautiful day last New Years was and how Hattie and I enjoyed ourselves driving around town and spending the day at Uncle Jim McCallisters. In the evening I wrote a little and looked over my old diary and indulged in a retrospective view of the past year. I most sincerely hope that I will not know some of the sorrow this year I did last.  I find it very lonesome without Jennie. I wrote a note to Clarence tonight and wrapped up his scarf ready to take to Lewis tomorrow.
http://diyhistory.lib.uiowa.edu/transcribe/scripto/transcribe/146/10299

1876: Rain. Who ever saw the like on New Years day. How fashionable we were today. Breakfast at nine, dinner at three, and supper at nine. Hattie and I worked all of the day and part of the night making a pair of lamp mats for the parlor. We played a few games of cards in the evening. Mr. Bently and I playing partners against Rob and Hattie. This surely has not been a pleasant new year But with me a happy and comfortable one.
http://diyhistory.lib.uiowa.edu/transcribe/scripto/transcribe/148/10569

1899: It was late when we got up this morning and after doing up the work went up to the cemetery  It was a very cold forenoon  We all but Lee ate dinner down at Otts. Will and I started home early in the afternoon. We had things all put away and supper ready by six oclock. I read in the evening. What I wonder is in store for us this year.
http://diyhistory.lib.uiowa.edu/transcribe/scripto/transcribe/167/13781

1912: The first day of the week and the year and it is 40 years today since I began keeping diary.  This was a good sharp winter day.  The folks with [Elvis?] Anderson came out for dinner.  [Lorie Folty?] was with them of course.  I got along nicely with my dinner and they seemed to enjoy it.  The girls did not go home till 5:15.  After that i washed the dinner dishes and got us some supper.  May we be spared the sorrow in this year to come we passed through in the last.
http://diyhistory.lib.uiowa.edu/transcribe/scripto/transcribe/159/12535

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Food for body and spirit

James Doak's The Art of Cookery

James Doak’s The Art of Cookery

On the last page of James Doak’s 1760s Art of cookery, following recipes for ketchup and pickled mushrooms, we find what appears to be a catalog of his library, an impressive collection for the time. He lists the classics: Shakespeare, Pope, Cato, Milton, the Bible, as well as some intriguing titles: Whytt on Lyme water, and A Conversation on the Plurality of Worlds, a French Enlightenment discourse on the Copernican world view. Doak’s book is one of the manuscript cookbooks waiting to be transcribed on our DIY History website:  http://diyhistory.lib.uiowa.edu/transcribe

Please delve in and discover what other gems lie between the interestingly stained pages!