For those of us who are detail-minded, enjoy history and puzzles, and can read 1860s cursive, this is really fascinating. It wasn’t easy but I just now transcribed telegrams by Ambrose Burnside and Andrew Johnson at this site:
My factual question, though, which I don’t see answered in the article that I excerpted below, or in the actual website for the project, is about the usefulness and reliability of crowdsourcing in general, and of the volunteer transcriptions specifically. I know that I’m fairly good at puzzles and at deciphering cursive, and given my reading on the Civil War can make educated guesses–the Burnside telegram that I transcribed wasn’t that legible, but because I know that Burnside was one of the generals, I was able to make out the name. But what happens when a volunteer armed with good will but little else wades in and comes up with wildly inaccurate transcriptions? Wouldn’t that be more hindrance than help? Or are we looking at a self-selecting population with people not volunteering if they know they can’t do it?
You Can Help Decode Thousands of Top Secret Civil War Telegrams
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/you-can-help-decode-thousands-top-secret-civil-war-telegrams-180959561/#WYlBe7U40WIzDl3B.99
Volunteers will transcribe and tease out the messages of of nearly 16,000 communiques
By Erin Blakemore
JUNE 28, 2016
When President Abraham Lincoln wanted to correspond with his generals and cabinet on top-secret Civil War business, he knew he could trust the United States Military Telegraph Corps. Using the era’s most cutting-edge technology, the group transmitted tens of thousands of telegrams that helped dictate the very course of the war. But what exactly did those telegrams say? That’s long been unclear—and now a new project wants you to help find out.
Decoding the Civil War is looking for citizen volunteers to help transcribe nearly 16,000 Union Army telegrams that Thomas T. Eckert, who headed up the War Department’s Civil War telegraph program, saved.
After the war, Eckert never got rid of the top-secret telegrams or the cipher books, the Huntington Library notes. Now, members of the public can view digitized copies of both ciphers and coded messages, crack and transcribe them, or try their hand at uncoded telegrams. The hope is to help present a new view of the Civil War—one that recorded progress not just in terms of North and South, slave and free, but dot and dash.