Crowdsourcing History

We were pleased to join other researchers in the sessions, Building Historical Big Data Together: Crowd-sourcing, Citizen Science, and large-scale online collaborations, at the Social Science History Association,


Crowdsourcing historical climate observations

Renee Sieber and Vicky Slonosky

Abstract: Many historical weather records contain meteorological and climate data at daily scales. Sources such as Observatory registers, newspapers, ships' logs and private diaries all provide information on past weather and climate. Most original records are in an inaccessible form for data analysis, conserved in archival boxes or microfiches. Data rescue efforts, transforming paper and ink to digital information, have emerged in recent decades to rescue historical weather records and safeguard this heritage of scientific knowledge. Several recent weather data rescue activities have been undertaken with the contribution of citizen scientists. Amateurs and volunteers have been of crucial importance in the collection of weather data, particularly in remote areas and newly colonized places. Using present-day technologies, volunteers continue to play critical roles in transcribing the painstakingly collected data from the past. We present a crowdsourcing platform which enable citizen scientists from around the world to transcribe historical records into a standardized database. Platforms like this need to be designed in such as way as to both engage citizen scientists with the historical record and fulfill the needs of the modern climate research community [as well as the original preservers of the data--the archivists]. We consider the challenges of working with historical data as well as the challenges of designing a platform that attracts the public to transcribe content. Further issues include engaging non-specialists and interested members of the public with highly technical scientific information in historical forms, which are no longer in common use today, and motivating volunteers. Outline: We will present a very brief background, which will lead to a description of our own crowdsourcing project, Data Rescue and Archives. We will conclude with the lessons learned so far