Michael Lapides of the New Bedford Whaling Museum kindly took the time to answer questions and discuss their project and experience using the platform with Sara Brumfield of FromThePage.
Michael Lapides is the Director of Digital Engagement at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
First, tell us about your documents.
The New Bedford Whaling Museum's archival collections consist of 1700 linear feet of manuscript materials documenting a range of New Bedford and regional industries including textile manufacturing, cordage manufacturing, tool manufacturing, banking (1825-1936), business papers, whaling and merchant shipping, modern mechanized whaling, biographical collections (1668-1977), whaling agents’ papers, whaling history, local history (1787-1970), and firefighting. It also includes 2500 individual maritime logbooks and journals, many of which have supporting agents’ business papers. The bulk of the logbook and journal collection documents American whaling (1754-1925) although British, Australian, Norwegian and Azorean voyages are also included. This is the largest and finest collection of whaling logbooks and journals in the world and the largest collection of banking records of any American archive.
A logbook is the official record of the activities of a whaling voyage. It was the duty of the chief (first) mate (also just called “mate”) to keep the log on a daily basis. It includes the position of the vessel, the sail she was under, the wind speed and direction, the activities of the crew, and any whales seen or taken. In contrast, a journal was an unofficial document that could be kept by anyone. Often journals were written similarly to logbooks, with daily entries giving the same information contained in a logbook, and in some cases the only way to determine if something is a logbook or a journal is to check the name of the author against the crew list and see if it was written by the chief mate.
Whaling logbooks and journals give a unique perspective as to what life was like aboard a whaling vessel. Like many old documents, they are not as accessible as modern writing, being handwritten in cursive, often on paper that has been damaged over the years, sometimes in pencil or faded ink, and the writers usually did not use standardized spelling. Nevertheless, a lot of valuable information can be found inside these records of past whaling voyages, and as such, they deserve our attention and are worth the effort that it takes to read them.
You can read more about our collection on our FromThePage collection About page and our website.
What are your goals for the projects?
The primary goal of transcription of primary sources is to make them more accessible. People can have trouble reading the original text. By transcribing these sources, we make them available to a much broader audience. Also, with the transcription, the text becomes word searchable.
How are you recruiting or finding volunteers/collaborators?
Currently to our volunteer council – over 100 people. By word of mouth. In an article in our printed and online journal Vistas: A Journal of Art, History, Science and Culture (page 29, "Spreading the Word: Digital Engagement Through Primary Source Transcription").
Can you share your experience using FromThePage?
Wonderful platform that makes the work our volunteers do much easier. We previously did this work in Google Drive. We have nearly doubled our transcriber team since beginning on FromThePage.
We have a handful of transcribers who found us through FromThePage, an extra bonus.
What advice would you give to other institutions thinking about running a similar project?
Talk to me. Open a test account try it yourself. Look at existing projects on FromThePage.
Interested in getting your documents transcribed? Schedule a free demo with Ben and Sara.