The First Art Newspaper on the Net Established in 1996 United States Friday, November 28, 2014


Volunteers needed for massive Smithsonian digitization project
A tray of bumble bees from the National Museum of Natural History’s bee collection awaits digitization. The museum is digitizing all 45,000 specimens in its collection and using virtual volunteers to help transcribe important data found on each specimen’s tag. This data will help scientists studying declining bee populations in North America. Photo: John Gibbons, Smithsonian.
WASHINGTON, DC.- Today the Smithsonian launches its Transcription Center website to the public. The website is designed to leverage the power of crowds to help the Smithsonian unlock the content inside thousands of digitized images of documents, such as handwritten Civil War journals, personal letters from famous artists, 100-year-old botany specimen labels and examples of early American currency.

The Smithsonian has already produced digital images for millions of objects, specimens and documents in its collection. Many of the digitized documents are handwritten or have text that computers cannot easily decipher. Transcription by humans is the only way to make the text of these items searchable, which will open them up for endless opportunities for research and discovery.

“We are thrilled to invite the public to be our partners in the creation of knowledge to help open our resources for professional and casual researchers to make new discoveries,” said Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough. “For years, the vast resources of the Smithsonian were powered by the pen; they can now be powered by the pixel.”

The Smithsonian’s collection is so vast that transcribing its content using its own staff could take decades. By harnessing the power of online volunteers that goal can become a reality. During the past year of beta testing with nearly 1,000 volunteers, the Transcription Center completed more than 13,000 pages of transcription. In one instance—transcribing the personal correspondence of members of the Monuments Men held in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art collection—49 volunteers finished the 200-page project in just one week. By some estimates, the volunteers are completing in a couple of days what it would take the Smithsonian months to complete without their help. Once a document is done, the work is reviewed by another volunteer before it is certified for accuracy by a Smithsonian expert.

Projects selected for transcription during the beta-test phase were chosen due to high demand from scientists, researchers and enthusiasts for certain items that presented accessibility challenges. For example, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History has one of the world’s largest bumble bee collections—nearly 45,000 specimens. Information about each bee, such as where it was collected and when it was collected, is extremely valuable to scientists studying the rapid decline of bee populations during the past few decades. The only way to obtain this information before digitization and transcription would be for a scientist to come to the museum and read each tiny, handwritten label (often as small as 3 millimeters by 7 millimeters) and record the information. Now, with the information digitized and transcribed, scientists anywhere in the world can understand more about the population history of the bumble bee and its recent population decline. The bumble bee transcription project is currently one of the highlighted projects on the site.

Curators at the Archives Center at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History chose to contribute the diary of Earl Shaffer, the first man to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. Hiking enthusiasts, naturalists and other researchers frequently consult this now fragile document. Once the diary was digitized and uploaded to the Transcription Center, members of the online Reddit community devoted to the trail promoted the project. As a result, all 121 pages were transcribed in two weeks. The diary is now available for download, allowing the public to read, study and search for key words or landmarks and reducing the need for researchers to handle the delicate artifact.

Volunteers can register online today to help the Smithsonian transcribe a variety of projects relating to art, history, culture and science, including:

•For art lovers: Handwritten personal letters of artists from the Archives of American Art
Read and transcribe personal letters from artists such as Mary Cassatt, Grandma Moses and Claes Oldenburg. Transcriptions of these letters will be part of the Archives forthcoming book The Art of Handwriting. In an age of emails, texts and tweets, when handwritten letters have ceased to be a primary mode of person-to-person communication, this book will explore what can be learned from the handwriting of artists.

•For armchair archeologists: Field reports from Langdon Warner
Langdon Warner was an American archeologist and art historian who specialized in East Asian art. He was also one of the Monuments Men who worked to protect monuments and cultural treasures in Japan during World War II. A professor at Harvard and Curator of Oriental Art at Harvard’s Fogg Museum, he is reputed to be one of the models for Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones.

•For bird lovers: Observation notebooks of James Eike
James Eike was a Virginia bird watcher who kept impeccably detailed field observations of birds and the weather nearly every day from 1960 to 1983 near his home in Northern Virginia. In addition to being an important resource for ecologists, it also includes tidbits of cultural events from that time, including the 1969 moon landing.





Today's News

August 13, 2014

Robin Williams' portrait installed today at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington

The Frick announces a new interactive mobile app; Save your favorite works to enjoy offline or share

Sotheby's to offer the exceptional cellar of Netscape founder James H. Clark in Hong Kong

Mystery over massive Alexander the Great-era tomb unearthed in northern Greece

Bonhams annual Beaulieu Sale to offer rare collectors items at September 6th auction

Bogart estate: Hollywood golden age icon Lauren Bacall dead at 89 in New York

Well ahead of schedule, Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam receives its millionth visitor

Emerging artist's London Taxi sculpture unveiled at Heathrow's Terminal 2

Exhibition of works by Romualdas Pozerskis opens at The Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

Christie's announces exhibition of highlights from the Collection of David Gainsborough Roberts

Martin Museum of Art hosts 'Henry A. McArdle: Texas Painter, Patriot, and Baylor Professor'

Restored Action #1 leaps to $167,300 in $5.18 million Heritage Comics & Comic Art Auction

Indianapolis Museum of Art publishes first-ever survey of Neo-Impressionist portraiture

Winterthur's Director of Horticulture wins trade association award

The Linda Pace Foundation appoints veteran arts leader Kathryn R. Martin as Interim Executive Director

Professor's artwork showcased in exhibition at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts

Dia Art Foundation commissions Iñaki Bonillas for new artist web project Words and Photos

Volunteers needed for massive Smithsonian digitization project

Michelle Castro joins Heritage Auctions as Trusts & Estates Representative

China enlists film prostitute for cultural battle

British Council appoints Ciarán Devane as new CEO

Abraham Lincoln campaign flag brings $20,000 at Heritage Auctions' APIC National Convention Auction

Winter Fine Art & Antiques Fair, Olympia to be held 3-9 November

Most Popular Last Seven Days



1.- Greece holds breath as skeleton found in Alexander the Great-era tomb at Amphipolis

2.- Spain mourns the death of art collector Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, Duchess of Alba

3.- Meet the ancestors: Exhibition at Bordeaux gallery reveals faces of prehistoric humans

4.- Getty Foundation and partners launch free of charge online art collection catalogues

5.- Historic photos of dead Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara resurface in small Spanish town

6.- Exhibition showcases the first two 'Poesie' created by Titian following their restoration

7.- O'Keeffe painting sells for more than three times the previous world auction record for any female artist

8.- Crystal Bridges announces the departure of museum President Don Bacigalupi

9.- artnet Auctions offers a later example of Yayoi Kusama's important Infinity-Nets series

10.- 'Degenerate art' should go back to museums: German advisor Jutta Limbach



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