Digital Humanities · December 12, 2019

Learning XML and Transcription Skills

Our last class of the semester was all about Transcription and learning how to write XML Markup Language in order to categorise data for cataloguing. Although I have used other languages such as CSS, HTML, JSON and Python I have never practised using XML until then, and I found it interesting and enjoyable to try and figure out. What I particularly enjoyed about it was the ability to create new tags while also adhering to strict rules in order to make the XML function.

However, I am very familiar to the transcription side of things, due to my work working with the Freedmen Bureaus Paper for Douglass Day over a year ago. For people who are not knowledgeable in markup languages then using Transcription software as seen on the Smithsonian Transcription website,  makes it very simple for people to get involved and helps to create a kind of digital community who want to help to transcribe these records and documents. I have a blogpost detailing the system that was used for the event, so I won’t be repeating myself here. However, I will say that it is not only the Smithsonian have websites for this, there is also Zooniverse where there are multiple projects featuring items needing transcribing, such as Anti-Slavery Manuscripts which entails, ‘turn our collection of handwritten correspondence between anti-slavery activists in the 19th century into texts that can be more easily read and researched by students, teachers, historians, and big data applications’(‘Anti-Slavery Manuscripts’ n.d.) and the Scribes of the Cairo Geniza which aims to ‘ unlock the secrets of one of the greatest archives of the middle ages. Hidden for centuries in an attic in Cairo, over 300,000 fragments of pre-modern and medieval Jewish texts—from everyday receipts to biblical works—have yet to be fully deciphered’ (‘Scribes of the Cairo Geniza’ n.d.).  Closer to home, Ireland has created a similar website but for a stand-alone project known as Letters 1916 – 1923 which is ‘Ireland’s first participatory digital humanities project. Begun in September 2013 as Letters 1916, it expanded its collection period to the end of the Civil War through a generous grant from the Irish Research Council. Join us in creating this unique resource by sharing letters with us or helping to transcribe previously deposited letters’ (‘Explore Letters 1916-1923’ n.d.). The project is a combination between different organisations and requires the transcription of letters during 1916 – 1932 some of the most historically important years in Irish history. It is interesting that this is the second large scale digital project in Ireland over the last number of years, along with the Beyond 2023 initiative which I have spoken about in a separate blog post. This makes me feel very positive about how Irish organisations are seeing Digital Humanities as a viable way to help restore and transcribe the past in order to make it accessible for the future. It’s only a matter of time before we see more smaller scale projects being completed with a DH lens here in Ireland which makes me very excited about the future of Digital Humanities here in Ireland.