#DouglassDay Transcribe-a-thon in University College Cork

Written by Donna Alexander, PhD (University College Cork)

Douglass Day is celebrated every year on the 14th of February to commemorate the life and times of Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who wrote, lectured and campaigned for abolition, women’s rights, and temperance.  February is also Black History Month, and for the last number of years, the Colored Convention Project (CCP) have organised Transcribe-a-thons in order to increase the amount of online resources related to Black Studies.  They invite participants around the world to host satellite events in their own organisations.

This year, the DARIAH Ireland team (Dr Orla Murphy and Dr Donna Alexander) organised an event in University College Cork.  Over 40 institutions around the world organised simultaneous transcribe-a-thons this year.  In total #DouglassDay 2018 resulted in 779 pages transcribed, 402 pages reviewed and approved, and 600 new registered #volunpeers (as they call themselves).

The 2018 transcribe-a-thon focussed on the Freedmen’s Bureau Papers. The collection includes letters, tables, handwritten documents, and typed documents. The National Museum of African American History and Culture has collaborated with the Smithsonian Transcription Center to transcribe nearly 2 million image files from the Freedmen’s Bureau records.

In UCC, participants included undergraduate and postgraduate students from a range of arts and humanities programmes, staff members in digital humanities, English, and the Library, and members of the public. We joined the Facebook livestream during the event to hear from colleagues in U.S., including members of the Douglass Day team from the Smithsonian and the CCP.

We were especially enthusiastic about supporting a #DouglassDay event because of the interesting connection between Frederick Douglass and Cork. Between 1845 and 1847 Douglass travelled around Britain and Ireland delivering antislavery lectures in various locations including Cork. Scholars based in UCC have researched and published on this, and Douglass is included in the undergraduate curriculum. Prof Lee Jenkins, Head of the School of English in UCC, has written about this in her article, “Beyond the Pale: Frederick Douglass in Cork” (1999). Prof Jenkins also supervised a PhD thesis by Dr Elizabeth Ann Coughlan titled Frederick Douglass and Ireland, 1845: The “Vertiginous Twist[s]” of an Irish Encounter (2015). Indeed a number of staff members and students participated in the transcribe-a-thon because they teach, research, or study Douglass’s life and work.

The DARIAH Ireland team is committed to exploring digital literacies on HEIs, so events like transcribe-a-thons provide germane opportunities to introduce participants to new digital skills, discuss the significance of digital archives and other kinds of OERs, and champion their use in research, teaching and learning. This work will continue with a Wikipedia Workshop and Editathon (details TBA) organised in conjunction with the Wikimedia Ireland Working Group on the 10th of March 2018, and a conference on “Embedding Digital Literacies in HEIs” on the 21st and 22nd of June 2018. Both events will take place in UCC and both are free and open to the public.