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The co-creation of knowledge, the joy of discovery, even the small failures and inevitable [illegible] words – crowdsourcing has been an ongoing source of inspiration and learning in my job as Digital Engagement Coordinator at the Library of Virginia. Our wonderful patrons and volunteers throughout the state have contributed countless hours to our own crowdsourced transcription and indexing projects. When a colleague at the Virginia Newspaper Program alerted me to the opportunity to work with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), I knew Virginia volunteers would be eager to lend their efforts to their important national research project, History Unfolded: US Newspapers and the Holocaust.

To participate in History Unfolded, citizen historians search newspapers to uncover what ordinary people could have known about the Holocaust from reading their local newspapers in the years 1933–1945. At our co-hosted Research Sprints with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, we facilitate the use of historic newspapers from the Library of Virginia collections or provided through subscription databases. USHMM staff explain the goals of the History Unfolded project and upload process while LVA staff demonstrate the use of resources. What we had begun planning as an in-person event in 2019 morphed into a years-long partnership during the COVID-19 pandemic that relied on the wealth of digitized newspapers available on Virginia Chronicle and other databases, such as Newspaper Archive, available to LVA cardholders. As the pandemic shifted into endemic and public spaces began to re-open, we were finally able to safely host an in-person Research Sprint using the microfilm collections.

Our volunteers didn’t disappoint! Participants learned or sharpened their research skills while scouring databases for articles to submit to History Unfolded. Many used microfilm for the first time at our in-person sprint and learned to first load a reel of film, then scan and upload images. We want to highlight one volunteer in particular for their dedication to the History Unfolded project.

Volunteer Highlight: Mary Jo Fields

Mary Jo Fields first joined us during a virtual HandsOn Greater Richmond volunteer session. She has gone on to work on History Unfolded independently and submitted 1,792 articles with 1,553 already reviewed and approved by USHMM staff.

“I had transcribed documents for the Library of Virginia before and assumed I would have no problems with the virtual Research Sprint in March 2022 for the Holocaust Museum’s History Unfolded project. Was I wrong! I couldn’t find an article to save me and what was worse, I could see through Zoom other people finding lots of articles. I told Eric, the Museum contact, that I guessed I was too old to do this, but he said he would walk me through it the next day. He did, and out of gratitude for his patience, I started submitting articles but very quickly became hooked on the project. I’ve learned so much and want to learn even more.” – Mary Jo Fields

Over the past three years, the Library of Virginia has hosted nine Research Sprints with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in support of the History Unfolded project. So far, our Research Sprints have helped 131 volunteers contribute over 280 published articles and 258 hours of community service for History Unfolded. “The contributions from the Library of Virginia sprints have provided information from Virginia newspapers that we could not have easily acquired anywhere else,” said David Klevan of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Some of these newspapers were either not readily available online or only on microfilm at the Library.”

Our tenth and final Research Sprint will be held on March 11, 2023 in person at the Library of Virginia. Registration is required through HandsOn Greater Richmond, a local volunteer hub. We additionally partnered with VCU Libraries in 2021 to offer a Research Sprint to graduate students and alumni, using databases provided by VCU Libraries and the Library of Virginia and guided by USHMM staff.

Both virtually and in-person, exploring historic newspapers through the History Unfolded lens has been educational, grounding, and humbling. At times, public health debates or the geopolitical climate of our current times were echoed in these newspapers from the past, leading us to each examine our place in history. Thank you to our intrepid volunteers for meeting and exceeding the challenges of crowdsourcing through the pandemic, and especially for exploring Virginia newspapers for History Unfolded!

Thank you to the following staff for making this partnership possible:

  • U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum: Eric Schmalz, History Unfolded Community Manager, and David Klevan, Education Outreach Specialist
  • Virginia Commonwealth University: Emilie Raymond, Professor of History and Director of Graduate Studies, and John Glover, Humanities Research Librarian, VCU Libraries
  • Library of Virginia: Kelley Ewing, Senior Project Cataloger for the Virginia Newspaper Program, and Jessi Bennett, Digital Collections Specialist

History Unfolded will no longer accept article submissions after June 30, 2023; the project will shift into a new phase of analyzing and interpreting all the research that we have collectively gathered. Get your final articles in by June 30!

Sonya Coleman

Digital Engagement Coordinator

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