What Can Digital Humanities Do With Crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing in the Digital Humanities can entail a lot of different actions and concepts, so this post seeks to explore the effect that the public can have in contributing to the Digital Humanities; whether they realize it or not! Crowdsourcing is done through voluntary means, and is carried out by contributing to some sort of project, in the case of DH. This can mean a variety of things, but I want to focus on areas in which I believe the public can make the most significant difference in the field: the transcription and/or digitization of texts in existing collections run by an educational or non-profit institution, and community-driven collections.

The arduous process of digitizing collections to its fullest extent can be a daunting task for one group to accomplish. Some projects seek the aid of the community; a newer example being the Library of Congress (LOC). Their “By The People” project asks anyone to transcribe text from scanned images of their collections. The type of source varies: this can include handwritten letters, sheets of music (with lyrics and some indicators for the performers), promotional material, and more! Without making an account, one can go in and participate in transcribing texts. After the entire scan is transcribed, it is sent in for review by users and the LOC. Projects liken this process to a “puzzle” in some cases, and it is completely voluntary and non-committal.

The site will be linked below if you wish to explore the collection, or contribute!

Link: https://crowd.loc.gov/

Another way that the community engages in crowdsourcing content is doing it themselves! There are plenty of forums and projects dedicated to involving the community by offering a place to store and showcase collections digitally or traditionally. This can include common narratives, such as family memories being digitized that tell a greater story, lineage, and ties to the military being digitized, to name a few examples. When the public feels like they can contribute to something that honors memory, provides entertainment, or informs others, there is a value to contributing to a body of work or a project.

What seems challenging is selling that to the public. It is all about the framing, in other words. As I mentioned before, formal projects characterizing the transcription of scans as “puzzles” in some instances highlights an interesting approach to contributing to DH, without FEELING like one is contributing to something “boring” or perhaps “nerdy.” There must be an emphasis on non-committal entertainment and the true value of the work. Everyone is different, which makes outreach such a meticulous endeavor.

Overall, crowdsourcing can be full of uncertainty surrounding retention and garnering an adequate audience. When one expects  small contributions from hundreds, they may receive dozens of dedicated users that see the vision of the creator(s). The Digital Humanities needs the public, and can always learn from them and innovate in involving them. Crowdsourcing is a great step towards a sort of hands-off engagement, but more and more steps are being taken to ensure that voices are heard, and contributions are recognized across the Internet!

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