About - DIY History: Help build the historical record by doing it yourself

About the project

DIY History lets you do it yourself to help make historic documents easier to use. Our digital library holds thousands of pages of handwritten diaries, letters, and other texts -- much more than library staff could ever transcribe alone, so we're appealing to the public to help out. Through "crowdsourcing," or engaging volunteers to contribute effort toward large-scale goals, these mass quantities of digitized artifacts become searchable, allowing researchers to quickly seek out specific information, and general users to browse and enjoy the materials more easily. Please join us in preserving our past by keeping the historic record accessible -- one page at a time.

About the collections

Content on DIY History is drawn from the Iowa Digital Library, featuring digitized selections from the University of Iowa Libraries' Special Collections, University Archives, and Iowa Women's Archives. DIY History will continuously be updated with additional content, so check back! If you would like to suggest items for inclusion from the UI's holdings, please contact us.


How did this project start?

The University of Iowa Libraries began its first experiment in crowdsourcing with the Civil War Diaries and Letters Transcription Project. From the site’s debut in the spring of 2011 to commemorate the Civil War sesquicentennial, through the fall of 2012, volunteer contributors transcribed over 15,000 pages. With the diaries and letters nearly completed, the project was expanded to include handwritten materials outside of the Civil War collections, and DIY History was launched in October 2012.

What is the goal of this project?

The goal of DIY History is to make historic artifacts more accessible – both by enhancing catalog records for greater ease in searching and browsing, and by engaging the public to interact with the materials in new ways. While typeset texts can be scanned with OCR (optical character recognition) technology to quickly and inexpensively add full text searchability, there’s no such easy fix for handwritten documents. Making these items findable requires time-consuming manual labor to transcribe each item – a process that doesn’t scale with traditional library workflows. By outsourcing this work to volunteers and attaching their contributions to the artifacts in our digital library, users can search on this added text to more quickly and easily find what they’re seeking. With DIY History, we’re also hoping to attract new users interested in more active engagement with the collections. By volunteering their time to help make these materials more accessible, participants can learn new information about past eras while assisting others, including researchers using the documents, as well as the original authors whose stories they're helping to preserve.

What technology powers the site?

Much of the DIY History transcription source code and documentation is available for institutions who wish to build a similar project.

Digitized artifacts are migrated from the Iowa Digital Library, which is managed by CONTENTdm software. The transcription pages use Omeka for content management, the Scripto plugin for transcribing, and Twitter Bootstrap for the frontend framework.

Can anyone participate? Do I need to register?

Anyone is welcome to contribute to the site – no special expertise is required. For transcribing documents, registration is optional. You may simply select a page and get started, or you can create an account in order to track your contributions, and create a watchlist of your favorite pages.

Where can I read more about the project?

Below are links to articles, blog posts and media features about DIY History and our crowdsourcing projects.

Other questions?

Please contact us.

Transcription tips