On Valentine’s day, the First-Year Writing Program and the Writing Center hosted “Douglass Day 2020: Transcribe-A-Thon” in the D’Arcy Great Room. Because it was an event to honor and preserve black history, it was co-sponsored by WAC, the Office of Multicultural Student Services, the sociology department and the African studies department.
A transcribe-a-thon is an event in which people gather in person or remotely to transcribe documents, simultaneously on a specific topic. Even though the Anna Julia Cooper transcribe-a-thon project was done internationally, there was a sense of unity felt all around the world as there were live broadcasts, pictures and activities shared on social media.
There were three sessions for this program. The first session consisted of students from sociology. The second session consisted of students from Dr. Philippian’s English class. The last session was of a diverse group of students who were interested in the program.
Each session ran for one hour spanning from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Through the website Zooniverse, students and faculty helped transcribe all sorts of documents: letters, diaries, certificates and postcards.
To kick off the event, English professor Dr. McNamara greeted the crowd before playing multiple videos, which taught students how to transcribe and showcased the importance of Douglass Day and Anna Julia Cooper.
Through the videos and live broadcast, people learned that Anna Julia Cooper was an American author, educator, Black Liberation activist and the fourth black woman ever to obtain a Ph.D.
Because of her actions, Cooper set the precedent of why it was important for black women to be at the center of the battle for civil rights. Cooper’s work inspired many people, but still, she is not as well known or as appreciated as others who fought for black rights.
In an effort to spread her teachings and writings, Lewis organized the “Transcribe-A-Thon” to help share her legacy and works for future generations.
Before the event, the Anna Julia Cooper Digital Project was only 64% completed. After the first session, students had transcribed 74% of the work. Students transcribed texts in cursive, French and, for the rare student, in Latin. By the second session, 78% of her works were done and by the third session, about 84% of the works were completed.
Throughout each session, the rooms were filled with calming Spotify music. For English major Morgan Page, it was also filled with a sense of nostalgia. Throughout this process of transcribing, Page was reminded of her third grade English class where she learned cursive.
Due to shared difficulties, Page said, “It’s hard for young people to transcribe cursive, French, or Latin texts, but projects like this would be perfect for the older generation.”
Page as an English major knows the importance of primary sources, so she was happy to help in the project as she stated, “there is an even more need for digitally based texts as society switches from paper to digital.”
On the most romantic day in the year, which is also the birthday of Douglass, Lewis through the collective actions of students and professors showed love and appreciation for Anna Cooper.
Many academics believe that digitizing texts is a given or that the transcribing of works fall on the authors. In actuality, it is through programs like the Anna Julia Cooper Transcribe-A-Thon that preserves materials and works from incredible authors and activists from around the world.