November Newsletter: Updates from the Colonial Documents Transcribathon

Updates from the Colonial Documents Transcribathon at the New Orleans Jazz Museum & Louisiana Historical Center

These updates are part of a monthly newsletter from museum staff, interns, and volunteers which aims to communicate updates about the New Orleans Jazz Museum & Louisiana Historical Center’s Colonial Documents Transcription/Translation project and to share ways you can get involved. Thank you for reading!

Thank You & Transcribathon Recap

Many thanks to all the volunteers who made our very first transcribathon event a huge success. More than seventy people, among those scholars, professors, students and volunteers from all different parts of Louisiana came together with one purpose: transcribing our Spanish and French Colonial documents.

Image description: Transcribathon participants gathered on October 13, 2018 in the Jazz Museum’s third-floor performance space.Image description: Transcribathon attendees gathered on October 13, 2018 in the Jazz Museum third floor performance space. 

Attendees came to learn more about the colonial documents and to have fun. They were able to enjoy a tour of our museum and reading room, to explore museum exhibits, and to listen to a panel of three incredible scholars talking about their areas of research and the importance that the colonial documents hold for studying Louisiana history.

Transcribathon attendees signed up as volunteer transcribers/translators on our Louisiana Colonial Documents From the Page project site. This platform showcases a selection of our digitized colonial documents in a format that allows registered volunteers to make side-by-side transcriptions and translations from images of document pages.

Image description: Transcribathon volunteers work to decipher images of manuscript writing displayed on their laptops. 

But the marathon is not over yet! Remember that you can use your computer to contribute to collaborative transcriptions and translations from anywhere with a WiFi connection and to review contributions from others. Click here for a PowerPoint tutorialon getting started  transcribing/translating on From the Page. For access to the complete Colonial Document Collection, please visit our database at

The volunteers, interns, and staff at the New Orleans Jazz Museum and Louisiana Historical Center thank you for your wonderful support.

Invitation to Visit the Louisiana Historical Center Reading Room

If you would like to familiarize yourself with our colonial documents, please visit our reading room, a friendly and welcoming place for research. Located on the second floor of the New Orleans Jazz Museum, our reading room is open to the public on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Hours are 10:00am- 12:00pm and 1:00pm-4:00pm. For more information, click here.

tour of LHC reading room.jpgImage description: transcribathon participants exploring sample documents from the Lousiana Historical Center’s collections in the reading room.

Further Reading

You can read more about the Louisiana Colonial Documents Collection in some of the published works that reference colonial documents listed here in a GoogleDoc.

A Focus Issue on Atlantic World Archives of Louisiana is also on sale at the Jazz Museum. This volume is guest edited by Jazz Museum director Greg Lambousy and Tulane historian Emily Clark and published by Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals in 2015. It includes articles on the history of the colonial documents, book reviews, and more. Proceeds from book sales and donations support reading room activities.

Share Your Story

Some of the many people who have worked with Louisiana Colonial Documents share personal stories and reflections in the links below.

Click here for “On Reading and Sharing Eighteenth-Century Louisiana Judicial Records,”a guest blog post by Dr. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall.

Click here for “The Joy of Finding My Enslaved Ancestor in 18th Century Louisiana Judicial Records,” a guest blog post by LCDR Michael N. Henderson.

If you’d like to share from your experiences working with Louisiana Colonial Documents in general or with a particular document, we would be thrilled to hear from you. Please send an email to if you’re interested in sharing your story.

What is a transcribathon?

A transcribathon (or transcribe-a-thon) is an event where participants gather to make open-access transcriptions of manuscript documents. Sometimes these are marathon-style events that last all day. Sometimes transcribathon participants also help to encode or translate manuscripts. This post details some recent transcribathons that have given inspiration to our project and provides links to more resources.

The #TRANSCRIBEBOND event at UVA’s Carter G. Woodson Institute and Center for Digital Editing

On August 14 and 15 of this year, UVA’s Carter G. Woodson Institute of African-American and African Studies worked with other campus divisions to launch the Julian Bond Papers project with a transcribathon. This ongoing project aims to prepare the papers of Prof. Julian Bond—civil rights icon, co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Poverty Law Center, Georgia state representative, and UVA professor—for inclusion in a scholarly edition. Click here to sign up to participate in this ongoing project.

Prof. Deborah McDowell, Alice Griffin Professor of English and director of the Woodson Institute at UVA, says, in the article linked here, “Bond’s speeches, in particular, illuminate much about the history and challenges of social struggle and political activism. This new project, designed to collect these speeches in one place, represents one example of what we hope will be an ongoing and mutually beneficial collaboration on digital humanities projects across the University.”

Read more about the #TranscribeBond project by searching for the hashtag #TranscribeBond on social media, or by clicking HERE.

The Douglass Day Transcribathons

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Follow this link to watch a video transmission from this year’s Douglass Day transcribathon:

On February 14 or Douglass Day, the Colored Conventions Project (led by a team of scholars, graduate students and undergraduate researchers at the University of Delaware) organizes transcribe-a-thons to celebrate Frederick Douglass on his chosen birthday.

In 2018, participants from some 64 colleges, universities, and cultural institutions across the country transcribed some of the Freedman’s Bureau papers from the Smithsonian museum’s digital archive.

Participants’ combined efforts have helped make the Freedmen’s Bureau papers more accessible to family historians, African Americans searching for information on their ancestors, and historians seeking to better understand the years following the Civil War.

Click HERE to learn more about the Colored Conventions Project, and to WATCH a video of the 2018 Douglass Day Live Broadcast.

The Folger Shakespeare Library and Kislak Center Transcribathon

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Screen shot of Dromio screen and manuscript taken from

In 2014, the Folger Shakespeare Library and UPenn’s Kislak Center organized a path-breaking transcribathon in Philadelphia around digitized manuscripts from the Folger’s collection, the Smith family poetical miscellany (1620-1665), and a long poem dedicated to Queen Elizabeth called “A dream of bounden due.”

A group of over 35 participants used an online transcription and encoding tool called Dromio to transcribe these manuscripts. A blog post on this event by Paul Dingman explains that “The Penn transcribathon served as an opportunity not only to promote paleography to a larger audience but also to test the [Dromio] interface with a number of users who have differing levels of—and sometimes no—experience in transcribing manuscripts.”

Outcomes of this event included 243 partially transcribed manuscript pages (of which 185 were completely transcribed) and, perhaps more importantly, renewed interest among participants in attending in another transcribathon.

You can read more about this event and other Early Modern Manuscripts Online transcribathons by clicking on this sentence.

The NOLA Jazz Museum’s Transcribathon shares some important goals with these projects, including promoting paleography to a wide audience, making early Louisiana and early African-American history available to genealogists and historians, and creating a collaborative community space. Our event also stands out from these important predecessors in part because it invites participants to transcribe and translate documents in French and Spanish.

Have you ever participated in a French or Spanish transcribathon before? Have you participated in any transcribathons? Tell us more in the comments below!