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brief overview of the history and types of scholarly crowdsourcing, including projects at the intersection of scholarly work and public engagement; then discuss projects in which participants moved beyond simple transcription or classification tasks to a deeper engagement with history. What kinds of scholarly skills and practices are being learnt, and how, in these crowdsourcing projects? And how does this compare to traditional education in disciplines like history? What happens if projects can’t/won’t meet expectations of crowd?
Worked in museums for a long time, opportunity between public engagement and need to enhance collections. Made games, then did PhD in digital history. Edited a book.
Began as outsourcing / cognitive surplus but there are alternative genealogies to draw on
My definition – partly proscriptive as well as descriptive
Realised couldn’t do everything; asked for help but then had to check and coordinate the results. Computers make this faster.
There is a long tradition of avocational historians, sometimes working on collaborative projects - local historians in the UK sometimes undertake long-term, complex research projects. ('Avocational' has less problematic overtones than 'amateur'.) FreeBMD began in 1998 to 'provide free Internet access to the Civil Registration index information from England and Wales'. Ten years later it had over 200 million records. Transcribers are not necessarily undertaking research projects while contributing to FreeBMD but they are learning historical skills and contributing to public knowledge through their work.
Old Weather is a 'Zooniverse' project that aims to extract weather information from historic ships logs for use by climate scientists. The 'Zooniverse' is the organisation behind many citizen science projects, some of which have developed into partial citizen history projects.
Participant forums vital to success of project – answering questions, providing support and community. But also lead to interesting side-effect
Hundreds of pages of documentation and related summaries to help participants transcribe historical ships logs.
Newcomers 'learn and acquire knowledge through participating in everyday activity with colleagues'. Online forums support many of the activities typical of communities of practice, including problem solving, making and answering requests for information, coordinating activities and undertaking documentation projects. While the work itself may be solitary - as is most historical research - communities of practice develop 'a shared repertoire of resources' including 'experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems'. While the original theoretical work on communities of practice involved in-person discussion, online communication, including social media, forums and discussion lists, similarly show many traces of the development of shared practices.
Another example where people became interested in lives of people behind handwriting, started to compile information about them
Set up in model of previous projects, emphasised ‘citizen history’ in publicity material
But this wasn’t reflected in the project’s stated aims
Or in the attention of the organisation or historians to the experience of participants – questions went unanswered
Lesson – you can’t just issue invitations, you have to stick around
On other words, free puppy!
Switching to formal education
Crowdsourcing, scholarship and the academy
Digital Curator, British Library
Social Scholar lunchtime seminar
School of Advanced Study, University of London
What is crowdsourcing?
Crowdsourcing (Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson, Wired,
2006): 'the act of as company or institution taking a
function once performed by employees and outsourcing it
to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in
the form of an open call'
Or, as Clay Shirky's cognitive surplus, 'the spare
processing power of millions of human brains‘
Or, as volunteering online
Crowdsourcing in cultural heritage is...
...asking the public to help with tasks that contribute to a
shared, significant goal or research interest related to cultural
heritage collections or knowledge.
The activities and/or goals should be inherently rewarding.
Crowdsourcing in GLAMs
• Tasks like collecting, digitisation, description, transcription
undertaken by distributed, possibly anonymous
• Participation possibly as 'volunteers', or as side-effect of
playing games or own work on historical materials
• Appeals to intrinsic motivations; interest in subject;
altruism; mastering new skills
* GLAMs are galleries, libraries, museums, archives
Motivations as guidance
• satisfying work to do
• the experience of being
good at something
• time spent with people
• the chance to be a part
of something bigger
(Jane McGonigal, 2009)
State Library of New South Wales
Crowdsourcing before the web
• 19th Century natural history
• 1849 Smithsonian weather
• 1857, 1879 Oxford English
• WWII Soldiers given a
Field Collector's Manual in
Natural History by the US
Museum of Natural History
James Murray, editor, OED, with contributor slips
Crowdsourcing as hosting a party
Jonathan Kriz https://www.flickr.com/photos/27587002@N07/5170590074
Early Modern Recipes Online Collective
‘For the building-block assignment over the course of the
term, we will be undertaking an exciting hands-on
collaborative project: an online transcription and online
analysis of Johanna St. John’s seventeenth-century
household book. … We will spend time learning technical
skills, as well as talking about history. The course will develop
your oral, writing, analytical, collaborative and technology
skills. As such, the final grade of the course is based on your
seminar participation, transcription, and research essay.#
American Historical Association (AHA)
• the ability to engage in historical inquiry,
research, and analysis;
• to practice historical empathy;
• to understand the complex nature of the
• generate significant, open-ended
questions about the past and devise
research strategies to answer them;
• to craft historical narrative and
• to practice historical thinking
• Question posing
Bill Tally and Lauren B. Goldenberg,
“Fostering Historical Thinking With
Digitized Primary Sources,” Journal of
Research on Technology in Education
What do you think?
•Can academics (realistically) find the time for
good community engagement?
•Can academics share credit, authorship,
•Impact and the REF?
•Crowdsourcing vs traditional education
– Ethics, extrinsic motivation
– Practical skills for students