Can You Relate? Connecting SIA Collections with Themes in the Transcription Center

How do Transcription Center themes open connections for Smithsonian collections that create relatedness, unveil stories, and ask new questions? This post explores themes as another way users can organize projects in the Smithsonian Institution Transcription Center and build webs of knowledge through Smithsonian Institution Archives materials.

On June 21, 2013, we softly launched the Transcription Center (in beta) during our Expeditions & Explorers Field Notes Wikipedia Edit-a-thon with an overwhelmingly positive response. We are currently integrating the excellent feedback we received from users. To learn more, please sign up here – we hope to have the improved site in action soon.

In the meantime, let's talk about the ways users can discover projects in the Transcription Center. The site features a persistent navigation bar and users can sort projects:

Why might themes be useful if we have already organized material by Museum and Archive or Grand Challenges? By applying themes as vehicles of project organization, we can drive audiences toward discovery of relatedness in collections. For example, what could we learn about transportation if we grouped projects together based on the vehicles that carried explorers, scientists, and letters?  See this and other suggested themes at the bottom of this post for more collections "On the Move."

The Deadwood Coach

Remember when we talked about building webs of knowledge? Themes let us link projects that may not traditionally "live together" at the Smithsonian. Through these themes, we can think holistically about Smithsonian collections and what they evidence: seriously amazing research, advances, challenges, and stories.

In the Transcription Center, audiences can engage directly with SIA materials along novel pathways. When we group projects together in unanticipated ways, we may spur questions specific to materials at hand. Furthermore, themed projects may contribute to richer stories fleshed out by interrelated contexts. The two themes already in use in the Transcription Center are Civil War and the Field Book Registry.

Union Army Mail Wagon

We are in the middle of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. In fact, this month began with the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The Transcription Center's Civil War theme also helps extend learning experiences. Consider the Smithsonian magazine’s interactive feature about mapping the battle of Gettysburg? Mary Henry's diaries, available for transcription, also discuss Gettysburg. She also wrote on the start of the Civil War and the nation’s capital in war time. Under the Civil War theme, you can contrast her experiences with W. L. Judson's as a military band bugle player.

You may have read posts on The Bigger Picture, The Field Book Project blog and perhaps at the Biodiversity Heritage Library blog about the Field Book Project and Registry. Tremendous work has gone into efficiently organizing and linking materials. The Field Book Registry theme offers another point for audiences to trek through Field Book Project materials; imagine the specimens that could be collected with this mobile net.

Fiat with collecting net in place, Jamaica, 1937

As we develop the Transcription Center, these themes might suit collections at archives, libraries, and museums across the Smithsonian:

Are there themes you'd like to see in the Transcription Center that highlight hidden stories and new research possibilities? Let us know in the comments – and stay curious!

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