". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Civil War Project Shows Pros and Cons of Crowdsourcing

It's Juneteenth!

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, by Jie Jenny Zou:

At first the university put the word out to Civil War societies and other historical organizations to recruit volunteers, and some history buffs stepped forward. But traffic spiked suddenly last week, when the project was featured prominently on Reddit, a popular blog in which users post and vote on interesting Internet links. The site received over 32,000 unique hits—30 times its usual traffic for the week—said Nicole Saylor, the head of Digital Library Services at the University of Iowa.

The good news: Volunteers have now completed transcriptions of more than 1,400 documents.

But the rush of users crippled the Web site for a day. “Once the site started to get that much traffic, pretty much you couldn’t get to anything in the digital library,” Mr. Prickman said.

Officials have also learned another drawback of the crowdsourcing approach: So far, staff members are spending more time checking the work of volunteers than they would have taken to do the transcriptions themselves, according to Mr. Prickman.

“I don’t think anyone believes that there’s going to be a wholesale replacement of an awful lot of paid staff labor by crowdsourcing projects,” Ms. Leon said. “It gets the public involved, but it makes new kinds of work for existing staff.”

She also said that projects will have to be marketed in a way that makes it clear that paid staff is not being supplanted by free labor in order for crowdsourcing to be fully embraced by the professional community. Ms. Leon stressed that crowdsourcing in universities is still relatively new and that no project should go untended. “I think the accuracy question and the management burden are a lot,” said Ms. Leon, but “I just think that it’s worth it.”

“We’ve developed a really nice community of folks who are interested in the content and willing to contribute to the work,” Ms. Leon said of the project she is leading. She is also developing Scripto, an open-source tool that will enable others to carry out crowdsourcing transcription projects without investing in costly software.

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