On Monday, February 14th, the Digital Scholarship Group and the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks hosted a Douglass Day Transcribe-a-thon as part of a national event honoring the life and work of Frederick Douglass. Although Douglass never knew his birthday, he chose to celebrate every year on February 14th. The Douglass Day event is in part a birthday celebration for Frederick Douglass. Douglass Day was relaunched by the Colored Conventions Project in 2017, and Northeastern has been a participant since its revival.
This year’s event featured participants from Northeastern, University of Vermont, Wellesley, and the Boston Public Library. The original goal of the relaunched Douglass Day was to transcribe the minutes of all the Colored Conventions meetings curated by the Colored Conventions Project, which was completed. This year was the first year in a while that returned to the documents of the Colored Conventions. These documents included letters, proceedings, and newspaper articles to name a few. The theme of this year’s Douglass Day was “Where did they go? Black women and the Colored Conventions.” The goal of this theme was to affirm Black women’s centrality to organizing in this period. The official records from the conventions reflect the bias of their times, with more than 98% of the known names belonging to men. The theme for next year’s Douglass Day event has already been announced as “Life of a Woman,” reflecting the Colored Conventions Projects continued commitment to revealing the role of women during this period of American history. In this celebration, participants will be transcribing papers of Mary Ann Shadd Cary to mark the 200th anniversary of her birth.
After a brief introduction and welcome from Sarah Connell, assistant director of the NULab, and Amanda Rust, associate director of the DSG, participants learned how to utilize the Zooniverse page as part of a crowdsourced effort to transcribe and tag documents from the Colored Conventions. This year’s event featured two discrete tasks. There was the traditional transcribing task, where participants are given a PDF of a historic text and asked to transcribe it. The other task was closely connected to this year’s theme of revealing Black women in these documents. It was called “find the names”, and involved looking at a PDF and marking whether there are any names in it. If the document contains names, participants would then transcribe the names and bracket any name that appears to be a woman’s name. This task allowed participants to help restore the names of the everyday people who fought for Black freedom and civil rights in the Colored Conventions. The inclusion of this second text emphasizes that extra work is needed to reveal the hidden women in these documents. To put it another way, just putting these documents online is not enough to highlight the role of women.
The online format of the event allowed for a wide variety of participants coming from various institutions to transcribe and build community. There is hope that future Douglass Day events will be able to be hybrid to continue this valuable community building. Participants would share interesting pages or sections of their texts, and the Colored Conventions Project’s Spotify playlist was shared to provide music for the celebration. This event connected with national Douglass Day proceedings, an annual celebration organized by the Colored Conventions Project, with local events happening across the country on February 14.