Transcription Volunteer

The Smithsonian Transcription Center seeks to engage the public in making our collections more accessible. We're working hand-in-hand with digital volunteers to transcribe historic documents and collection records to facilitate research and excite the learning in everyone.

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Why Does Transcription Matter?

  • Discovery: Transcription turns handwritten and typed documents into searchable and machine-readable resources. See newly created records for hidden collections: Numismatic currency proof sheet records.
  • Readability: Transcription preserves these historic documents for future generations as practices like cursive handwriting are less emphasized in school. See example of transcribed Charles Francis Hall's journal during arctic exploration in 1860.
  • Humanities Research: Digitized and fully transcribed documents are an incredibly valuable asset for art, history, & literary researchers across the globe. See examples: Monuments Men, Armstrong Manual Training School yearbook and more.
  • Scientific Research: Transcription of handwritten collection labels will create millions of specimen data points available to the scientific community for research and discovery. Create records for Botanical specimen, Entomology specimen, Pollen specimen index cards, Paleobiology specimen, and more.
  • Education: From high school to graduate studies, transcription allows students to engage with primary source materials – a key part of the learning experience. Example of transcribed text searchable for education: Fieldbooks contain keywords "belly feather".
  • Together, we are discovering secrets hidden deep inside our collections that illuminate our history and our world.

    What Collections are Available?

    The Transcription Center opened in July 2013 with thousands of documents across 31 projects from eight Smithsonian museums, archives, and libraries. We have grown with the help of volunteers to include over 1,000 projects from fourteen participating museums, archives and libraries. Explore projects available for transcription and review:

    Field Notebooks

    Collected by the National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution Archives, these notebooks include botanical collecting in China, photographs from Brazil, ornithological observations, documenting fur seals in the Bering Sea, the Smithsonian-Roosevelt Expedition, and much more. New field notes added regularly!

    Art and Language

    Join us to transcribe endangered languages - or explore an artist’s diary! What will you discover as you turn the pages, cards, and manuscripts from the National Anthropological Archives and diaries from Archives of American Art? Join in transcribing the words of artists now!

    Unlocking Biodiversity Specimens

    The US Herbarium, housed inside the National Museum of Natural History, holds some 5M plant specimens. Along with the Department of Entomology, the Department of Botany is digitizing its collections. Transcription of the handwritten collection labels will make these incredible historical collections available to researchers around the world. Check in with the Department of Botany - more specimens sheets coming soon!

    Freedmen's Bureau

    The Bureau of Refugees, Freemen, and Abandoned Lands, often referred to as the Freedmen's Bureau, was established on March 3, 1865. The duties of the Freedmen's Bureau included supervision of all affairs relating to refugees, freedmen, and the custody of abandoned lands and property. Please help us transcribe these records and learn more about the experiences of formerly enslaved men and women in North Carolina during the Reconstruction Era.

    Join Us!

    Calling researchers, educators, citizen scientists and history buffs: We are actively seeking volunteers to join this world-wide effort. With your help, we can make our vast collections in art, history, and science more accessible to anyone with a curious spirit.

    Start Transcribing Now

    Who's Behind this Project?

    To get in touch with questions, suggestions or just thoughts about the Transcription Center, please contact us here.

    This project is a product of many many passionate, creative, and dedicated individuals who have contributed subject matter expertise, technical solutions, ideas & feedback, content and design, and much much more. Learn more about the organizations and groups involved: