It’s a fascinating idea: Digitize thousands of WWI diaries and invite the public — dubbed “citizen historians” — to annotate the documents. And, do it not under the aegis of a traditional academic institution or public sector organization but rather a newfangled quasi-academic, quasi-digital corporation: Zooniverse. It is a creative way of engaging amateurs in the work of historical research and the digital platform (from my brief exploration) is easy to use. I think that the pre-determined tags are limited and that a trained historian or literary critic would ask much more complicated questions about the content and significance of the documents than a simple tag can communicate. But, really, why quibble with the details when the project is so ambitious and impressive in its scope?
Zooniverse’s Operation War Diary
A BBC News article on the project, “Digitized WWI Diaries Highlight Battle Confusion”
Screenshot of a page of Dr. Livingston’s diary, via the UCLA Multispectral Critical Edition
Yes, that Dr. Livingston.
The David Livingston Spectral Imaging Project at UCLA has succeeded in rendering Livingston’s fragile and mostly illegible diary available for modern readers. Livingstone wrote his diary on newspaper print with ink he made from berries. The Spectral Imaging Project not only makes the text legible, it has transcribed and digitized the entire document, and made it accessible on the web for free. The project is an impressive realization of the promise of digital humanities.
Read an account of this project at the Smithsonian Associates.
UCLA’s David Livingston Spectral Imaging Project
Physician John Henning Schumann describes his practice of recording the names of all the patients he has treated who have died, a kind of adapted diary which he calls a necrology:
In everyday medical care, the practice of reflection is too often overlooked. Remembrance is what makes us human. Somehow, keeping tabs on who has died over the years keeps me humble. It also reminds me that in spite of all of medicine’s marvels, and whatever I might be able to do, our patients all eventually die.
Read Dr. Schumann’s essay here, via NPR.
Via Huffington Post: A British Cryptographer has decoded a US Confederate soldier’s diary to discover that the code was intended to hide the soldier’s gossipy speculation about his superiors.
The complete diary of Lt. James M. Malbone is viewable here, thanks to the New York State Military Museum.
Kent D. Boklan’s account of his decoding process is available here, via Taylor & Francis (limited access).