DIY History began as an online experiment in Spring 2011 with the Civil War Diaries and Letters Transcription Project, and quickly became a trove of local, national, and international artifacts made available and searchable online. As we celebrate 100,000 pages transcribed, let’s look back on some of DIY History’s history!
After its initial success and increasing public interest, DIY History grew to include collections of WWI & WWII Letters and Diaries, Early Iowa Lives, Social Justice, Keith-Albee Managers’ Reports, Hevelin Fanzines, and many more with the continued goal of making historic materials more accessible. Through “crowdsourcing,” or engaging volunteers to contribute transcription, tags, and comments, these mass quantities of digitized artifacts became searchable, allowing researchers to quickly seek out specific information, and general users to browse and enjoy the materials more easily.
In case you’re wondering what that 100,000th page transcribed was, you can find it right here! The image is part of the larger Jackson Hyde Photograph Collection. Hyde was born in 1915 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and would later enter into military service in 1942. Over time he was trained as a radio operator in the 210th Armored Infantry Battalion, 10th Armored (Tiger) Division, U.S. Army. In 1944 he was sent overseas to fight in World War II and was killed in action the following year. Following his death, Hyde was awarded the Bronze Star for his heroic service and the Purple Heart for the wounds resulting in his death. His life’s photographs have been preserved in our digital library and transcribed for future researchers in DIY History.
DIY History’s continued success is due, in no small part, to the public; the volunteers who contribute their time to transcribe documents have made DIY History what it is today. So, thank you to all who “Do It Yourself” in helping us reach this incredible milestone!
The Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio proudly shares this guest blog post from Russell Aaronson of Coral Springs High School, Coral Springs, Florida, detailing his and his students use of the Hevelin Fanzine Collection in DIY History.
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Clicking through The University of Iowa’s DIY History Hevelin Fanzines archive sent me back to everything that drew me to SF in the first place. Alternately measured and freewheeling, scientific and psychotronic, the Hevelin zines reminded me of what Science Fiction was like before Lucas and Spielberg legitimized the genre with blockbuster summer films and action figures hiding under the Christmas tree.
Or, perhaps more accurately, the Hevelin Archives reminded me of the books I read in between the blockbusters. After Vader froze Han and blew Luke’s mind at the end of Empire, I had to do something during the three-year wait for closure. I started with dusty, library-sale collections of Wells and Verne. For Halloween I wanted to be Dune’s Duncan Idaho, but settled for a more recognizable Captain America. My friends and I passed around Douglas Adams books until they disintegrated, and I spent far too much time trying to get the Babel Fish in the Hitchhikers’ text-adventure video game (or, more aptly, failing to get the Babel Fish, just to read the precious, extra lines of text written by the author himself).
Too many years later, in graduate school, I bumbled into a Speculative Fiction course delivered by Dr. Bob Collins. His course was great – but the impromptu discussions over heaping plates of curry and biryani (which he’d never let us grad students pay for – he was equally generous with his time and his money) got me past my “serious” literature phase. Bob told me to read PKD’s Ubik and I was as stunned as I had been in the theater watching Empire years before.
Recently, the good folks at Coral Springs High School and Broward College offered me the chance to teach a Dual Enrollment elective, and I dove headlong into building a Speculative Fiction course for kids who needed a break from AP exams without losing the challenge of university-grade content. For this course, the Hevelin Fanzines seemed like a perfect fit – taking part in the University of Iowa’s DIY History project would give students a taste of scholarly research while also rounding out their knowledge of the history of Speculative Fiction.
But there was one particularly challenging issue – the nature of the Hevelin content itself. How do you set the table for teens to meaningfully respond to the wonderfully thoughtful and utterly bizarre content found in the zines? Fortunately, IDEAL (Iowa Digital Learning and Engagement) had an excellent “Archives Alive!” lesson as part of their DIY History project, and after a few nips and tucks to accommodate the nature of the Hevelin Fanzines, I unleashed the project on an unsuspecting class.
The response was beyond my highest expectations. As a foundation, the students learned the importance of doing careful, thoughtful transcriptions with an end-product that would be part of a larger body of real-world research, and not just another disposable assignment to be completed tonight and forgotten tomorrow.
But when students moved beyond transcriptions and constructed their textual/historical analyses, they quickly found ways to connect the Hevelin zines to ideas learned in many of their favorite courses. Students who love history were compelled by the appeals for Technocracy and the rejections of consumerism in an issue of Mikros. While reading Paradox, another group saw the links between fears of time travel and the perils of unchecked technological innovation, deftly connecting the zine’s discussion to the horrors of V1/V2 rocket attacks in Europe. Skilled debate students considered the pacifist arguments against organized religion in Voices of the Imagination, and the He-Man-Woman-Haters’-Club tone of Diablerie was a difficult issue for a mixed-gender transcription team.
When wrestling with the more unusual content in the zines, students didn’t disappoint. A discussion of the newsletters from The Colorado Fantasy Society found relatable humor in the rivalries between SF conventioneers; and discussions about portions of The Futurian War Digest and The Reader and Collector were marked by the creators’ fierce, ideological obsessions over presentation in the form of typefaces, formatting and illustrations. Some students delved into the history of SF itself, noting reviews of Heinlein (observed as a writer “fast on his way to the top” in 1940) and Van Vogt (identified as a writer who had taken a turn for the worst, even before having published his first hit novel).
Of course, students also latched on to some of the more esoteric content in the zines as well. From rating rum collections to planning garden designs, the unpredictable Hevelin collection rarely disappoints.
After teaching LIT 2310 with the help of IDEAL, Archives Alive! and the DIY History Hevelin Fanzines as a cornerstone project, it’s difficult to imagine the course without it. I only wish I could go back to grad school, split some Naan with Dr. Bob, and tell him all about it.
We at Coral Springs High School continue to mourn the loss of our fellow students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. If you are interested in providing support for victims and families of the shooting, please visit the official Stoneman Douglas Victims fund page at: www.gofundme.com/stonemandouglasfund
Russell Aaronson teaches Dual Enrollment Literature and Film and AP Research at Coral Springs High School, Coral Springs, Florida in the Broward County Public Schools.
Today, in celebration of International Women’s Day, we reflect on the progress and many achievements that women, past and present, have made around the world. The origins of this day can be traced back to the early 1900s, marked by a strike for better working conditions for women in the garment industry. While the strike didn’t take place in Iowa we’d like to spotlight a few Libraries-housed resources and collections which help to give a little more meaning to the day.
The Iowa Women’s Archives, established by Louise Noun and Mary Louise Smith in 1992 provide a trove of collections and work highlighting women at the University of Iowa and in the state. Some of the fascinating work included in this repository are the Edna Griffin Papers, which share a story through photographs, interviews, and newspaper clippings highlighting the life of this remarkable Iowan and civil rights activist. You can even transcribe her FBI file from 1948 to 1951 in DIY History.
Another resource that connects the Iowa Women’s Archives with Iowa Research Online and the Iowa Digital Library is Scholarship@Iowa. Here you will find theses, dissertations, articles, and collections that present work related to fostering and promoting diversity. Spend a little time here and you might find yourself listening to an interview with Dora Martin Bailey, who in 1955 became the first African American student to be awarded Miss State University of Iowa.
Take a few moments to enjoy the rich history of women in Iowa, and remember that they have played an important role in shaping our past, present, and future. Take time to appreciate these strides and to discover the ways they have positively impacted your life and the world around you.
It was just over two years ago that DIY History reached its amazing 50,000-page transcription benchmark! This past week we achieved 75,000, and we’d like to take the opportunity to talk a little bit about the elements that have led to this amazing growth.
Expanding across platforms like Twitter has helped us continually make these efforts more accessible, and has allowed for additional crowdsourcing opportunities in classrooms and at other institutions, like the Nova Scotia Archives. Just this past fall, locally and in conjunction with a global transcribing effort, the UI’s Museum of Natural History partnered with WeDigBio for a week-long egg card transcription blitz. In short, these collections are getting to see the light of day in an exciting and participatory manner and we couldn’t be happier with the response.
Lastly, reaching this milestone wouldn’t be possible without the continued support of the wonderful community of volunteer transcriptionists who help to make these collections come to life by making them available and searchable for researchers and historians. So to them we say thank you, and we hope this sentiment will inspire others to help build the historical record!
DIY History is made possible by the wonderful team here at the Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio, specifically by the Studio’s Senior Developer, Matthew Butler, and our Digital Scholarship & Collections Librarian, Mark Anderson.
Earlier this week, the Studio launched Scholarship@Iowa, a curated set of pages promoting scholarly archives related to historically underrepresented groups. To introduce that initiative I wrote a blog post touting the merits of these archives and their ability to help us see ourselves as a part of longstanding tradition of excellence and discovery at the University of Iowa.
In that same spirit, this week we have released over 3,000 manuscript pages into a new and related DIY History collection called Scholarship at Iowa. The collection brings into public view 22 handwritten theses dating primarily from the nineteenth century. More than half of the theses were written by women and the topics are primarily scientific. These documents provide a fascinating window into the nature, scope, and aims of scholarship being carried out at the University by undergraduate and graduate students well over a hundred years ago. They also help tell the story of women within the scholarly enterprise at the UI.
While PDFs of the theses are posted in our institutional repository, Iowa Research Online (IRO), they’re not text searchable. That’s where DIY History comes in. By inviting the public help in the transcription of these materials, we aim to make them searchable. Completed transcriptions will be added to IRO to aid in the discoverability of the documents.
The terrestrial Adephaga of Iowa, including descriptions of all known species which occur in the state, with notes on their habits, distribution, synonymy, etc., part 1 & part 2, 1895, by Fanny Thompson Wickham (B.S. ’90, M.S. ’95)
When I was introduced to this collection by my colleague Wendy Robertson, I was struck by its humanity. The calligraphy and design of the title pages, the detail of the illustrations, the idiosyncrasy of the handwriting. I had not expected the people who wrote these works to be so present in them. I expect that of handwritten letters, but (perhaps tellingly) I didn’t expect it of these (mostly) scientific theses. And looking over them, I was drawn back to my own time as a graduate student toiling away on a dissertation. I was reminded of how many of us come to see our work as both apart from us and as a part of us. I wondered how these writers (and artists!) felt as they toiled here on the thinning edge of the nineteenth century.
It’s not hard to hear the enthusiasm in lines like this one from undergraduate student Annette Slotterbec (B.S. ’88) in “The Mosses of Iowa City and Vicinity”:
In no tribe of plants is there so great a similarity between the different species. A simplicity and uniformity of structures runs through the entire family. The individuality of each species is revealed by the microscope, the stem, the leaves, the fruits, so alike they appear in their structure and their flaws, so unalike in their development.
I found myself captivated by the same curiosity that has made Iowa Digital Engagement and Learning’s Archives Alive project so successful. Last year, my colleague Kelly McElroy (now a Student Engagement and Community Outreach librarian at Oregon State University) and I wrote an article on the merits of connecting students with history in this way. And here I was, like my students, like Annette Slotterbec, placing something under the microscope, investigating its individuality.
History is tantalizing. It is (at the risk of making a bad pun–from a guy who wrote his dissertation on James Joyce and the public house) intoxicating. So, I looked up Annette Slotterbec, and a partial story emerged.
She had clearly been an active presence in the intellectual life of the University, competing in the declamatory contest the year she graduated. As The Vidette Reporter, May 26, 1888, notes on page four:
The ladies preliminary declamatory contest was held in Zet Hall last Wednesday afternoon. Prof. Anderson was the only judge. The contest resulted in the choice of the following persons to speak at the final contest held during commencement week: Anna Balor, Florence Brown, Annette Slotterbec, Myrtle Lloyd, Ella Graves and Miss Musson.
Specimens of the more common species of this list have been collected and used in the laboratories of the university during many years. More particularly, Miss Annette Slotterbec, in 1888, collected and identified some forty specimens. But on the whole it has been deemed better to record the collection of such material only as has been gathered for the preparation of this paper.
So there I had been idly looking through the undergraduate thesis of Annette Slotterbec, and there I was tracking down bits and pieces of her intellectual life. This happens all the time with DIY History. It seduces you into asking questions about people and their lives. And as you follow the thread, you find interesting stuff.
According to Trina Roberts, director of the Pentacrest Museums, some of these theses clearly connect to the UI Museum of Natural History‘s collections. For example, Fanny Thompson Wickham’s (B.S. ’90, M.S. ’95) thesis makes use of specimens in the Museum’s insect collection. Likewise, Leah May Gaymon’s (B. Ph. ’92 and M.A. ’95, English) thesis is based on specimens collected during the 1893 Bahama expedition. And it’s possible that she’s in this picture of students drinking coconut milk on that expedition. And that’s exciting!
Asking questions, drawing connections, building the historical record – that means something. That helps us not only tell the stories of the people who came before us, but it also helps us understand ourselves within a longer story about this school and the people who have made it what it is today, one day, one page at a time.
So, I’m thrilled to be sharing these documents with the public. And I’m really delighted to be asking people to engage not only with the work of making their handwriting intelligible to the rest of us, but also to be inviting people to learn more about the individuality of the scholars who wrote these materials. We hope people will find something interesting and engaging in these works. And we appreciate, greatly, the public’s willingness to lend a hand in this scholarly endeavor.
These collections and this scholarship remind us of who has passed through here; who has informed and shaped this institution and this town. They fill gaps in the record. They bring to light the daily lives of students and citizens, from the carefree to the careful. They map out lines of inquiry and the ground we’ve covered as a scholarly community. These archives help articulate where we have been, where we are now, and, arguably, where we are going. We know ourselves through what we keep and what we do. And at Iowa we carry a tremendous history with us and everyday deepen our understanding of who we are in the research we do and discoveries we make.
In service to this idea, we’ve begun creating a series of curated pages as part of a Scholarship@Iowa initiative showcasing some of the digital scholarship and digital collections associated with the UI’s communities of diversity. With the help of our digital scholarship librarian Wendy Robertson, our digital collections librarian Mark Anderson, researcher/developer Ethan DeGross, public engagement specialist Lauren Darby, and Studio intern Andrea Bastien, we’ve begun selecting materials and scholars whose work pertains directly to these historically underrepresented groups. You’ll also find links to Library Guides created by librarians and faculty in cooperation with the Research & Library Instruction department. Our goal is to connect both current and prospective students, faculty and staff, as well as the broader public, with these resources and the wealth of knowledge and insight they provide.
These pages also look beyond IRO and the IDL to other collections purchased by the UI Libraries. Under the guidance of Associate University Librarian Carmelita Pickett, the UI Libraries recently purchased several digital scholarly collections from publisher Adam Matthew. In particular, African American Communities focuses on Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, New York, and towns and cities in North Carolina. The collections provides access to “pamphlets, newspapers and periodicals, correspondence, official records, reports and in-depth oral histories, revealing the prevalent challenges of racism, discrimination and integration, and a unique African American culture and identity.” By acquiring these kinds of collections, the UI Libraries adds to its existing databases (available on-campus) like Readex’s African American Newspaper Series and expands the depth and breadth of primary source material available for research and study.
We’re also growing our collections on DIY History this month with the release of over 3000 pages of digitized manuscript dissertation material from the late 19th century. These materials are noteworthy both for addressing scientific discoveries in the latter half of the 1800s and for having been written by women at the University of Iowa. We’re excited to be making these primary source materials more accessible to the public and look forward to bringing more pieces of the scholarly record into view.
Throughout the year we’ll be adding pages to Scholarship@Iowa and sharing more voices that help tell the historical and contemporary stories of Iowa for new audiences. I was reminded recently of a story my predecessor Nicki Saylor shared on this blog in 2007. She was grappling with how to best explain the value of digital collections in a world informed by global and local strife and burdened with the understandably weighty concerns of everyday life. She wrote:
But the most compelling evidence of the power of digital collections arises from stories of people like Craig D. Spotser of Texas. His email, forwarded to us by Susan Kuecker at the African American Historical Museum and Cultural Center of Iowa, started this way: “GOD…..This is a picture of my Grandfather. He passed away when my father was a small boy. I only had a small picture of him, far way, standing in front of his car and home in Iowa. My father, Craig W. Spotser, has never seen a picture of him that close up, but he passed away in February 2002. This is amazing. How can I obtain a copy of the photo of my Grandfather? I was surfing the web, and this is the first time that I have seen this picture. I almost started crying. I look almost identical to him, and so does my son.”
Here is a case of a man literally finding himself, his family, at Iowa. As Nicki noted then and as I am continually reminded, discoveries like Craig D. Spotser’s are why we do this work. Use animates collections – and the collections, in turn, shape who we are and how we understand ourselves. The lives recorded in our archives come to life in communion with the people using them.
When we welcome new students, faculty, and staff to The University of Iowa; when we welcome new people to Iowa City, we welcome them into the ongoing stories of our communities and our community. To the extent that we make these resources as available and as visible as possible, we invite a growing audience of people to participate in the work of scholarship and discovery.
With that in mind, what you will find in these pages is only a small part of what you’ll find in our archives. And we encourage everyone to explore our holdings, to encounter something you didn’t know, to create new knowledge with what you find, and in so doing, perhaps, to find yourself in Scholarship@Iowa.
Since the launch of the Civil War Diaries & Transcription Project, the goal of DIY History has been to promote the University of Iowa Libraries digital collections. Part of this mission includes making the trove of transcriptions from handwritten diaries, manuscripts, and letters widely available to researchers for use in their work.
At the time of this writing there are 61,987 transcribed pages spanning nine public collections in such wide-ranging historical topics as pioneer diaries, war letters, culinary manuscripts and recipes, railroadiana, and specimen cards. Each page has been transcribed and checked by one or more volunteers from around the world. This type of crowdsourcing effort transcends our ability as a staff to catalog, display, and transcribe every handwritten item in the library. A project such as DIY History invites library users to do more than just visit and browse, but to actively participate in and transform the archive by typing what they read.
While DIY History items have always been indexed by search engines, there hasn’t been a robust method of making the entire body of transcription text available to researchers. Previously, a scholar interested in mining the entire collection of cookbooks from the Szathmary collection, for example, would need to perform hundreds of tedious queries using simple keywords. A better method of making our transcription data available was needed.
Early in the Fall 2015 semester, we debuted the DIY History Application Programming Interface. This API provides researchers with the ability to access much more metadata on each file than is displayed on the DIY History website. The API makes DIY History a platform on which to build applications, research projects, and other potentially innovative tools using the transcription data provided by our volunteers.
This opens the possibility to text analysis not practical before, even at the web-scale of crowdsourcing. Having programmatic access to the item-level and file-level metadata means researchers can use machine learning techniques to extract and analyze named entities. Just as it’s not feasible for a small staff to transcribe 100,000 scanned pages, it’s not feasible for a small crowd to tag an arbitrary number of entities each time a new research question arises. This is a realistic task, however, for a properly trained machine.
To demonstrate this idea, here is a simple entity extractor using DIY History transcription text, an NER module provided by MonkeyLearn, and Google’s Geocoding service to return latitude and longitude values for extracted place names.
To test this demo app, enter any DIY History file ID (the last parameter of a transcription URL) and it will automatically return any person, place, or organization it detects. This is a probabilistic method, so results may not be accurate is there is ambiguity. For this demonstration, each ID is entered manually, but a production application could iterate through thousands of records, storing results in a database.
For example in the following transcription URL, the ID is 73120
Together with the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History, the UI Libraries launched a new DIY History collection, the Egg Cards, a little over a month ago. These field note cards were collected by amateur ornithologists during the late 1800s/early 1900s in Iowa and elsewhere, for the purposes of identifying egg specimens in nests. Being handwritten, these cards haven’t been searchable, but with the power of crowdsourced transcription, will become a searchable database to accompany the museum’s collection of bird eggs.
This represents the first “natural science” project in the DIY History program, following the success of citizen science initiatives such as Zooniverse’s Galaxy Zoo and the Smithsonian’s Bumblebee Project. Participation in the Egg Cards bounced with the release of an IowaNow article, and the 1900 cards are nearing halfway completion. Join the fun – while you still can!
For librarians, particularly those in academic settings, an important part of the job is contributing to the development of the profession; traditionally, this has included tasks such as giving presentations at conferences and publishing articles in scholarly journals. But thanks to the evolving nature of our work and to innovations on the part of our developers, the University of Iowa Libraries has become active in a new area of professional development: sharing code for re-use and adaptation by other institutions.
When George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media launched Scripto, an NEH-funded open-source tool for transcription crowdsourcing projects, we were eager to adopt it for DIY History to replace our existing makeshift and labor-intensive system. Once it was installed, we became even more eager to make extensive changes to Scripto. While the tool was designed to treat transcription as an add-in activity for digital exhibits, we needed it front and center for DIY History.
DRP’s developers, Shawn Averkamp (now at New York Public Library) and Matthew Butler, solved this problem by adding new features to Scripto and creating a simple-to-use theme that focuses exclusively on the act of transcription. Other enhancements included a progress system for tracking completion status, as well as various scripts for migrating mass quantities of objects and metadata from our digital library to DIY History and back again. As it turned out, we weren’t the only ones looking for these functionalities. In the open source spirit of sharing work for the good of the community, Shawn and Matthew made their enhancements and related code available online, where it’s been reused by a number of other institutions [see below].
As we prepare to launch a redesigned and streamlined DIY History soon, we’re grateful for the open source tools that have allowed us to make progress on our own project, and thrilled to have contributed to the development of crowdsourcing sites at other libraries and museums.
“DIY History and similar projects are about community” says Matthew Butler, the Libraries’ Multimedia Consultant. “They succeed because of the collaborative efforts of transcribers, developers, librarians, and curators to make the content and tools as accessible as possible.”
As DIY History, the University of Iowa’s transcription crowdsourcing site, has inched toward its 50,000th submission, we’ve been looking forward to reaching such an amazing milestonetemp — hence the queued-up cake gif.
But as it turned out, we weren’t quite prepared for how it went down today. On the heels of some high-profile attention from BuzzFeed and NBC News in October, DIY History just hit the big time with a Tumblr post from Kate Beaton of Hark! A Vagrant fame, which was reblogged by John Green, of The Fault in Our Stars and many other things. Once a portion of their millions of devoted followers visited our site, the 50K achievement was immediately unlocked — along with a fair amount of panic among library staff about insufficient server bandwith and a dearth of untranscribed pages (plus Colleen wept with joy)(although low threshold)(we love you Colleen!).
We are humbled and gratified by the dedication of all our volunteer transcribers — those of you who have just joined us, and those who have been with us from the beginning. Since the Libraries put its first batch of Civil War diaries up in the spring of 2011, you have fought a brave battle against inaccessibility and illegibility, rescuing the first-hand accounts of soldiers, cooks, students, railroad barons, farmers, artists, suffragists, and so many others. In lieu of the celebratory cake we wish we could give you, here is a comprehensive list of the Libraries’ hundreds of historic handwritten cake recipes. An unthinkingly time-consuming task pre-crowdsourcing, the compilation of such a list now happens almost instantly, thanks to the magic of fully-searchable transcribed text. Happy baking, and don’t forget to stock up on lard.
While you’re busy with that, we’ll be powering up our scanners to get new content on the site as quickly as possible, so please stop back soon and often. The next 50,000 pages starts now!