Saturday, April 18, 2020

Crowdsourcing a 19th Century Brookline Diary

Would you like to help bring the story of a 19th century Brookline woman and her family to life?

About five years ago I photographed the 1851-1865 diary of Mary Johanna Wild at the John J. Burns Library at Boston College. Wild lived with her family in a Brookline house that she and her husband, Dr. Charles Wild, built in 1822. It still stands, on Weybridge Road near  the intersection of Washington and Greenough Streets.

Pages from Mary Wild diary
Pages from Mary Joanna Wild diary (click image for larger view)

The Wild house in 1868 and 2016
The Wild House, built in 1822, shown in 1868 (left) and after a 2016 renovation (right)
I started, but never quite completed, transcribing the diary, page-by-page. It was painstaking work, partly because the page images, shot with my iPad camera, were not very good. Some of them were pretty unreadable. Fortunately, the entire diary was digitized by Boston College in 2018 and is available in high resolution, zoomable images online.

Now, I'm asking for your help in bringing this project to fruition. Here is what you can do.
  • I will send each volunteer 1-3 pages of the diary at a time. I'll send you a copy of my transcription and instructions for viewing the handwritten pages online. 
  • Your task will be to read through the original diary pages, confirm or correct errors in my transcription, and fill in parts I was unable to transcribe or was uncertain about.
When it is completed, we will have a crowdsourced transcription of the diary that I will make publicly available online.

But this will be more than just a transcription. I've compiled annotations of the diary noting, among other things, details about the people Mary mentions, the places, events, and objects she describes, books she reads, and more. That will all be included in the final project.

For example, at the bottom of the very first page of the diary, on Saturday,  January 11, 1851, Mary writes: "I went to the musical Fund in the eve with C. Rhodes & Dr. Sen." Here is that entry from her diary and, below it, the program from that concert digitized from the collections of the New York Public Library. (The concert, featuring the Beethoven Pastorale, took place at the Tremont Temple on Tremont Street in Boston.)
Diary entry and program from the Boston Musical Fund Society concert, January 11, 1851

But it all starts with completing a good transcription.

Are you interested in contributing to this project? Let me know— email me at — and I will send you pages and detailed instructions.

- Ken

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