Endings and Beginnings. January is tough. It hasn’t snowed enough yet for us to test our skis. The (packed, productive, working) holiday is over. And my spring term to do  list is HUGE. This semester the MBDA project is pushing to advance our work with crowdsourced editing. Below is a very brief section of a recent grant application (funding outcome pending) which sketches what we’re up to. Priority this term: serious work on the metadata editing (for MBDA this mainly means Dublin Core) aspect of our participatory editing tool, a project innovation so essential yet cool I can hardly wait to test it!

Humanities Problem

Placing the preservation of works that embody a key component of our cultural heritage exclusively in the hands of a few highly specialized scholars is inefficient and impractical. And it is unnecessary. As Crane has argued, “We need editors—lots of them […] We have vast amounts of work before us—far more than a relative handful of salaried academics can accomplish and plenty accessible to our students and to those who love a given subject but maintain a day job doing something else.”

Over the past decade, there has been immense interest in finding ways to involve the larger community in activities that have traditionally been the domain of scholarship. Documentary editing is among the most challenging (for technical reasons) yet also among those that offer the greatest potential benefit (because of the opportunity to take advantage of local expertise and interest). As interest continues to grow, there is tremendous need for tools and methods to advance the emerging practices and to carve new inflections that expand their utility.

At the onset of this project, the manuscript and typescript papers and the photographs in the Martha Berry Collection were extant exclusively in their original print format. Held in c. 160 container boxes maintained by the Berry College Archives, the collection was in fragile condition, largely inaccessible, and, like many important archival collections, urgently in need of digitization (scanning is now in progress). In light of limited resources, the task of editing the collection, while daunting, presented an opportunity to explore methodological innovations and to pioneer new methods of participatory editing that would support not only the Berry project but also creators and stewards of other collections who are confronted with similar resource challenges (e.g. restrictive budgets, limited staff, a large number of unedited documents, and – at the same time – a community of prospective editors but the absence of a means to enlist them for project involvement).

This project, a collaboration between Bloomsburg University and Berry College, utilizes thousands of documents from the incipient Martha Berry Digital Archive as a pilot implementation in the development of Crowd-Ed, a freely available, open source web application through which members of the community, as well as students and scholars, can use custom forms and game-inspired user interfaces to access a repository of archival documents in order to 1) engage in reviewing, categorizing, and entering metadata to describe these documents and 2) engage in transcription and basic structural (greeting, paragraph, closing) and semantic (name, date, place) markup.