2020: Our Biggest Year Yet

2020: Our Biggest Year Yet

As we find ourselves at the beginning of 2021, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on the incredible accomplishments by the volunpeer community over the last year. While 2020 was an incredibly sad and challenging year, we at Transcription Center could not be more grateful for your support or more proud of what we’ve accomplished together. As we navigated a year that defied all expectations, more than 39,000 people turned to the transcription process to keep our minds and hands occupied, feel the joy of learning and discovery, and find community through this collaborative work. In unprecedented numbers, you used transcription center in your classrooms, your workplaces, and during your many quiet evenings at home. This was a landmark year for Transcription Center, with over 214,000 pages of Smithsonian materials fully transcribed and reviewed by our volunpeer community. Here are some highlights we’re especially proud of. 


New Faces

2020 saw our community grow exponentially, and in more ways than one! We welcomed thousands more volunteers and our tiny Transcription Center staff team doubled.  


This year alone, more than 39,000 new volunpeers tried their hand at transcribing and reviewing (a 1,100% increase from last year!). Throughout the pandemic, we have seen an unprecedented influx of students and educators looking to supplement their coursework, colleagues doing team-building and service-oriented activities, and countless others looking for meaningful ways of staying occupied. Individuals and organizations around the world hosted transcribe-a-thons this year, bringing people together virtually over the shared goal of connecting with Smithsonian collections. All of this activity added up to an incredible impact on the accessibility of our collections, making more than 214,000 pages of Smithsonian materials fully text-searchable. 





As our community grew, we relied on the expertise, perspectives, and commitment to quality displayed by our veteran volunteers more than ever. Thanks to your very attentive reviewing, feedback emails, and blog posts, we were able to keep up with and adapt to the new norms of 2020 as well as develop new ideas for 2021. 


In November, Emily Cain joined the Transcription Center team as our new Community Coordinator. Emily has a wide range of experience managing projects and events focused on community engagement through museum collections and cultural heritage materials. She’s looking forward to getting to know the volunpeer community and expanding on the types of collections and opportunities available in 2021. Say hello and share your ideas with her at transcribe@si.edu



Project Highlights


With over 2,600 projects completed by the volunpeer community in 2020, we can’t even begin to cover them all here. Here are a few that demonstrate the range of materials we were able to transcribe together, including a significant contribution to collections related to Women’s History and African American History. And head to our YouTube channel to see our 2020: A Year in Review video for even more highlights!


Sally Ride Papers, National Air and Space Museum Archives 

Sally Ride (1951-2012) was the first American woman to enter space. In 1978, she was selected by NASA into the space program. Ride served as CapCom for Shuttle flights STS-2 and STS-3 before being the first American woman in space as a crew member on Space Shuttle Challenger for STS-7 on June 18, 1983. Ride was the first woman to use the Space Shuttle's robot arm and the first to use the arm to retrieve a satellite. Ride cofounded, along with her partner Tam O'Shaughnessy, Sally Ride Science which created science programs and publications for students, with a particular focus on girls' education. Also with O'Shaughnessy, she co-wrote books on space aimed at encouraging children to study science. Ride received numerous awards, including, posthumously, the Medal of Freedom. Find projects, here.






Grace Thorpe Papers, National Museum of American Indian Archive Center 

Grace Thorpe (1921-2008), Sac and Fox, was a WWII veteran and Native Rights activist. The daughter of famed athlete Jim Thorpe, Grace served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1943-1945. She served as a recruiter for the WAC before being sent overseas to New Guinea, the Philippines and Japan. Grace was later awarded the Bronze star for her service in the Battle of New Guinea. Following the end of the war, Grace remained in Japan with her husband Lieutenant Fred W. Seeley and worked at General MacArthur Headquarters as Chief of the Recruitment Section, Department of Army Civilians. Find projects, here






Doris Holmes Blake Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives 

Doris Holmes Blake (1892-1978) was an coleopterist who specialized in the study of Chrysomelidae (leaf beetles). Blake worked for the USDA Bureau of Entomology, and in 1928 began work at the USNM Department of Entomology. In 1933 her official employment came to an end with the institution of regulations prohibiting more than one member of a family from holding a government position (her husband Sidney Blake was then working for the USDA). Although no longer on the payroll, Blake continued her taxonomic work on the family Chrysomelides—unpaid—for almost 45 more years, first as a collaborator and then as a research associate of the Smithsonian. Blake’s professional correspondence with colleagues from around the world documents her entomological activities, as well as her professional struggles in the male-dominated scientific community. Find projects, here







Black History Month 2020 

In February 2020 we invited volunpeers to join us in making African American history more accessible through new and ongoing transcription projects from the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Anacostia Community Museum. Specifically this year, included Transcription Center projects focused on the experience of African Americans in the 1930's - a period of immense change in the United States. From newspapers to political pamphlets to entertainment ephemera, you helped us transcribe and review over 1,500 pages of Black history! Even Smithsonian Secretary Bunch spent some time contributing







Girlhood (It’s complicated), American Women’s History Initiative  

In collaboration with educators, archivists, and museum collections' staff from across the Smithsonian, we joined the effort to celebrate and highlight the stories of American girls. Through Transcription Center projects, we invited volunteers of all ages to help us discover and share a diverse set of experiences and representations of girlhood throughout history, enriching the content and knowledge surrounding the . "Girlhood (It's complicated)" exhibit. These completed transcriptions were used to create educational resources for teachers and students in grades 8-12, as they investigate and learn from the lives and contributions of girls in the United States. Check out our "Educator Toolkit" to learn more. 






Freedmen's Bureau Records 

2020 saw a record-breaking amount of engagement with the Freedmen's Bureau Transcription Project, with over 100,000 pages transcribed throughout the year. In group transcribe-a-thons and individual sessions you helped make African American history pre-1870 more accessible than ever through this project. Explore some of the highlights in our #DiscoverTCFreedmen campaign celebrating 100,000 pages transcribed in August 2020, and dive into ongoing materials (remember, the records total over 1.7 million pages!). 




S. Ann Dunham Papers, National Anthropological Archives 

Stanley Ann Dunham (1942-1995), mother of President Barack Obama, was an economic anthropologist who focused on traditional craft practices, while also building a professional career as an international consultant with various non-governmental organizations. Dunham's research and work dealt mostly with Indonesian artisans and small non-agricultural rural industries, including the study of economic and technical aspects that were important to enabling and sustaining development and village level microfinance programs. Her field notebooks include notes from her years of fieldwork in central Java, work-related travel, experiences as a consultant, and notes on coursework and readings. They also include many observations from her time with small-scale weavers, brickmakers, metalworkers and many other artisans. Find projects here







Smithsonian Open Access 

In February, Smithsonian Open Access was launched, making millions of Smithsonian images available for download, sharing, and reuse at any time with no permissions process. Thanks to the hard work of our volunpeer community, many of those collections come with full transcriptions. From the historic records and film memorabilia at NMAAHC, to the over 24,000 botanical specimens at NMNH, we can’t even begin to imagine how your hard work will contribute to new educational and creative endeavors. Learn more about Smithsonian Open Access here




Educator Resource Guide 

In December, we launched our Educator Toolkit, including a brand new Educator Resource Guide on Smithsonian Learning Lab. Created in partnership with the National Museum of American History, Learning Lab educators, and DC-area teachers, the toolkit and resource guide provide strategies on transcribing, reviewing, and investigating Smithsonian collections in Transcription Center, including many Learning Lab collections featuring our American Girlhood-related projects. If you are an educator trying to incorporate historic materials meaningfully into your classroom experience, get started here




New Project Difficulty Levels 

If you’ve ever attempted to transcribe handwritten documents from the 19th century, you know they can be quite challenging! With the huge influx of new volunpeers this year, we were very excited to roll out our new Project Difficulty Levels. These difficulty levels rate each project on a scale of 1 (Beginner) to 5 (Advanced) to help volunpeers of all experience levels connect with materials that suit them. Just getting started and feeling intimidated or frustrated by elaborate handwriting or complex charts? Try browsing through Level 1 or Level 2 projects, which will feature mostly typed materials. Craving a challenge or enamored with the beauty of old letters and diaries? Dive into some Level 4 or Level 5 projects. Projects that require any special skills, such as projects that feature foreign languages in non-Roman script, will also be categorized as Level 5. We hope this new feature will help each of our volunpeers find projects that suit their particular interests and skillset.  


Thank you

Whether you transcribed 1 page or 500 last year, thank you for working to make Smithsonian collections more accessible. (And if you haven’t tried it yet, what are you waiting for? Get started here!) 



On a more personal note, you’ve brought us a great sense of comfort and purpose in this difficult year. We love being a part of this passionate, dedicated, resourceful community and cannot thank you enough for your patience and support. We hope you’ll continue to share your ideas, discoveries, and, yes, even your frustrations with us in 2021 at transcribe@si.edu. We certainly have many exciting plans for the year to come. 



Happy New Year, and Happy Transcribing!