The Center for History and New Media at George Mason University has joined forces with crowdsourcing document outfit Scripto , open source document transcription tool, to transcribe and share a piece of U.S. history thought to be lost.

The project "Papers of the War Department, 1784-1800" seeks to transcribe and digitize copies of papers from a formative part of American history, previously thought to be lost to fire. Projects like these rarely suffer from a surfeit of funding, so using Scripto to coordinate a crowdsourced transcription has made the project possible.

The collection consists of 45,000 documents consisting of hundreds of thousands of individual pages from the records of what later came to be known as the Department of Defense. Volunteers register to become a Transcription Associate and then can browse to select whichever document they wish to transcribe or search the collection if they have particular interests.

In addition to making it financially feasible, letting the public take a hand in such a project has the benefit of bringing history close to the volunteer and turning that volunteer into an evangelist for the importance of history to contemporary life. Also, it gives the historians involved a sense, as the documents are transcribed, for what the public finds the most compelling.

The project is funded by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission of the National Archives and the National Endowment for the Humanities' Office of Digital Humanities.

Truman building photo from Wikimedia Commons