By Steve Parker
Yokosuka Navy Base, Japan – Students at The Sullivans School, the largest overseas school in the Department of Defense Education Activity, (DoDEA) located on board Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY) in Yokosuka, Japan, transcribed original documents on their classroom computers working with the Smithsonian Museum, Oct. 10. The documents were part of the Digital Volunteers Program run by the Smithsonian Transcription Center. The center opened in 2013 with thousands of documents across 31 projects from eight Smithsonian museums, archives, and libraries.
The students were fifth graders in the 4/5 Multiage program at the Sullivans. The documents the students worked on were transcribed from field biology notes taken by Ira Gabrielson from 1936-1939. Gabrielson, at the time, was the head of the Bureau of Biological Survey and was transitioning to become the first director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services organization in 1940. The documents described proceedings in Senate meetings and wild bird courtship displays. One passage described a state dinner where “a Brazilian vividly described how he killed a jaguar with a spear” and “a Yak hunt in Tibet.”
“The students first read a short introduction to transcribing and then proceeded to work on the project.” Parker stated, “They were amazingly excited about the journals. They worked long and hard to figure out what Ira was writing in cursive. They did not want to stop when school was over. Last year, we transcribed 3 x 5 cards containing the only transcriptions of the Native American Alabama tribe’s language.”
The Smithsonian Transcription Center, in its own words, “seeks to engage the public in making our collections more accessible. We’re working with digital volunteers to transcribe historic documents and collection records to facilitate research and excite the learning in everyone.” More information about the project is available at https://transcription.si.edu/
“Who knew transcribing original sources could be so fun?” said Andrea Lee Santy, one of the students.
“Ira didn’t have very good handwriting, did he?” asked Claire Bogen, another transcriptionist.