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Students preserve African-American history with ‘Transcribe-a-thon’

The Lila D. Bunch Library hosted a “Transcribe-a-thon” Thursday to preserve historical documents and celebrate Black History Month.

The Transcribe-a-thon worked with the Freedmen’s Bureau Project to make hand-written documents from right after the Civil War accessible as text online.

“We as librarians are all about promoting access to information, so I think this project is just a perfect example of that,” said Jenny Mills, coordinator of research services.

Established after the Civil War, the Freedmen’s Bureau originally provided assistance to newly freed slaves.

Now, the Freedmen’s Bureau Project seeks to transcribe their Civil War-era documents into online, searchable records that can be easily accessed by family members and historians.

The organization relies on crowdsourcing to get as many documents as possible transcribed.

“Crowdsourcing is the only way to get such a vast amount of information online and searchable,” said Mills.

Anyone can work on transcribing the records through the Smithsonian’s website.

So far, about 19,000 individuals have already transcribed around 1.7 million records, and now Belmont students are adding to that number.

“This just makes my heart so warm,” said Nicole Fox, Belmont’s research and instruction librarian, as she watched the students work.

Most of the records are African-American history that are often overlooked, making them crucial to preserve, said Mills.

The work Belmont students put in Thursday allowed even more of these documents to be accessible to everyone online.

“What you do today … it’s going to be there for posterity, and I think that’s pretty cool that we actually get to contribute to history,”said Mills.

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This article written by Sarah Lawson. 

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