Academic Community Using Crowd-Sourcing to Transcribe Handwritten Documents

The New York Times recently reported that British scholars are experimenting with crowd-sourcing to expedite the transcription of 40,000 handwritten documents by philosopher and British social critic Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832).  Using a wiki format, the University College London's Bentham Project enables anyone to transcribe scanned originals of pages produced by Bentham.  Scholars edit the transcriptions, which may then be published in printed editions of Bentham's works. Scanners and optical character recognition (OCR) technology enable the processing of typeset documents (see our earlier post on Google Books, here), but older, handwritten records must be transcribed manually.  The process of transcribing these documents can take years and is traditionally performed by scholars.  As a result, such writings are widely unavailable to the general public because they exist only as difficult-to-read originals.

The Bentham Project marks the first time a transcription project has been crowd-sourced.  Scholars expect the strategy will significantly decrease the amount of time it takes to make writings accessible to the general public in a searchable format.

If perfected, this type of crowd-sourced transcription could open up the mass of handwritten public records for searching.

Read the full article from the New York Times here, and click on the image below to see a page from Bentham's manuscripts that was scanned for transcription by the Bentham Project.