An Untapped Resource: Seniors and the Jane Addams Papers

Jo Anne Zellers, Tori Sciancalepore and Cathy Moran Hajo at the presentation at Brandywine Senior Living, Feb. 2, 2016.

Jo Anne Zellers, Tori Sciancalepore and Cathy Moran Hajo at the presentation at Brandywine Senior Living, Feb. 2, 2016.

One of the goals of the Jane Addams Papers Project at Ramapo College is to make our documents available and accessible to a wide audience. We have a dedicated cadre of student workers and volunteers here at the project who are transcribing and indexing the documents for web-based publication. While we have been interested in using crowd-sourcing as a tool to help complete first drafts of Addams’ letters, we had been thinking about it largely in terms of building an it as an option on our website. Last week, however, we started a collaboration with the staff and residents of Brandywine Senior Living in Mahwah.

The idea came from a conversation I had with Jo Anne Zellers, Ramapo College’s  Director of Constituent Relations, about the difficulty that readers had with Jane Addams’ handwriting. Addams’ letters are daunting when you first look at them, hastily written, and filled with proper nouns and turns of phrase that are difficult for college students and all but impossible for younger readers. Providing transcriptions is critical to our mission, as they enable readers to make sense of the letters and enable text searches. Jo Anne surmised that older people might have an easier time of reading Addams and her contemporaries, and that led naturally to the idea of seeing whether there was interest from the seniors.

TranscriptionSlideWe met with Brienne Fuellhart, the Escapades Producer at Brandywine, and she was enthusiastic about the idea. On Wednesday, Tori Sciancalepore (Assistant Editor at the project), Jo Anne and I traveled to Brandywine and did a presentation on Jane Addams’ life and then a short introduction to transcription and Jane Addams’ hand. While the residents at first found Addams writing difficult, within a few minutes they were calling out their guesses. The next morning Brienne reported that “residents were excited and impressed and I think we should be able to put together a good group to help with this project.”

Our plan going forward is to share a folder of handwritten documents, via a share drive. Brienne will display them in the large screen movie room at Brandywine and residents will come and tease out the meaning of the documents in a transcription group. Brienne or another helper will type up their transcriptions and upload them to the shared drive, where we can access them and add them to our digital archive. Tori and I will proofread the transcriptions and make any corrections needed before we post them on the public site. We will visit Brandywine frequently, giving them some new pointers and introducing the project to residents who did not attend the initial meeting.

Engaging the public in this way is exciting and we feel certain that it will become a model for working with other community groups–schools, clubs, or anyone interested in historical documents. If you know of a group that would like to participate, whether in our neck of the woods, or at a distance, please contact me and we can set things up.

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