Women Computers at the Harvard College Observatory

Transcribing the Women Computers Workbooks at the Harvard College Observatory with Project PHAEDRA

Material originally produced during the mid-to-late 19th century and early 20th century by researchers at the Harvard College Observatory that had been stored in the HCO Astronomical Plate Stacks collection. These early notebooks represent the history of the Harvard College Observatory and are irreplaceable primary source documents that exemplify the evolution of observation methods and astronomy as a science. Join in to transcribe the work of Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin, and others.

In response to the re-discovery of this important collection, Wolbach Library staff worked with Lindsey Smith, Curator of Astronomical Photographs, to have the material transferred from the Plate Stacks’ holdings at Harvard Depository’s Records Management Department, to Wolbach’s shelves at the Depository so that the material could be cataloged, digitized, and preserved by services available to Wolbach through Harvard Library. The material will be subsequently transcribed by the Smithsonian Transcription Center in DC and be searchable in both HOLLIS (Harvard’s catalog) and the NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS). This digitization and indexing effort is called Project PHAEDRA, or Preserving Harvard's Early Data and Research in Astronomy


Learn more about the Wolbach Library's goals with Project PHAEDRA or explore the finding aid for the Harvard College Observatory observations, logs, instrument readings, and calculations via Harvard Library Online Archival Search Information System.


Our Transcription & Review Process


How the process works

We seek to balance quality and speed with our transcription process; your feedback helps us improve our approach. At the moment, this is how our system works:

1) Anyone can start transcribing or add to a transcription of a document.

2) Once a volunteer decides they’ve “finished” and they’re ready for review, a different volunteer (who must have an account on the site) can review the transcription and either send it back for edits, or complete the transcription.

3) The finished transcript is sent to the Smithsonian, where it may be used immediately, or undergo additional work.


Transcribing the Women Computers Workbooks


These projects include the calculations and work of these researchers. Please see the following instructions to guide your transcription.


Basic Transcription Instructions

As you get started with transcribing these workbooks, you may want to visit our Basic Transcription Instructions, including tips for Review.


Tables and Cells

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, separate the pipes with 3 spaces. For example:


O^[[h]] | O^[[m]] | +000108 [[?]] | +03559 | .03748 | +.00132 | +00000 | +.03823 | +.0401

| 5 |   |   | 38555.00107 | 138 |   |   | 4131.0029



When you see a sketch or picture on the page, please use the word “image” placed in double brackets: [[image]]. Please do not describe the image at this time. These will be collected after the transcription is complete, and will be processed by scientists and historians of astronomy.
































Graphs and Star Plots

When you encounter a graph or data visualization, please tag it with [[graph]]. Take care to distinguish between graphs (Fig. 3) and star plots (Fig. 4), which you would tag as an image. Please record all text attached, adjacent, or ancillary to the graph as you would any other text on the page.


Figure 3: Graph


Figure 4: Star Plots


Sub- and Superscript Notes

If you see handwritten notes inserted above, below, or adjacent to a line of text, please insert them into the transcription box using a ^ and double brackets [[ ]] to contain the inserted text.

For the following example (Fig. 5): “Sept 6/7 1858 ^[[This is comet VII 1858. Comet VI]] H.P. Tuttle’s…”.

Figure 5: Superscript Example
















If you come across an equation (Fig. 6), record it with the tag [[equation]].


Figure 6: Equation Example


































Underline and Strikeout

Please write strikethrough or underlined, when appropriate, in double brackets before and after the word or phrase that has been struck out or underlined. Remember to close the tags with a forward slash (/).

Like this (Fig. 7):

[[strikethrough]] 4538.4 [[/strikethrough]] 1 | 4538.4






Symbols in Text

If you encounter a symbol in place of a word in text, mark it with the tag [[symbol]] and, if possible, include the word that the symbol replaces. For example (Fig. 8):

Search for Tuttle’s [[symbol – comet]] by T.W. but it was too near [[symbol – moon]]

Figure 8: Symbols in Text Example












Greek Letters

Volunteers should transcribe the Latin name that corresponds to the Greek letter. For example (Fig 9):

Br. edge to H gamma [[superscript]] 1 [[superscript]]


Figure 9: Greek Letter Example

You can refer to this chart if you are uncertain which letter is being used (Greek Alphabet, CC-by-SA license from Ben Crowder).

Tell Us More!

Should you discover any connections--people, such as other astronomers, or events--in these projects, let us know. Additional contextual and historical information helps to improve our collections even more.

You can also join the conversation on Twitter with @TranscribeSI and @ProjectPhaedra.



Other Questions?


Thank you for your interest in the Smithsonian Transcription Center. To get in touch with questions, suggestions or just thoughts about the Transcription Center, please contact us here. You can also tweet questions to @TranscribeSI.

This project is a product of many many passionate, creative, and dedicated individuals who have contributed subject matter expertise, technical solutions, content and design, and much much more. We can continue to improve through your feedback.