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Crowdsourcing History

Posted by Amanda Gustin on August 8, 2011 in forum not temple |

Nice and timely, two very interesting and very different ways in which museums and archives are crowdsourcing their materials.

In case you’ve never heard of it, “crowdsourcing” is a term used to refer to the placement of a task – or more usually a very large series of tasks – in front of an audience, and asking that audience to complete the tasks. It’s used for commercial purposes in places such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk software, in which users earn a few pennies per task.

More pertinently for us, it can be used with more intangible currency. Providing your audience (and the audience you didn’t know you had, thanks to the wonders of the World Wide Web) with small, engaging tasks akin to playing a game, with clearly defined benefits for the institution can pay off dividends in the long run. You’re giving your audience a stake in the project – a sense of ownership – and creating a sense of community. A really good crowdsourcing project harnesses all the flexibility and personal connections possible on the internet. (We talked a little bit about crowdsourcing in our posts about Historypin.)

Your first example is one featured on the Center for the Future of Museum’s blog: the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Citizen History Project. Users are asked to help with a number of tasks, including tracking down children who went missing from the Lodz Ghetto in 1941.

Another project, and one that completely blows my mind, is the Ancient Lives project. Oxford University, the Egypt Exploration Society, and the University of Minnesota have teamed up to harness the power of internet users to help translate the Oxyrynchus Papyri. The most amazing part? They’ve managed to do so in a way that’s accessible to those among us who don’t read ancient Greek. The History Blog has a great overview of the process, so go, read up.

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