|dc.description.abstract||In this paper, we present a local research and Citizen Science initiative for the enrichment and analysis of handwritten historical postcards and letters by means of crowdsourcing. The documents are authentic communications between South Tyrolean soldiers and their home families from the First World War, in which the region of South Tyrol was right on the front lines.
The initiative is one selected use cases of the infrastructure project DI-ÖSS1, carried out in cooperation between the Institute for Applied Linguistics (IAL) and the Institute for Minority Rights (IMR) at Eurac Research. The DI-ÖSS project is piloting a digital infrastructure for language data within the region of South Tyrol, through the implementation of specialized use cases for a range of different types of institutions relevant to the local language situation, namely the partners Eurac Research, the library Teßmann2, the language unit of the institute for culture3 and the web publisher salto.bz4.
The collection of documents has been compiled over the past years at the IMR from local citizens reached through open calls to local magazines (ACADEMIA 78, 2018), journal contributions (Pörnbacher et al., 2014) and radio casts about the project. The ‘letter project’ about historical correspondences aims at researching about lifestyle and emotions of the people during the time of war by means of analyzing the content of the letter exchanges and the changes found in their language over time. Especially interesting features on a linguistic basis are the use of the local dialect as compared of the standard language, and the interferences between the German dialect variety and Italian, that can be often found in the texts.
- Up to now, a colleague at the IMR has been collecting several thousands of missives as original documents and has scanned them to image PDFs. In order to analyze the texts in a systematic way by linguists and historians at Eurac Research, they need to be properly equipped with metadata and transcribed. Metadata will include information about the date, the place, the sender and recipient, as well as their relationship (e.g. mother/son or husband/wife), and information on the quality of the writing, etc. Regarding the transcription of handwritten texts with different scripts, software cannot easily support this, therefore we decided to set up a crowdsourcing site to engage the local population with this project. Already during the collection of the letters, it showed that the people in South Tyrol are very much interested in this look into the past of their region (and often also their families), and such use case of having people of the region interact with their history becomes central to the recurrence in 2019 of the jubilee of 1919 year of the annexation of South Tyrol to Italy. The crowdsourcing project will be set in a context of multiple historical related events to commemorate and bring light to this historical period, via engaging directly with the population and the families of those who have lived through this time.
It has been shown in various other projects throughout Europe (‘Gekaapte Brieven’5, Europeana 1914-18) that the general public is easily engaged in this kind of transcription task. There is quite some interest in historical letters and people enjoy interacting with the research community. As research institution we are in need for support from the local and also older-aged community in order to correctly transcribe older German scripts (like e.g. Kurrent) as well as strong dialect variants of South Tyrolean German. In the perspective of involving generations from the pre-digital era, Europeana also has shown that crowdsourcing does not have to stay confined to the internet, but can be organized through so-called Transcribathons6, events where researchers first introduce a project ambition and after the public can help the research process by transcribing and annotating the materials. Within the DI-ÖSS project these kinds of events are planned, in order to spark the public's interest in our research and to encourage members of the local community to participate as equals.