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MSU to participate in nationwide effort to transcribe Frederick Douglass’ writings

Newswise — On Feb. 14, Michigan State University will celebrate the legacy of the renowned 19th-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass by participating in a nationwide effort to transcribe all 8,731 pages of his writings in one day.

Held annually since 2017, Douglass Day Transcribe-a-thons aim to translate Douglass’ physical records into an online collection of Black history and culture. Held on Douglass’ chosen birthday — as his actual birth date is unknown — Douglass Day Transcribe-a-thons are part of Love Data Week, a five-day annual international event aimed at raising global awareness about data research, management and reuse.

This is the first year MSU has hosted a Douglass Day Transcribe-a-thon. MSU Libraries and MSU’s Digital Humanities Program, housed within the College of Arts and Letters, will offer students, instructors and community members the opportunity to connect through an event that brings together thousands of participants at more than one hundred simultaneous events.

MSU Libraries African and African American Studies Librarian Erik Ponder, who helped organize this year’s Douglass Day Transcribe-a-thon, said that the event is an opportunity to reflect on Douglass’ legacy.

“Frederick Douglass was a towering figure of his time whose impact is still felt today,” he said. “To take time to learn about his immense contributions to American society is a great way to honor and celebrate his life.”

Douglass Day was established in 1897 by the founding president of the National Association of Colored Women, Mary Church Terrell, to celebrate Frederick Douglass’ legacy. Douglass Day was quickly adapted by schools across the country, eventually helping to give rise to Black History Month, which was officially recognized by former U.S. President Gerald R. Ford in 1976.

Assistant Director of Digital Humanities Kristen Mapes shared her enthusiasm about the commemorative event.

“We are excited to come together in the spirit of a birthday party, around a celebratory table of cake and fellowship,” Mapes said. “It is in keeping with Douglass’ ethos to create community that’s founded in humanity and action. By tasking participants with reading his letters and figuring out what they say, Douglass Day brings history to life for all participants, at MSU and around the country.”

The transcribe-a-thon will take place from noon to 3 p.m. on Feb. 14 in the MSU Main Library’s’ Digital Scholarship Lab classroom. The event will include a cake in honor of Douglass’ chosen birthday from Lansing bakery Sweet Encounter, courtesy of MSU Libraries. The transcribing will be done on the Library of Congress’ citizen science platform Crowd.loc.gov. While registration for this event is not required, participants are encouraged to register on the event page.

A subsequent event building on the Douglass Day Transcribe-a-thon will be held on Feb. 16. This online workshop will focus on learning the fundamentals of both Python and computational text analysis in analyzing the previously transcribed works by Douglass.

Full list of events celebrating Black History Month at MSU 

Full list of events celebrating Love Data Week at MSU

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Michigan State University has been advancing the common good with uncommon will for more than 165 years. One of the world’s leading public research universities, MSU pushes the boundaries of discovery to make a better, safer, healthier world for all while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 400 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.

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