Your country needs you! Volunteers called upon to transcribe historic archives

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Volunteers are being sought to help transcribe more than 150,000 pages of historic archives in Scotland.

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In a bid to develop knowledge and understanding of Scotland’s history, Transcribe ScotlandsPlaces is calling on helpers to dig through archives dating from 1645 to 1880.

Volunteers will be asked to read Ordnance Survey ‘name books’, which formed the first official record of Scottish places and place names, as well as records of land taxation and taxes on clocks and watches.

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Project organisers also hope to make further discoveries about well-known individuals in Scottish history, such as William Brodie. Tax records have revealed him to be Deacon Brodie, whose double life as both an upstanding citizen and thief inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

The largest crowdsourcing project of its kind in Scotland, the transcriptions will be added to a collection of historical information on the ScotlandsPlaces website, www.scotlandsplaces.gov.uk.

The website brings together records from three of Scotland’s national archives: the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), the National Records of Scotland (NRS) and the National Library of Scotland (NLS).

While some content on the ScotlandsPlaces website is only accessible via paid subscription, anyone who registers for the transcribing project will be given full free access to all resources.

Andrew Nicoll, RCAHMS outreach officer, said: “The website boasts a treasure trove of historical archives, which provide a fascinating insight into the history of buildings and communities across Scotland.

“But we need volunteer transcribers to help with the detective work, so that we can understand more and piece the jigsaw together.

“These records touch the lives of everyone from the famous figures of Scotland’s past, to the ordinary man and woman in the street. The potential of what we may find is incredibly exciting.

“And anyone, anywhere in the world, with access to the internet can get involved”.

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Ewen Cameron, professor of Scottish history at the University of Edinburgh, told historyextra: “I think the project is very interesting indeed.

“The idea of getting a wide range of people interested and actively engaged with archive material is laudable. Making records ‘accessible’ is also commendable.

“You might expect me to introduce caveats, and I won’t disappoint. Many historical sources of this kind are highly technical and require very high standards of expertise to be able to read and understand their contents and context.

“A transcription is no substitute for the original.

“The process of selection is also fraught with difficulty, and there is the danger that a hierarchy of records is established based on the degree of accessibility.

“Those that are not selected and transcribed become perceived as unimportant. This is already happening with newspapers.”

Prof Cameron added: “However, I’m very pleased to see Andrew Nicoll’s name attached to this – he is an archivist of the highest calibre and his association with the project gives me some confidence.”

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For more information about Transcribe ScotlandsPlaces or to find out how to get involved, email enquiries@scotlandsplaces.gov.uk