the project

DIY History lets you do it yourself to help make historic artifacts easier to use. Our digital library holds hundreds of thousands of items—much more than library staff could ever catalog alone, so we're appealing to the public to help out by attaching text in the form of transcriptions, tags, and comments. 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 or picture at a time.

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.

what software powers the site?

DIY History is powered by Omeka 2.6, with a custom theme and transcription plugin developed by The Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio at the University of Iowa Libraries.

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 transcription opportunities for handwritten materials outside of the Civil War collections; DIY History, which also features commenting and tagging functionality for our historic photograph collections, 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 other primary source materials like handwritten documents or photographs. Making these items findable requires time-consuming manual labor to transcribe or describe 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 and photographers whose stories they're helping to preserve.

can anyone participate?

Anyone is welcome to contribute to the site – no special expertise is required. For transcribing documents, registration is required. Create an account in order to track your contributions, watch the latest transcriptions, or follow the conversations.