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Published Date

December 5, 2017

Resource Type

Archival Resource, For the Classroom


Archives, Digital Methods

AHA Topics

Teaching & Learning


Africa, United States

This resource is part of the AHA’s Teaching with #DigHist series.


By John Rosinbum

Citizen Archivist: A set of transcription projects organized by the National Archives, Citizen Archivist is an easy entry point into web-based transcription. It has a host of transcription projects and a series of “missions” that engage students and the public from the get-go. The National Archives Foundation also periodically hosts “Transcribe-a-thons” organized around major events that offer a community experience.

Information Wanted: Students contribute to the construction of a searchable digital database of advertisements printed by former enslaved people searching for their loved ones. The ads impress upon students both the human toll of slavery and the resiliency of enslaved people.

Project Phaedra: Students can help transcribe the 100+ pages of the women computers of the Harvard College Observatory during the turn of the 20th century. This is just one of many opportunities available to the public via the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers: Transcription Center. These range from reports from the Freedmen’s Bureau to the Tropical Research Institute.

Africa Through a Lens: This project asks the public to help the United Kingdom’s National Archives identify hundreds of images from British colonization of Africa. While there is little textual transcription involved here, the project could easily engage students studying colonial Africa to apply their learning to the identification of images.

Papers of the War Department: This project contains more than 40,000 documents from the War Department that span 1784–1800. Students can get a rich picture of the inner workings of the government of the early Republic, as the department accounted for over half of the federal budget during the majority of the years covered by this project.

What’s on the Menu?: With over 17,000 menus from the past 170 years, this project gives students a chance to engage in food history. One of the more popular examples of crowd-sourcing transcription, there are still plenty of menus to review. My students have delighted in the odd—to their palate—combinations of foods they see on 19th-century menus.

Making History: A wealth of papers, records, images, and speeches from more than 300 years of Virginian history awaits the public in this project. As items, ranging from poll books, mayoral speeches, almshouse records, and colonial papers, are transcribed, more are added.

The Civil War in Letters: The public’s interest in military history is well-reflected in the large number of crowd-transcription projects related to the United States’ conflicts. This collection contains letters from Civil War soldiers that students can transcribe to get a human view of the conflict.

For more on using digital archives in the classroom, read John Rosinbum’s post on AHA Today, “Teaching with Digital Archives.”

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This page contains words or ideas that might be offensive to modern readers. To maintain the accuracy of historical documentation, the content is reprinted in its entirety as it was originally published. This accurate reproduction of original historical texts therefore contains words and ideas that do not reflect the editorial decisions or views of the American Historical Association.