Transcribathon is an online crowdsourcing platform for the enrichment of European digital cultural heritage. Its goal is to engage the public in transcribing and annotating Europeana’s vast collection of digitised items, amassed from libraries, archives and museums from all across Europe. Many of these items, especially those containing handwritten text, hold a treasure trove of hidden information not yet displayed in the metadata and therefore not readily discernible nor searchable. With the help of the public in transforming this digital heritage—by transcribing the text, annotating the contents and adding valuable descriptions—they can become rich and powerful sources of information. The data can then be sent back to the Europeana website and become easily read, searched, and categorised to the benefit of the wider public.
The first prototype of the Transcribathon tool was created in 2014 and the platform was updated, improved and extended in 2019 as a result of the Enrich Europeana Generic Services project. This impact assessment was commissioned as part of this project and it presents an analysis of data collected during two Transcribathon events in Cluj-Napoca, Romania (December 2019) and Wroclaw, Poland (January 2020). Our focus was on the perspective of young people, relating primarily to skills development and connection with cultural heritage.
Participant perspectives were captured using Mentimeter participatory data collection software during the introduction to the event and the closing presentation. This was then analysed and compared to past survey data.
These Transcribathon events encouraged participants to learn more about historical topics by creating a strong connection with and a desire to learn more about part of their history and culture. Interaction with the Transcribathon tool at the events encouraged participants to think differently about cultural heritage preservation and reuse, with respondents suggesting different types of value this has, like preservation for future generations and the importance of heritage documents being available and accessible. Transcribathon, at least in the short-term, encouraged participants to engage with digital exhibitions and archives (more than museums and galleries).
Transcribathon is a valuable educational tool. The evidence suggests that it inspired the participating students and increased their subject knowledge. It supported the development of transcription and historical analytical skills (relating to working with historical sources), and to a lesser degree, on how they interact or engage with cultural heritage or use cultural heritage in their education. We also think that it supports the development of soft and digital skills, though this should be further investigated.
Regarding a sense of identity, the data suggests that Transcribathon’s greatest outcome is in generating a sense of connection with one’s local culture and history. The study did not isolate whether they understand more about their local community, nation or family, or if their feelings of its value changed.
This analysis and the data included in the report should be interpreted bearing in mind the short time-frame in which it was conducted, the acknowledged limitations to the approach and recommendations for future research. A longitudinal perspective is required to show if and how Transcribathon creates a concrete and longer term engagement with cultural heritage in their educational activities. The report provides some thoughts for future strategic development of Transcribathon, including, for example, how stronger impact could be created through increased engagement with the tool.
Transcribathon has positive outcomes for young people at Transcribathon events in the short-term, which sets the context for longer-term engagement with digital cultural heritage, better educational outcomes and a connection with the heritage of their local community, region or nation.
Future research could prioritise counterfactual research (to assess young people’s potential change in levels of knowledge and skills).
Interviews may be a better way to understand if and how participant’s understanding of their local community, nation or family changes as a result of attending Transcribathon.
Spend more time considering the impact areas and test each of these for their relevance to the project. The language used in each of the long-term and short-term outcomes should be similarly tested in more depth and more causal steps outlined between the identified outcomes and impact.
Areas for additional research include: What is the value of Transcribathon as an online tool for (sustained) classroom use (e.g. soft skill and digital skills development)? What is the value of the increased reusability and findability of cultural heritage content (thanks to additional metadata and textual transcription by Transcribathon participants)? What is the value of hosting a Transcribathon event? Does the gamification of cultural heritage engagement relate to a desire for more engagement in (digital) cultural heritage for young people?
Validation and next steps
A first version of the report was submitted to the European Commission as part of the reporting of the Generic Services project. Project partners were involved in the drafting and sign off of the original report. The report was then restructured and simplified for publication, and partners were also involved in giving feedback on this version.
The short-term event data collection approach has been tested a few times, and is now a standard part of the workflow of a Transcribathon event. Some work on the change pathway for Transcribathon is needed. Future steps also include embedding data collection in online Transcribathon activity, as well as considering how to investigate any longer-term outcomes for participants of Transcribathons.
You can download and read the full report through the link below.