The following guest post was written by Stephanie Hsieh, the 2015-2017 Stone Center Library CALA.
Following the Paper Trail: All About UNC’s First Transcribe-a-thon
How do we learn about the past? Without time travel, one of our most important methods for peering back in time is paper. Think of how much of your life is on paper: letters, cards, medical records, legal matters. Now imagine if every e-mail you’ve ever sent or received was printed out too!
All of those papers would tell some future reader a little something about your life. The same is true of the old letters, poems, ledgers, and more in UNC’s Southern Historical Collection. By studying the papers of the past, we can learn more about how people thought, worked, and lived.
Archivists work hard to find and preserve those documents for generations to come. That often means sealing them away from light and moisture that might damage them further. But what about us, the people who want to read them and learn more about our past right now?
That’s where UNC’s first Transcribe-a-thon, held on November 5, 2015, came in.
The Transcribe-a-thon was an opportunity for participants to make history, touch history, and learn more about what archivists and others involved in document preservation, do. The Southern Historical Collection has a treasure trove of handwritten documents that tell us about African American culture in the nineteenth century. Poems, letters, diaries, and more tell the story of what life was like for African Americans living 300 years ago.
Old documents can be pretty hard to read. That’s where transcription comes in! Transcribers got to look at these documents up close while transcribing them from handwriting to something easier to read. During the Transcribe-a-thon, participants were also taught some of the tips and tricks that archivists, paleographers and historians use to read those old documents.
Photos of the event are available here.