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Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki

Use your free time to help the Newberry Library transcribe historical letters and diary entries

Travel back in time when you dig into these old-timey historical documents

Morgan Olsen
Written by
Morgan Olsen

You've baked five loaves of bread, read a handful of books and binged all of Tiger King over the last few weeks—now what? Take a turn for the nerdy by volunteering to help Chicago's Newberry Library transcribe historical handwritten letters and diary entries in an effort to preserve voices from the past.

The library's Newberry Transcribe program has been around for years, inviting the public to dip into its achieve, contribute to scholarly works and get a rare glimpse of day-to-day life from the mid-18th to 20th centuries. In return, the Newberry is able to create a searchable database that scholars and curiosity-seekers alike can browse. So far, more than 27,000 of the available 51,259 pages (and counting) have been completed, leaving plenty for quarantined individuals to work with.

The database of transcribable documents is divided into several categories: Family life in the Midwest, American Indian history and U.S. Western expansion. When you enter each section, you'll see a bank of documents that are marked "completed," "started" or "not started." You can jump into any document, view the scans and start transcribing what you see. There's tons of fascinating stuff to browse, including old-timey legal documents, juicy diary entries and first-person account of major historical events like the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893.

The library offers a handy guide to transcription guidelines to review before you get started, but rest assured, anyone can contribute. Brush up on your cursive and prepare to time travel through the Newberry's massive collection of historical documents that are just waiting to be discovered.

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