William & Mary Libraries Awarded National Endowment for the Humanities Grant

The William & Mary Libraries have been awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to support their work with Transkribus, a handwritten text recognition platform. Currently, library staff and student workers use Transkribus to transcribe materials for the Georgian Papers Programme.

Transkribus is a computer program which eliminates the need to transcribe materials entirely by hand. It uses small sets of transcribed documents to “train” the tool to read handwriting. However, Transkribus struggles with text that is not formatted in a consistent grid or line shape. Thus, this grant from the NEH will fund a collaborative project between William & Mary Libraries and Dr. Zhenming Liu in the Computer Science department at William & Mary. Dr. Liu will work with the library staff to enhance Transkribus’s ability to read “complex tabular data,” or “text [that] is not formatted in consistent grid-like formats,” Debbie Cornell, head of digital services for the libraries, said.

This project will have immediate and practical applications for the Georgian Papers Programme. Many of the digitized materials, including mensil books, establishment lists, accounts, and menu books, are organized in a tabular format.

A page from one of the Georgian Menu Books. The NEH grant recently awarded to the GPP will focus on transcribing this kind of tabular data.

Teaching Transkribus to recognize and read tabular data will allow the transcriptions of these documents to happen more quickly. “Of all the many wonderful things we’re doing as part of the GPP, I think this…has the possibility of having a major impact not just for us but for archives everywhere!” said Bill Stockting, Archives Manager at the Royal Archives.

The NEH recently announced $29 million in awards for 215 humanities projects across the country. This round of funding, NEH’s third and last for fiscal year 2019, will support vital research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. “NEH grants help strengthen and sustain American cultural life, in communities, at museums, libraries, and historic sites, and in classrooms,” NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede said in the announcement. “As the nation prepares to commemorate its 250th anniversary in 2026, NEH is proud to help lay the foundations for public engagement with America’s past by funding projects that safeguard cultural heritage and advance our understanding of the events, ideas, and people that have shaped our nation.”

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