Transcription Guidelines

Goals for the course

In ~800 words, you have three goals:

  • To show me that you’ve done the transcription assignment (to transcribe MOST of THREE PAGES) of the same document or of different ones.
  • If you’ve spent a lot of time on a page, but can’t get every single word, move on! There’s only so much we can contribute on our first time.
  • To document your experience to a general audience
  • To critique your transcription project, the interface and the user experience.
  • To comment on how the assignment brings up critical issues at the intersection of technology and the humanities.

Goals beyond the course

Part of the goal of your digital portfolios is to show off your fluency moving between digital/analog texts + tools and qualitative/quantitative methods + analyses. Imagine that you are writing this for a potential employer who is intrigued by the “Digital History” course on your transcript. Describe (in terms of the transcription exercise) how the relevant aspects of the course help you think differently.

Basic Requirements

  • ~800 words (but there is no maximum, so take the space you need to describe and analyze your experience)
  • Needs to be a separate PAGE on your portfolio, NOT a blog post
  • Clear, concise, and meaningful writing (no fluff!)
  • Must include screenshots of what you’re doing (both the texts you transcribe and the aspects of the interface you want to critique).
  • Reflect critically on what you’re doing using course readings. This is not optional–the point of the readings is that you can use them!

What to comment on

For the project critique, below are some possible themes and questions you might ask yourself and comment on in your response. This is not an exhaustive or restrictive list!

Project Website

  • Did the website inspire you to get involved? (yes, i know you didn’t have a choice)
  • What did you think of the design?
  • Were you made to feel like you were contributing to an interesting public service?
  • Did you get a sense of how these transcriptions could be used?


  • Were you easily able to figure out what to do?
  • How “seamless” was the interface–that is, it always seemed to make it easy to go from one step to the next?
  • Did the interface make the transcription experience more or less enjoyable?

Transcription Experience

  • What was your experience with the handwriting? What did you learn or get better at along the way?
  • How did you use (or not) the meaning of the texts to transcribe them?
  • Was it easier to transcribe those texts that you felt some connection to?

Critical Reflection

  • This is the most important aspect of your essay!
  • We talked in class (21st) a lot about the experience of text. How did the transcription project confirm or complicate the notions of text?
  • How do transcription projects fit into digital history? Namely, how can they increase the utility of digital history research? What are the dangers?
  • How can we use our previous abstract/theoretical readings to evaluate the pros and cons of transcription and text mining generally?


This assignment is a bigger deal than the reading responses (hence the 10 point scale), and will be graded accordingly. Here’s a general guide:

  • 0-2: Technically the assignment is done, but is entirely descriptive without any critical reflection on your experience, and with rushed writing (unorganized, repetitive) that was hard to follow.
  • 3-5: Displays some critical engagement with the assignment, writing is fine and gives a serviceable picture of what you did. Generally underwhelming.
  • 6-8: Shows potential, but falls short in scope or execution. Usually this score represents a generally good essay that is missing a critical component or is sloppily done. For instance, you might clearly describe your transcription experience without any broader critical reflection on digital texts generally.
  • 9-10: Carefully written; pulls in different readings from the course to analyze the transcription process and experience (not just the ones about transcription, but archives and algorithms generally); shows significant critical engagement with the assignment in that all description is used to make a broader point.