Note: A guest post by Michael Nadeau, Content Marketing Writer at Aperian Global
One of the best things about working for Aperian Global is its commitment to social responsibility. As part of that commitment, each employee receives one paid Corporate Responsibility Day every year, allowing us a tremendous opportunity to give back to the communities we care about.
For 2021 (and my first-ever Corporate Responsibility Day), I found a fascinating way to give back—something that not only helped the world around me but interested me as a writer and history buff. I spent my work hours on one hot, sticky day in August to serve as a “Smithsonian Digital Volunteer,” poring through the archives of America’s fabled Smithsonian Institution to help translate and transcribe various documents relating to the African-American experience.
There is an enormous number of these documents that need to be digitized and preserved for generations. As an example, here’s the summary of one of the pieces I worked on:
NORTH CAROLINA FIELD OFFICES, SUBORDINATE FIELD OFFICES: RALEIGH, REGISTERS OF ENDORSEMENTS SENT AND RECEIVED, VOL. 1 (218)
The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, often referred to as the Freedmen’s Bureau, was established on March 3, 1865. The duties of the Freedmen’s Bureau included supervision of all affairs relating to refugees, freedmen, and the custody of abandoned lands and property. These documents come from the Records of the Field Offices for the State of North Carolina, Series 4.37: Subordinate Field Offices: Raleigh (Superintendent).
Additional resources including a list of Freedmen’s Bureau staff in North Carolina are available on the Freedmen’s Bureau Instructions Page.
Please help us transcribe these records to learn more about the experiences of formerly enslaved men and women in North Carolina during the Reconstruction Era.*
On the surface, the work should be simple—look at the screenshots of the physical written records, type in the words into the Smithsonian’s program. However, the formal calligraphy of the time, frequent use of abbreviations, unfamiliar language terms, and sheer age of the records make transcribing the work a real challenge (and very much a group project; each page translated is checked, re-checked, and triple-checked by other volunteers).
The insights gained are worth it, though. As with so many historical things, things that must have been remarkably mundane for the time can be genuinely captivating when examined in a modern context. On one page, the Bureau’s note-taker is recording the case of several “Freedmen” being underpaid for their work; in another, a woman is asking “to have her children restored to her.”
Most striking? Several passages dealing with a smallpox breakout and instructions “to have all Freedmen and children vaccinated at the expense of the Government or Bureau.” Talk about history echoing. It was so striking I had to pause and reread the section again and again.
I can’t think of a better experience for my Corporate Responsibility day. I got to give back to the community in a way that will (hopefully) last for generations to come, got to work on something that also touched on two of my passions (writing and history), and gained a lot of valuable insight into a critical time in my nation’s history.
I cannot recommend the experience enough. If you’d like to contribute, visit https://transcription.si.edu/ (several different digital projects are going on in areas ranging from women’s history to mysteries of the universe).