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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

UF students, faculty help transcribe 8,731 pages for Frederick Douglass Day

UF community partakes in a Transcribe-a-thon for inaugural celebration of Frederick Douglass Day

Students and faculty in the African American Studies conference room on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024.
Students and faculty in the African American Studies conference room on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024.

As Tyler Brown walked through UF’s campus Wednesday, he was handed flowers and chocolates galore from countless tablers who shared a smile and wished him a happy Valentine's Day. 

Once he reached his destination, a conference room for the African American studies department in Turlington Hall, he noticed not a single person he encountered acknowledged Frederick Douglass Day.

February 14th has been internationally branded as a day of love. But to many Americans, the day is recognized as the chosen birthday of Frederick Douglass, which celebrates the work and activism of the historical Black trailblazer.

Brown, a 26-year-old UF civil engineering and history senior, was among the dozens of people who volunteered in UF’s inaugural Douglass Day Transcribe-a-thon, an event where people work side-by-side on a crowdsourcing transcription project.

He previously honored Frederick Douglass Day last year when he served in the United States Army at West Point Academy.

“It's important to celebrate [Frederick Douglass Day] so that we have more awareness and more understanding of what's truly important,” Brown said.

The project was introduced to UF by Kevin Winstead, an assistant professor of African American studies and sociology. He said he had experienced the event during his previous employment with the Center for Black Digital Research at Pennsylvania State University.

This year’s transcribe-a-thon featured the “General Correspondence of Frederick Douglass,” from 1841 to 1912 in the archives of the Library of Congress. The collection includes public letters and intimate family moments captured in 8,731 pages of writing. UF students and instructors transcribed just a portion of the collection.

“African American history is something the university has been a long champion of,” Winstead said. “[The transcribe-a-thon] is a great way of getting those histories recorded and filling in the void.”

The goal of the project is to digitize original documents and make them accessible to the public, Winstead said. Volunteers use a software program in conjunction with the original image of the document the Library of Congress provides, which volunteers transcribe.

“[It is an] opportunity to learn not only about the archives, but the process of digitizing documents,” Winstead said, “which is a skill set that comes up in other aspects of life.” 

Douglass Day at UF was presented by Library of Congress, African American Studies, The Sankofa African American Studies Society and the Center for Black Digital Research.

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Dozens of students and teachers shuffled in and out of the African American Studies conference room throughout the day. With birthday cake and slices of pizza, they sang “Happy Birthday” and discussed Douglass’ legacy.

“[Douglass] is one of the names that I'm usually confident our students already have a little bit of context in history about,” Winstead said. “To be able to expand this particular figure and their work is much more of an interesting opportunity in some ways than having a history of historical figures.”

Alesiah Manhoo, a 19-year-old UF political science junior, volunteered in the event to receive credit for her race and digital media course, taught by Winstead. She said she appreciated the project’s practical applications of her coursework.

“This is a great time to celebrate history and make real contributions to the Library of Congress,” Manhoo said. “It is so important because it provides a link from the past to the present.”

Douglass Day is an annual program that marks the gathering of thousands of people across the county to create new and free resources for learning about Black History in honor of Frederick Douglass. 

The project is co-presented with the Library of Congress and the By The People crowdsourcing platform. Each year features a different collection of Black history archives such as Mary Ann Shadd Cary and Mary Church Terrell.

This year, the project has a participation of close to 8,000 people in 160 locations according to its website.

Contact Molly Seghi at Follow her on X @molly_seghi.

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Molly Seghi

Molly Seghi is a first-year journalism major at UF and a Fall 2023 Avenue Reporter. When not writing or journaling, she can be found at a live music event or working on her podcast “An Aural Account.”

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