As FromThePage matures, we’re getting a little more introspective. How do we keep the values we brought to this work as two scrappy software developers? If we add employees, how can we ensure they hold the same values we do? What are those values, anyway? (If you know – from observation – what we stand for, we’d love to hear it).
We work on FromThePage, instead of our previous corporate jobs, because it provides more meaning than any other work we've done. The phrase “meaningful work” may seem trite, but the more we think about it, the more it sums up what we’re trying to do. The day-to-day work of running FromThePage is meaningful to us, but the projects we host represent deeply meaningful attempts to grapple with history:
- Rice and Sewanee Universities are exploring their founders’ entanglement with slavery by transcribing documents as diverse as correspondence and financial records.
- The US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s work to transcribe and translate diaries from their collection make eye-witness testimony of the Holocaust accessible.
- Camille Westmont’s Lone Rock Stockade project seeks to understand what the convict leasing system looked like in the post-Civil War American South – and who was caught up in it.
Even more prosaic projects like indexing the naturalization indexes for Dane County, Wisconsin or Lake County, Indiana are meaningful work, since these records can help people answer the questions, “Who am I? Where did I come from?”
Being part of uncovering such meaningful history is exciting and motivating to us, but just as motivating is providing meaningful work to the volunteers who work on the projects we host. As a recent volunteer on the Archives of Michigan’s WWI Service Cards projects said, “I feel honored to help out and am very excited we have been granted this opportunity!” Wow. I doubt any other software engineers have been told that their users are honored to use their software.
Liz Coelho sent out the following to transcribers on the Maryland Marriage Records project: “On my first day back in the new year I got a call from a woman who needed her marriage certificate so she could authorize treatment for her husband who was hospitalized with COVID. I used an index created by FromThePage volunteer transcribers to find the certificate, and was able to email a copy to her in less than thirty minutes. It was a wonderful feeling to be able to help her in a dire time, and I want to thank you for making that possible.” Who would have thought transcribing records would help someone get COVID care?
Or when a freshman history student at Baylor University realizes, “The impact of our transcription becomes much more impactful when it is used by the Scholar to transform the way that the world looks at something. Whether it be the way that childhood is analyzed or the way that we see charity work, our views are influenced by taking a look back, but no one can look back unless there is a middle man to guide your path. For the Evangelia Settlement, we were the middle man.”
Thank you, for bringing meaningful work to FromThePage. We would not be here without organizations choosing to engage the public and trust them with the meaningful work of transcribing historical documents.