HILT Summer School: 'Crowdsourcing Cultural Heritage'

In August 2014 I taught 'Crowdsourcing Cultural Heritage' with Ben Brumfield at HILT (Humanities Intensive Learning + Teaching) at MITH in Maryland. Thanks to all the participants for making it such a great workshop!

The Course Syllabus and Slide Decks are available for download below.

If you found this post useful, you might be interested in my book, Crowdsourcing Our Cultural Heritage.

HILT Crowdsourcing Slides and Exercises Monday

HILT Crowdsourcing Slides Tuesday

HILT Crowdsourcing Slides Wednesday

HILT Crowdsourcing Slides Thursday

HILT Crowdsourcing Slides Friday

Session 2: find a project you love!

Some sites require registration, so you may need to find another site to explore while you're waiting for your registration email.

10 Most Wanted http://10most.org.uk/ Research design objects
Ancient Lives http://ancientlives.org/ Humanities, language, text transcription
British Library Georeferencer http://www.bl.uk/maps/ Locating and georeferencing maps (warning: only hard maps may be left!)
Children of the Lodz Ghetto https://web.archive.org/web/20130826125934/http://online.ushmm.org/lodzchildren/ Citizen history
Describe Me https://web.archive.org/web/20180603232845/http://describeme.museumvictoria.com.au:80/ Describe objects
Ensemble https://web.archive.org/web/20180321202035/http://ensemble.nypl.org/ Structured transcription of historic theatre programmes
Family History Transcription Project http://www.flickr.com/photos/statelibrarync/collections/ Document transcription (Flickr/Yahoo login required to comment)
Herbaria@home http://herbariaunited.org/atHome/ Transcribe specimen sheets; contribute to biographical research
HistoryPin 'Year of the Bay' https://web.archive.org/web/20190915214017/http://yearofthebay.org:80/ Research 'history mysteries'; help identify locations, dates, etc
Letters of 1916 https://web.archive.org/web/20151107193851/http://dh.tcd.ie:80/letters1916/ Transcribe letters
Micropasts http://crowdsourced.micropasts.org/app/photomasking/newtask Photo-masking to help produce 3D objects; also structured transcription
Museum Metadata Games: Dora https://web.archive.org/web/20140810005656/http://museumgam.es/dora/ Tagging game with cultural heritage objects (c2010)
Notes from Nature http://notesfromnature.org/ Transcribe specimen sheets
NYPL Building Inspector http://buildinginspector.nypl.org/ A range of tasks, including checking building footprints, entering addresses
OED Appeals http://public.oed.com/appeals/ Research; help provide evidence for words
Operation War Diary http://www.operationwardiary.org/ Text transcription
Papers of the War Department http://wardepartmentpapers.org/ Text transcription
Planet Hunters http://planethunters.org/ Citizen science; review visualised data
Powerhouse Museum Collection Search https://web.archive.org/web/20170304124200/http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/collection/database/menu.php Tagging objects
Reading Experience Database http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/RED/ Text selection, transcription, description.
Smithsonian ‘Digital Volunteers’ https://transcription.si.edu/ Transcribing text
Smithsonian Digital Volunteers: Transcription Center https://transcription.si.edu/ Text transcription
Tiltfactor Metadata Games http://www.metadatagames.org/ Games with cultural heritage objects
Transcribe Bentham https://web.archive.org/web/20130821182319/http://transcribe-bentham.da.ulcc.ac.uk History; text transcription
Trove https://trove.nla.gov.au/ Correct OCR errors, transcribe text, tag or describe documents
US National Archives https://web.archive.org/web/20160918163016/http://amara.org:80/en/teams/national-archives/ Transcribing videos
What’s the Score at the Bodleian https://web.archive.org/web/20121021140414/http://www.whats-the-score.org/ Music and text transcription, description
What's on the menu http://menus.nypl.org/ Structured transcription
Whats on the menu? Geotagger https://web.archive.org/web/20170607215246/http://menusgeo.herokuapp.com:80/ Geolocating items
Worm Watch http://www.wormwatchlab.org Citizen science; video
Your Paintings Tagger https://web.archive.org/web/20180506075656/http://tagger.thepcf.org.uk/ Paintings; free-text or structured tagging

Session 4: ideation

The goal is to come up with as many ideas as possible to think about during the week. But don't worry, you won't be stuck with the idea you come up with now, there's plenty of time to change things later.


You have 60 seconds per item below to write as many responses as possible to each of these on post-it notes:

  • Content you have
  • Content cleaning, enhancement, digitisation jobs you need help with
  • Existing groups who already love your content and what they do with it
  • Potential users of your content
  • Potential uses for your content
  • Potential problems of any kind

Post up your responses to each prompt.

In 2s or 3s, pick one of the prompts above and group the responses by similarity.


In 2s or 3s, pick a type of content, a job, and potential users or fans to develop into an idea for a crowdsourcing project. Bring in ideas from the other prompts as necessary to inspire you.

Make notes, sketch, or act out potential interfaces.

You might want to think about a project title, strapline and call to action; participant motivations and rewards; the design of the core task; the workflow of content and contributions through the project; educational goals.


Each group has 60 seconds to present their work-in-progress.


What did you learn from this process?

The Course Reading List is available for download via Dropbox.

Our abstract:

Successful crowdsourcing projects help organizations connect with audiences who enjoy engaging with their content and tasks, whether transcribing handwritten documents, correcting OCR errors, identifying animals on the Serengeti or folding proteins. Conversely, poorly-designed crowdsourcing projects find it difficult to attract or retain participants. This class will present international case studies of best practice crowdsourcing projects to illustrate the range of tasks that can be crowdsourced, the motivations of participants and the characteristics of well-designed projects. We’ll study crowdsourcing projects from the worlds of citizen science, investigative journalism, genealogy and free culture to look for lessons which might apply to humanities projects. We’ll discuss models for quality control over user-generated projects, explore the cross-overs between traditional in-house volunteer projects internet-enabled crowdsourcing, and look at the numbers behind real-world projects. Finally, the course will give students hands-on experience with several different crowdsourcing platforms for image annotation, manuscript transcription, and OCR correction. Students are encouraged to bring their project ideas and some scanned material for the lab sessions.

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