Reading Moravian Lives: Overcoming Challenges in Transcribing and Digitizing Archival Memoirs

Katherine Faull, Diane Jakacki, and Michael McGuire (Bucknell University)

The Moravian Lives project aims to digitize, transcribe, and publish for analysis more than 60,000 manuscript and print memoirs, written by members of the Moravian Church between 1750-2012. These memoirs are housed in archives throughout the world, making it difficult for scholars to engage with them as an entire corpus. Furthermore, of the 18th century memoirs, over 90% are in manuscript form. As project collaborators establish the foundations of a massive digital archive that houses facsimiles of the memoirs, we wrestle with how best to publish the memoirs in machine-readable format: existing optical character recognition (OCR) software does not reliably manage 18th century German script; in addition, the volume of pages to be transcribed challenges traditional transcription capabilities. Research teams at Bucknell and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden are collaborating to develop a suite of tools that will support large-scale controlled crowdsourcing of transcription and exportation of text and data sets to support a wide range of research needs by scholars in fields ranging from autobiography to theology, religious history, social history, historical and computational linguistics, and gender studies. In this paper members of the Bucknell team, led by Katie Faull, will discuss the challenges we face as we establish best practice for developing an interactive platform for editing and accessing this critically significant collection.

Katherine Faull

Diane Jakacki is Digital Scholarship Coordinator at Bucknell University.  Her areas of specialization include the ways in which pedagogy can be transformed by means of digital interventions, digital humanities praxis – particularly spatial analysis through text.  She is an assistant director of the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, Program Chair for the DH 2017 international conference, Technical Editor for the Internet Shakespeare Editions, a member of the Executive Board of the Records of Early English Drama and the pedagogical advisory board for Map of Early Modern London project. She has published widely on digital humanities pedagogy as well as on the intersection of DH and early modern studies. Diane received her BA in English and History from Lafayette College, an MA in English from the University of Toronto, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Waterloo, specializing in Early Modern Theatre and Multimedia Theory and Design.

Michael McGuire is a grad student in linguistics at Indiana University and is currently designing a corpus of Pennsylvania German as a dissertation project. He also works at Bucknell University in Digital Scholarship & Pedagogy as an assistant developing and editing web tools and other software for digital scholarship projects. Lately, his research has focused on computational linguistics and natural language processing but he remains very interested in other areas of linguistics and digital scholarship. Along with Olga Scrivner and others, Michael has also worked on and continues to help maintain the Flamenca Digital Scholarship Project. For more information, visit Michael’s website:


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