Crowdsourcing the Transcription of Anti-Slavery Manuscripts at the Boston Public Library

“Through the participation of citizen historians, we now stand on the threshold of having available — free to all — the entire contents of the Boston Public Library’s extraordinary Anti-Slavery Manuscripts collection: the personal papers of women and men who joined together, across barriers of race and class, in the Abolitionist crusade,” according to Peter Drummey, Stephen T. Riley Librarian of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The Boston Public Library is looking for help from hundreds, maybe thousands, of volunteers. Quoting from the project’s web site:

“The Boston Public Library’s Anti-Slavery collection—one of the largest and most important collections of abolitionist material in the United States—contains roughly 40,000 pieces of correspondence, broadsides, newspapers, pamphlets, books, and memorabilia from the 1830s through the 1870s. The extensive body of correspondence records interactions among leading abolitionists in the United States and Great Britain over a fifty year period, thus creating an archive that comprehensively documents the history of the 19th century anti-slavery movement in Boston as well as abroad through the end of the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery.

“While the abolitionists were united in their fight against the enslavement of blacks, they were not always united when it came to the question of whether or not women should participate in the movement.

“Women’s rights also proved a dominant theme in the abolitionist movement, and the deep contention surrounding this issue is reflected in the correspondence. In addition, while the collection documents years of concerted effort on behalf of the abolitionists to end slavery, the letters also report frequently on resistance against the movement, thereby providing insight into the opposition.”

The project plans to use volunteers to transcribe the hand-written documents into computer text so the information can be quickly searched by the various search engines, making all the manuscripts easily available to genealogists, historians, researchers, and students alike. The web site also states:

“Over 12,000 of these letters were recently made available on Digital Commonwealth. This work was made possible through the support of the Associates of the Boston Public Library.

“In order to make this collection more valuable to researchers, scholars, and historians we are pleased to announce the launch of a new website which will make these handwritten items available for you to transcribe into machine readable text. This site was created and will be hosted by the development team at Transcription will allow the text corpus to be more precisely searchable and better suited for natural language processing applications – helping researchers better understand patterns, relationships, and trends embedded in the linguistics of this particular community. We are especially excited to be launching on National Handwriting Day. We encourage you to celebrate by registering for the site and trying it out!”

You can get involved right now at

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