The National Museum of Asian Art was the first dedicated art museum at the Smithsonian and on the National Mall. It opened its doors in 1923 as the Freer Gallery of Art, founded by Charles Lang Freer, an American industrialist and well-known collector of Asian art. Selections from his extensive personal and professional papers are being transcribed throughout 2023 in celebration of the Centennial of the National Museum of Asian Art.
These projects consist of three important series from the National Museum of Asian Art Archives’ Charles Lang Freer Papers: Correspondence (incoming and outgoing, arranged by correspondent), Letterpress Correspondence (copies of outgoing correspondence made between 1892 and 1910, arranged chronologically), and Art Vouchers (accounting for his purchase of works of art – the foundations of the museum’s collections – including receipts, lists of works, correspondence, and other documentation, arranged chronologically).
These materials are among the most significant in the Charles Lang Freer Papers, offering primary sources for insights into his collecting, connoisseurship, personality, experiences, and relationships. Here one can find information on the development of Freer’s interest and taste in art, connections to scholars and art dealers, acquisitions of works of art, travels around the world to acquire works of art and learn about Asian cultures, and the genesis of his gift to the nation.
Digitized through a Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund grant and now made available publicly through the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives in connection with the National Museum of Asian Art centennial, these images represent a major advance in accessibility for the Freer Papers. Join us in celebrating our centennial by helping to transcribe these materials!
Thank you for being a digital volunteer! It’s very important that this work is performed in a standardized manner, so please read and follow these instructions to the best of your ability.
*Please note that you may encounter racially or culturally insensitive language and outdated terminology in these records. Transcribing these materials - and all of the language and information included within them - helps to ensure this history is not forgotten. Please reach out with any questions or concerns about sensitive content.*
Type what you see.
The goal of transcription is to capture all text as it appears in the original document. Transcribe grammar, punctuation, and spelling as it appears. Do not correct what you perceive to be errors in the original document, and do not leave out text event if it seems irrelevant.
Do not indicate font style, italicized, bolded, or underlined words.
Don't get bogged down in formatting details, except for what is mentioned in these instructions. There is no need to indicate the difference between handwritten, pre-printed, or typed text on a document, nor different colors of ink, etc. Similarly, subscript and superscript should be transcribed as normal letters. (Ex: 2nd, McDonald)
If you cannot read or decipher a word...
...because the writing is faded or challenging to read: Type [[?]] in place of the word so other volunteers can continue working on it. If a page contains more than 2 [[?]] please do not click the "Mark as Complete" button (instead, click “Save” to record your contribution.)
...because the page is folded, damaged, stapled, or otherwise obscured: Do not use your imagination or context clues to fill in the blanks! Instead, mark this area with [[obscured]] or [[indecipherable]] within the transcription as appropriate.
While Freer generally conducted business in English, some papers in these projects may include other languages and alphabets or character systems, including Chinese, Japanese, German, and French. Please only transcribe the language(s) with which you are familiar, and follow the original script as it is written and read, whether right-to-left or left-to-right, horizontally or vertically. Please be sure to transcribe all accent marks as found in the original text.
Please use methods appropriate for transcribing particular languages/characters. For example, there are several methods for inputting Chinese characters. If your computer has the Chinese keyboard (for Chinese (Simplified) Pinyin or traditional Chinese) please simply type out the characters as you normally would, corresponding to what you see on the documents. If your tablet or phone has a handwriting input keyboard for Chinese characters, go ahead and draw out the characters as you see them. Please note that if you only have a Chinese (Simplified) Pinyin keyboard, but the document you are working on contains traditional Chinese characters, you can use the corresponding simplified Chinese in your transcription. We simply ask that you note this in the notes field of the transcription page. If you are able, however, to transcribe the traditional Chinese, please do so!
Please do not translate or transliterate these languages. We are only seeking transcription.
Stamps or seals
You may encounter various stamps in these records (rubber stamps, postage stamps, seals, etc.). If the stamp is only composed of imagery, you may simply mark it as [[stamp]]. If it contains text, please transcribe all text from the stamp between two stamp tags, as below:
[[stamp]] text on stamp goes here [[/stamp]]
Annotations, Insertions, and Margin Notes
Sometimes you’ll encounter text that was clearly added later, often in another hand, different ink color, or appearing in the margins.
Insertions: When the annotation is meant to be inserted into the text (often indicated by an arrow or caret), simply type it out in the sentence in the order you would read it aloud.
Other Annotations: Annotations, endorsements, and marginalia are common in these records. When notes are scrawled across pre-existing text or in the margins, try to capture the text in the logical order it would be read, with multiple returns between distinct sections for readability. You may use tags such as [[note]], [[left margin]], etc. To mark these passages. See the example pages below:
Remember, don't get bogged down with perfection and formatting. The main objective is to make this information searchable and readable, and to ensure that it is clear to anyone reading this transcription that a margin note is in fact, an additional entry in the text.
Please indicate these with the strikethrough tag, as below:
[[strikethrough]] text that has been crossed out goes here [[/strikethrough]]
Ditto marks are a form of shorthand representing that something above or before is being repeated. They most often resemble a set of quotation marks (“), but should be transcribed as the word they’re standing in for. Sometimes, ditto is abbreviated as “do.” In either case, only transcribe the language the ditto is standing in for.
Ditto Transcription Example Page
Columned Data and Tables
Please remain consistent in your transcription of columned data across a project, and limit the use of brackets as much as possible.
All transcriptions of pages containing tables should include, at the top of the transcription box, bracketed information on how many columns are included in the table. For example: [[4 columned table]]
Then begin transcribing the table by indicating the column headers. To start transcribing a table, type the column headers first, separating these using the pipe (|) symbol (press the shift + backslash key). Then underneath the column headers, type three hyphens (---) to separate the headers from the columned information, again using pipes (|) to separate each column. You can optionally add pipes on either end of the table. This format for transcribing tables follows markdown guidelines (or plain text). Transcribing tables in markdown allows this information to be shared seamlessly from computer to computer, and system to system--maximizing the potential for these transcriptions to be adapted and used by a wide range of researchers.
[[4 Columned Table]]
| Date | Name | Age | State |
| --- | --- | --- | --- |
| Aug. 7, 1865 | John Smith | 32 | Virginia |
To demarcate between cells in table, use a vertical bar/pipe (|). Use this only to mark transitions left-to-right. No special mark is necessary for line breaks or new rows. Please include empty cells where appropriate, but do not feel the need to add empty rows. To transcribe empty cells, please simply use two vertical pipe bars (|) with three empty spaces in between. Refer to the transcribed example page below, which contains multiple empty cells:
Table Transcription Example Page
For tables without column headings please transcribe column headings as blank cells (three spaces between pipes). Do not try to infer or describe column headings if they are not provided in the original text.
Photographs, Drawings, and other Images
Please do not describe any images that appear in these projects. Instead, tag them with [[photograph]], [[drawing]], [[image]], or similar, as appropriate.
Symbols and Special Characters
£ (pound symbol, currency) - transcribe as £
✓ - please transcribe as [[checkmark]]
X in parentheses – transcribe exactly as is: (X)
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