Christmas around the World

December 1, 2020

With this challenging year finally coming to a close, we definitely “need a little Christmas.” Distributed Proofreaders volunteers enjoy their Special Day projects, and Christmas projects are especially beloved. This blog has featured a number of them in the past (see the box below). Today we’ll take a look at the array of Christmas books with an international flavor that we’ve contributed to Project Gutenberg.

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Earlier this year, we posted Pimsti-Pumsti, a collection of German fairy tales published in 1919. The original book was printed in Fraktur, an old German blackletter typeface, but our e-book version is in modern Roman typeface. The title story, “Pimsti-Pumsti oder Weihnachten im Walde” (“Pimsti-Pumsti, or Christmas in the Forest”), is about two little girls whose mother is lying ill on Christmas Day. A bright light lures them to the forest, where they meet a very scary giant with the very unscary name “Pimsti-Pumsti.” I won’t spoil the ending…

Danish is represented by Et Juledigt (A Christmas Poem), by Hans Christian Frederiksen. Although written in Danish, our edition of this illustrated religious poem was actually published in the United States – in Cedar Falls, Iowa, to be exact. Cedar Falls had a large and flourishing Danish immigrant community in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. It had its own Danish-language newspaper and publishing house, which published Et Juledigt in 1912.

The 1912 French book La nuit de Noël dans tous les pays (Christmas Night in All Regions), by Monsignor Alphonse Chabot, sounds like it might be about Christmas around the world, but in fact it is about Christmas customs in the different regions of France. It covers everything from traditional meals and games to legends and religious celebrations.

La navidad en las montañas (Christmas in the Mountains), published in 1917, is a study version of an 1871 story by Mexican radical and author Ignacio Manuel Altamirano. It contains an introduction and notes in English as well as a Spanish-English vocabulary. The story, according to the introduction, “presents a vivid picture of rural life in Mexico.”

There are, of course, a variety of books in English concerning Christmas in various parts of the world. Round the Yule-Log: Christmas in Norway, is an 1895 English translation of a book by Norwegian folklorist Peter Christen Asbjørnsen. The framing story is that of a military officer who is obliged to spend Christmas away from his family, in a lodging house owned by two “old maids.” They invite him to come sit by the fire and tell stories to their young nieces and nephews.

Finally, there are the unusual Christmas Stories written by Danish-American social reformer Jacob Riis. Riis is best known today for his searing photographs of New York City tenement life, published in his 1890 masterwork How the Other Half Lives. Not surprisingly, several of the Christmas stories are set in the slums of New York, but he also touches on Christmas memories from his childhood in Denmark.

So put your feet up and enjoy some good winter reading, courtesy of the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders, who wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season!

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.

Previous Christmas Blog Posts

King Winter

Twelve Books of Christmas

Christmas Then and Now


The Natural History of Pliny

November 1, 2020

pliny6title_cropped

Distributed Proofreaders is very proud to have completed all six volumes of a 19th-Century English translation of The Natural History of Pliny.

Pliny the Elder (23/24-79 CE) was, if one may use the expression of an ancient Roman, quite a Renaissance man. Born in Northern Italy, he came from a family of “equestrians” – an upper-crust social rank just under the Senators. His father took him to Rome to be educated in the law. Pliny instead joined the Roman army as a junior officer. He took a keen interest in literature and hobnobbed with other officers with similar interests, enabling him to rise through the ranks and, later, to assume high-ranking positions in government. In quiet times between military campaigns in Germany, he wrote some histories, now lost. He eventually retired from the army and became a practicing lawyer, studying, writing, and generally lying low during the dangerous reign of the insane emperor Nero.

After Nero committed suicide, Vespasian – an equestrian like Pliny – came to power in 69 CE. Pliny’s star was now in the ascendant. He was appointed procurator (or governor) of various imperial provinces in what are now Africa, Spain, and Belgium. These posts gave him numerous opportunities to observe the natural world in what were then exotic places.

Pliny’s observations formed the basis for his magnum opus and only surviving work, Naturalis Historia (Natural History). One of the largest works to survive from ancient Rome, it is comprised of 37 books in 10 volumes. Pliny published the first 10 books in 77 CE. In 79 CE, Mount Vesuvius erupted, destroying Pompeii and Herculaneum. During the disaster, Pliny, who was then commander of the Roman naval fleet at nearby Misenum, received a plea for help from a friend at Stabiae, across the bay. Shrugging off warnings of danger, he is said to have declared, “Fortune favours the brave.” He made it to Stabiae, but died there. His nephew and namesake, Pliny the Younger, inherited his uncle’s estate and published the remainder of the Natural History.

The Natural History is a sweeping work that attempts to gather in one place all knowledge of the natural world. It served as a model for the modern encyclopaedia, and, though it is not arranged in entries like a modern encyclopaedia, it does cite to sources and contains a comprehensive index. Its far-ranging coverage includes sciences such as astronomy, mathematics, geography, anthropology, physiology, zoology, botany, pharmacology, and mineralogy; practical pursuits such as agriculture, horticulture, and mining; and the visual arts of painting and sculpture.

The six-volume version that Distributed Proofreaders put together for Project Gutenberg is a complete English translation by physician John Bostock (who had died by the time of publication) and translator H.T. Riley, published between 1855 and 1857. As promised by the title page, it contains “copious notes and illustrations.” Each volume contains literally thousands of footnotes. Some of those footnotes seem overly critical of Pliny’s efforts at times, and may not themselves be accurate in light of modern knowledge, but there is no doubt that the translators put in a huge amount of sincere scholarship and labour in annotating the work.

A number of Distributed Proofreaders volunteers also put in a huge amount of labour on these volumes. The first to enter the preparation process was Volume 5, which was physically scanned from a hard copy by a volunteer in 2005. Later, the remaining volumes were harvested from The Internet Archive by Turgut Dincer, who took over managing the project. In addition to the many proofreaders and formatters who worked on this challenging endeavour, two resident experts helped with the ancient Greek passages, and one of them, Stephen Rowland, smooth-read all six volumes (i.e., read them as if for pleasure and noted any errors) before post-processor Brian Wilcox stitched each one together into a final e-book. The last volume was posted to Project Gutenberg in July 2020.

While working on the project, Brian experienced a couple of odd dizzy spells. Was it the 20,832 footnotes…? No, it was the need for coronary artery bypass surgery, which soon had Brian back to post-processing as good as new. That is why his cardiac surgeon, Mr. Franco Sogliani, is mentioned in the credits to Volume 6.

This post was contributed by Distributed Proofreaders volunteers Brian Wilcox (who post-processed all six volumes of The Natural History of Pliny) and Linda Cantoni.


Celebrating 40,000 Titles

October 10, 2020
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Distributed Proofreaders celebrates the 40,000th title it has posted to Project Gutenberg, all four volumes of London Labour and the London Poor, by Henry Mayhew. Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it.

[My husband] became paralyzed like, and was deprived of the use of all one side, and nearly lost the sight of one of his eyes.… Then we parted with everything we had in the world; and, at last, when we had no other means of living left, we were advised to take to gathering ‘Pure.’ At first I couldn’t endure the business; I couldn’t bear to eat a morsel, and I was obliged to discontinue it for a long time. My husband kept at it though.… When I saw that he, poor fellow, couldn’t make enough to keep us both, I took heart and went out again, and used to gather more than he did; that’s fifteen years ago now; the times were good then, and we used to do very well. If we only gathered a pail-full in the day, we could live very well; but we could do much more than that, for there wasn’t near so many at the business then, and the Pure was easier to be had.… Six years ago, my husband complained that he was ill, in the evening, and lay down in the bed—we lived in Whitechapel then—he took a fit of coughing, and was smothered in his own blood. O dear” (the poor old soul here ejaculated), “what troubles I have gone through! I had eight children at one time, and there is not one of them alive now. My daughter lived to 30 years of age, and then she died in childbirth, and, since then, I have had nobody in the wide world to care for me—none but myself, all alone as I am.

This is one story among many in Henry Mayhew‘s “Cyclopædia” of London Labour and the London Poor — four volumes cataloguing the lives of the city’s underclass in the 1840s. This speaker touches on a series of points which recur throughout the many tales which Mayhew relates: poverty, illness, loss of family members, but also a resourcefulness and determination to make a living in any way possible, in this case, by scouring the streets for “pure” — dog excrement — which was then sold on to tanneries.

The other pillar of Mayhew’s technique is the collection of hard data, which he sets out in 710 tables over the four volumes. These cover everything from the monetary value of a dead horse (£2 4s. 3d., including 1s. 5d. for the maggots bred on its flesh and used to feed pheasants), to the number of illegitimate children born in each county of England and Wales (Middlesex, including London, notably recording the fewest), to the annual takings of London’s six blind street-sellers of tailors’ needles (a round £234).

To these we must add mention of the illustrations, many of them based on photographs attributed to the pioneering photographic businessman Richard Beard:

THE STREET DOG-SELLER.

This illustrative style may be familiar from Punch cartoons. Mayhew was one of that magazine’s founders in 1841, though he left it in 1845. By the end of the 1840s he had begun the series of articles for the Morning Chronicle newspaper which was eventually to be reworked and collected as London Labour and the London Poor.

Thackeray praised the original Chronicle reports as “so wonderful, so awful, so piteous and pathetic, so exciting and terrible,” and contrasted the benign disposition of the upper classes with their ignorance of the “wonders and terrors … lying by your door” (Punch, 1850, Volume 18, p. 93). Mayhew had begun to remove that veil. Ever since, the work has continued to be influential as a source for writers interested in the period, including Philip Larkin for his poem “Deceptions,” Alan Moore (“the best surviving account of how people actually thought, talked and lived” — From Hell, Appendix 1, p. 9), and Terry Pratchett, who included Mayhew as a character in his Dickensian novel Dodger.

The book also has a substantial history on Distributed Proofreaders! Proofreading of the first volume started in 2005. It was transferred for a time to another e-book preparation site, then came back to DP. Volume one was finally posted to Project Gutenberg in 2017, and the appearance of volume four today marks the final completion of the project. The number of people who have involved in this project is countless: those who provided the original scans, proofers and formatters on both sites, and those who worked behind the scenes to coordinate it all can each take a bow.

There are some caveats, of course. Mayhew was a man of his time, and at the very beginning of volume one, he outlines his curious theory that the poor are a separate race, distinguished for “their high cheek-bones and protruding jaws—for their use of a slang language—for their lax ideas of property—for their general improvidence—their repugnance to continuous labour—their disregard of female honour—their love of cruelty—their pugnacity—and their utter want of religion.” The sheer bulk of the book, and the relentless repetition of the themes of poverty and squalor mean that few will choose to read it from start to finish. The tables of data are of limited interest to the modern reader, while Mayhew’s editing of his interviews with his subjects allowed some scope for dramatic licence. Despite these issues, Mayhew deserves great credit for undertaking his journeys to this “undiscovered country of the poor” and bringing back their stories. In these pages, the costermongers, the prostitutes and the pure-collectors live on, and speak to us as vividly as ever.

This post was contributed by Henry Flower, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer who post-processed all four volumes of London Labour and the London Poor.


20th Anniversary Knitting

October 5, 2020

To wrap up Distributed Proofreaders’ 20th Anniversary celebration, we feature the creative work of one of our teams. DP has numerous teams on a wide variety of subjects – book genres, DP activities, languages, geographic regions, and hobbies, to name just a few. The Knitters Who Read team was founded in 2003 and is still going strong. One of its members, GenKnit – who is also a very active smooth-reader at DP – here introduces the team and shows off its handiwork in honor of this special occasion.

I’m not sure how long ago I joined Knitters Who Read. I was attracted to the group because I both knit and crochet. Initially, having been told by someone elsewhere that crocheting is a waste of both time and yarn, I was hesitant to join the group. But I had exchanged private messages and e-mails with some members of the group, and they seemed like really nice people, so I took the plunge and dove in. Almost right away, I asked if someone who both crochets and knits would be welcome in the group, and I was told that it didn’t matter, as long as I also read.

The camaraderie in this group is warm and welcoming. We may go for a while without posting anything, but if someone does post a picture of something they’re working on or have finished, we all admire the project, ask questions, and exchange comments. Being part of a group where I know I can ask questions and get valuable advice is one of the best things about being part of Distributed Proofreaders.

As time has gone on, I have smooth-read many books of knit and crochet patterns, which later end up on Project Gutenberg. If I find a particular book, such as Miss Lambert’s My Knitting Book (1843), interesting or puzzling, I post a question in Knitters Who Read. Invariably, I receive good feedback. Sometimes I think an instruction is unclear, or something is phrased in an amusing way, and I’ll post about it in the group. I thoroughly enjoy hearing back from the other members of this group.

I don’t only ask questions about books I smooth-read. One of the other members of the group is also a crocheter, and she posted a photo of an adorable Tunisian crochet sweater she had made for her grandson. I asked her for the pattern, and she gave me a link. Even though the instructions are in German, my friend was pretty sure I could figure them out, and she offered to help if I ran into something I didn’t understand. You see, I don’t read German. But knitting and crocheting are universal languages much like mathematics. If you know the basics, you can knit or crochet in any language.

As DP’s 20th Anniversary approached, the Knitters Who Read team members talked about what we might do to mark the occasion. Someone suggested that we might consider making 20 of an item. Someone else suggested that we might consider creating something related to 20th anniversary symbols, such as an item in emerald green. And so we got  both!

Emerald Blanket

genknit blanket

I decided to make this blanket in emerald green. For those who would like details about the design and method: The squares are made of seven rows of double crochet, then one row of single crochet. I joined them using the (American) slip stitch. Then a row of sc all the way around the outside edge of the blanket, and finally the row of shells: sc, sk 2 sc, 6 dc in next sc, sk 2 sc; repeat around, making 9 dc in center sc of each corner. (For an explanation of these crocheting abbreviations, see this Crochet Abbreviations Master List.)

Emerald City Socks

LHamilton emerald_city_socks

DP’s General Manager, Linda Hamilton, is also a knitter, and she made these “Emerald City” socks for the 20th Anniversary. She used a toe-up fleegle-heel design. These toasty socks are designed to keep your feet warm while reading in winter.

20 Lapghan Squares

WebRover Lapgan_Squares_small2_cropped

WebRover, who wrote the three 20th Anniversary blog posts last week, and is a Project Facilitator at DP to boot, knitted these 20 cheerful squares. They will be stitched together to make a lapghan (a lap-sized afghan) for donation to a nursing home.


I’d like to close with a poetic tribute to Distributed Proofreaders:

Smooth-reading’s a whole lot of fun
Though sometimes I’m glad when I’m done.
I get to find goofs
As I read through the proofs
I tag them and feel like I won.

Reading for fun if I please
Makes my “job” at DP a real breeze.
As I read through the books
I take very close looks
Find mistakes, and on them I seize.

Hard to believe it’s been 20 years
Since DP started—three cheers!
We’re having a party
Now don’t you be tardy.
I hope we go 20 MORE years!

Kudos to everyone at Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg who have made our e-books possible these 20 years!

This post was contributed by GenKnit, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


A 20th Anniversary Crossword

October 4, 2020

What would Distributed Proofreaders’ 20th anniversary be without a celebratory crossword?

Our latest brain-teaser is based on Good Stories for Great Birthdays, by Frances Jenkins Olcott, a prolific children’s author who became the first head of the children’s department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in 1898. The book, published in 1922, contains “over 200 stories celebrating 23 great birthdays of patriot-founders and upbuilders of the Republics of both North and South America. In the stories are more than 75 historical characters, men, women, and children.”

In order to solve the puzzle, first read the book – being for children, it’s an easy read. And, being an e-book, it’s searchable.

Then you can solve the puzzle in one of two ways:

  • Use the interactive version. Just click on a blank square and the corresponding clue pops up. Type in the answer and click OK (or, if you’re stumped, click the Solve button). Clicking the Check Puzzle button at the bottom gives the number of errors and incomplete words, if you want to see how you’re getting on. The interactive version can be used online or downloaded for offline solving.
  • Or, download the printable PDF version and print out the puzzle to solve it the old-fashioned way, with your favorite writing implement. Check your solution with the printable PDF answer key. No peeking! (But who’s to know?)

So enjoy a fun crossword for a great birthday – Happy 20th to Distributed Proofreaders!

This crossword was created by FallenArchangel, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer, using the free EclipseCrossword app.

Tomorrow: DP’s Knitters Who Read have stitched up something special!

Previous Distributed Proofreaders Crosswords

Marjorie Dean: Marvelous Manager

The Last of the Bushrangers

Uncle Wiggily’s Squirt Gun

An Universal Dictionary of the Marine

Nothing to Do


Distributed Proofreaders is 20! (Part 3)

October 3, 2020

As part of Distributed Proofreaders’ 20th anniversary celebration, we’ve taken a look at the books we work on and the people who make our e-books possible. Today we take a look at:

The Tools

There have been many updates behind the scenes in the past few years to modernize and maintain our website, software, databases, and documentation. Some of these changes are visible to users in the interfaces we use, and some are invisible but critical. Our “Squirrels,” the site administrators responsible for keeping Distributed Proofreaders’ (DP’s) website running smoothly, and our developers have been very busy.

First, a quick word about the complexity of our operation: Crowdsourced processing of e-books through several rounds of proofreading and formatting, one page at a time, takes a lot of moving parts from a technical point of view. To get a better idea of the user experience, check out our Walkthrough — it’s an excellent preview of the basic process.

Here are just a few technical highlights from the past several years:

2016

  • Set up an Official Documentation section in the DP Wiki so that core official DP documents can be easily located by volunteers and maintained by DP administrators.
  • Converted and loaded our Proofreading and Formatting Guidelines (in all their languages) into the Wiki official documentation for better accessibility and maintenance.
  • Migrated to new and more powerful development and test servers.
  • Updated the DP logo in all our environments.
  • Added Formatting Preview capability to help formatters check for potential formatting problems.
  • Modernized DP code and migrated to a more modern and supported operating system (Ubuntu 14.04).

2017

  • Enhanced our website’s security and usability by introducing SSL.
  • Upgraded our operating system and migrated to a new hosting facility.
  • Launched the French version of the DP website – translated by French-speaking DP volunteers and implemented by our Squirrels.
  • Upgraded the forum and wiki software.
  • Redesigned the Project Manager page to make it more user-friendly.

2018

  • Moved the DP code to github.com for improved code management.
  • Upgraded our operating system to Ubuntu 16.04.
  • Introduced a question at registration to identify how new volunteers found us.
  • Added XML and RSS feeds for Smooth Reading, among many other updates.
  • Updated the DP Walkthrough.
  • Organized post-processing tools into a Post-Processing Workbench so that post-processors could check e-books for errors before submitting them to Project Gutenberg.

2019

  • Made major improvements to the Search Tool and Project Manager Page.
  • Completed work to speed up the site.
  • Added a French version of the DP Walkthrough – le Parcours Guidé.
  • Updated the forum software again and converted the forum database to allow a search for shorter words.
  • Upgraded memory on the production server.

2020

  • Made many system changes and added DP Sans Mono – a special font created by a DP volunteer – as a web font, in preparation to support Unicode.
  • Converted the site to support Unicode. This was a massive change. If there were only one system enhancement to list for these past five years, this and all the work that led to it would be the one!
  • Added our first extended Unicode character suite and have continued to add character suites since then. These suites are pre-defined groups of characters that we use for working with our texts and which allow us to use characters from languages such as Greek and Polish that are not available in the Basic Latin suite.
  • Made a major upgrade to guiguts, one of our important post-processing tools.
  • Issued a new release of the dproofreaders source code: R202009. This is a monumental release as it is the first one to fully support Unicode. Our source code is available under the terms of the GNU General Public License, version 2.

Over the past several years there have been many, many more documentation updates and software improvements, too numerous to list, and more are in the works. Thank you to everyone who identified the need for them, coded them, tested them, provided feedback, and installed them, and to everyone who continues to support them.


There it is! Twenty years of great Books, incredible People, and excellent Tools – all continuing to make e-books available to everyone, everywhere, for free. I’m looking forward to what the next 5 years — 10 years — 20 years brings!

This post was contributed by WebRover, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.

Tomorrow: A special anniversary crossword!


Distributed Proofreaders is 20! (Part 2)

October 2, 2020

As part of Distributed Proofreaders’ 20th anniversary celebration, yesterday we took a look at the public domain e-books we’ve contributed to Project Gutenberg. Today we look at:

The People

Numerous people from around the world participate in our book-preserving mission – the volunteers at DP and those who work with our partners in other like-minded organizations.

Our Volunteers

Since DP’s founding 20 years ago, more than 55,000 volunteers from around the globe have contributed to creating our e-books – nearly 40,000 e-books – making them freely available to all at Project Gutenberg.

With many people spending more time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, DP has had an influx of new volunteers this year. This has not been a short-term impact of a few days or even weeks, but a sustained addition of volunteers every month. Welcome, welcome to all of you! And thank you, thank you to all of the existing volunteers who have been working steadily to keep a variety of projects available for the new volunteers to work on, as well as answering questions, mentoring, and moving the projects through the rounds of proofreading and formatting.

Numerous volunteers wear numerous hats at DP. We have a General Manager, Linda Hamilton, at the helm, appointed by the Trustees of the Distributed Proofreaders Foundation (the non-profit corporation with overall stewardship of the organization). We have our Site Administrators – the folk who keep our wheels running, affectionately known as “Squirrels” because back in the olden days, our site server was in our founder Charlz’s garage, and sometimes squirrels would visit it… You’ll read some more about their work tomorrow, when we talk about the Tools. And there are Project Facilitators who smooth the path of a project on its way to becoming an e-book.

Then we have the many people who are involved in the direct production of our e-books. This blog post on the life of a book at DP, written by one of our Squirrels, will give you an excellent idea of the process and the people involved – Content Providers, Project Managers, Proofreaders, Formatters, Post-Processors, Smooth Readers, Post-Processing Verifiers. We even have specialists to help with things like mentoring, image processing, music transcription, and projects in languages other than English.

Some of our busy volunteers have reached milestones of their own over the last few years. In August 2016, one Project Manager created his 2000th project. That means that he alone had created 6% of the projects we had worked on at that point. Nearly every proofreader and formatter at that time had likely worked on at least one of his projects. Just last month, one Smooth Reader completed smooth reading more than 1,000 books since 2007. And one of our post-processors completed post-processing more than 1,000 books.

Our Partners

Project Gutenberg is our primary partner, making all the projects we work on available via online download. They are for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost. The user may copy them, give them away, or re-use them. The e-books are all in the public domain in the United States. Since its founding in 1971, Project Gutenberg has amassed a collection of over 60,000 e-books on a vast array of topics, nearly 40,000 of which were contributed by DP volunteers over the last 20 years. Both Project Gutenberg and DP follow the principles of the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read Statement, which means that the e-books we work on are not restricted as to content.

We owe a great debt to Project Gutenberg, not only because they are a repository for our work, but also because their hardworking volunteers, like the “Whitewashers” who do the final checks on all e-books submitted to Project Gutenberg, share our high standards of quality.

We’re also celebrating our anniversary in partnership with Librivox, whose volunteers – people from all over the world – record audiobooks from books in the U.S. public domain. As with Project Gutenberg’s e-books, these audiobooks are freely available to anyone. In honor of DP’s 20th anniversary, Librivox has recorded DP’s 35,000th title, Shores of the Polar Sea, and Project Gutenberg’s 60,000th title (the e-book of which was also prepared by DP volunteers), The Living Animals of the World, vol. 1.

DP volunteers have also helped with a number of preservation projects in conjunction with educational and cultural institutions all over the world. In 2018, we began assisting in Project PHaEDRA, a joint project of Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institute, in transcribing some of the Harvard College Observatory’s 19th- and early 20th-Century astronomical logbooks and notebooks. These were produced by a group of Harvard researchers that included early female astronomers and the famous Harvard Computers. And in 2019, in connection with an exhibition in at the Mundaneum in Mons, Belgium, entitled “Data Workers,” DP volunteers transcribed French and French-English texts from the Mundaneum’s archive.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the Tools that make it possible for us to preserve history one page at a time. We’re so proud to have been doing that for 20 years!

This post was contributed by WebRover, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


Distributed Proofreaders is 20! (Part 1)

October 1, 2020

Happy 20th Anniversary, Distributed Proofreaders! It’s hard to believe that today marks two decades since we began “preserving history one page at a time.” Since then, our volunteers have contributed nearly 40,000 unique titles to our partner, Project Gutenberg (watch for that next milestone very soon).

We had a massive celebration for our 15th Anniversary here at Hot off the Press, in which we explored, in six blog posts, the many milestones we had achieved since DP’s founding in 2000. By 2015, we had reached over 30,000 titles. Take a look:

For our 20th anniversary, we’d like to celebrate, this time in three blog posts on three successive days, the three key resources that make us what we are: The Books, without which we wouldn’t exist; the People – the volunteers who do the work and the partners who distribute what we produce; and the Tools, which make it possible to do what we do. After that, we’ve got a couple of fun surprises to wrap up the festivities.

Today, we celebrate:

The Books

Two months after our 15th anniversary, we posted our 31,000th book to Project Gutenberg. Now we’re fast approaching 40,000. That’s nearly 10,000 books we produced in five years – a little over six books a day. Some books fly through and get posted to Project Gutenberg in a matter of days from being made available to work on. Other more challenging ones take years. Each book is “touched” by scores of volunteers, and their ability to work together is enabled and supported by a small team of volunteer software developers, system administrators, testers, and facilitators, led by our volunteer General Manager. Here are just a few of our significant milestones over the last five years:

Public Domain Day. January 1, 2019, was the first time the pool of public domain books expanded since DP started, with books published in 1923 shedding their copyright restrictions in the United States – like Tutankhamen and the Discovery of his Tomb by the Late Earl of Carnarvon and Mr Howard Carter, published only few months after the 1922 discovery, and P.G. Wodehouse’s The Inimitable Jeeves. We celebrated a second U.S. Public Domain Day on January 1, 2020, for books published in 1924, such as Tarzan and the Ant Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs and The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley. Our content providers and project managers were pleased to identify significant works that were now freely available for us to work on and provide to Project Gutenberg for all to enjoy. We’re eager for the next one this January, when the 1925 books become free of copyright.

31,000 titles. Our 31,000th book, posted on December 27, 2015, was Colour in the Flower Garden. The author, Gertrude Jekyll, was a famous horticulturist and garden designer whose approach to garden design has had a huge impact on gardens throughout Europe, England, and North America. You can read more about her and her book in this celebratory blog post.

Holinshed’s Chronicles. On May 23, 2016, we uploaded the last of the multi-volume Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland by Raphael Holinshed. Written in the 16th Century, this extensive history of Britain was the source of many of Shakespeare’s history plays, including King Lear and Macbeth.

32,000 titles. For our 32,000th project, we posted the 8th book in L. Frank Baum’s beloved Oz series on May 28, 2016, Tik-Tok of Oz. DP volunteers worked on all the Oz books. All are available on Project Gutenberg as text-only versions; but most, like our 32,000th title, have been redone with all of the original illustrations!  See this blog post for more on this milestone.

33,000 titles. DP volunteers love to work on books with beautiful illustrations. On November 28, 2016, we posted our 33,000th project, A Flower Wedding, by the marvelous children’s book illustrator Walter Crane. In a loving tribute to this milestone, a DP volunteer tells us, “‘… decorated by Walter Crane.’ As soon as I saw those words I knew I was sunk.” There are few better examples of our volunteers’ enthusiasm for the books we preserve.

34,000 titles. And we love how our books are made! Our 34,000th title, posted on July 5, 2017, was A Manual of the Art of Bookbinding. This has everything you ever wanted to know about the hands-on side of bookbinding, and then some. It was designed for the amateur who wanted to bind just one book; or the collector who wanted to bind his private library of books; or the “practical workman” who wanted to learn the trade. You can read more about it here.

35,000 titles. Our 35,000th book was posted January 26, 2018. Shores of the Polar Sea is a gripping chronicle of an 1875 British expedition into the Arctic and the beauty, danger, and privations the explorers experienced. The author was a remarkable young man who, in addition to serving as the expedition’s medical officer, was both an artist and a scientist. We marked this milestone in this blog post. And for this 20th anniversary celebration, our friends at Librivox have recorded an audiobook version of this book more on Librivox in tomorrow’s blog post.

36,000 titles. Special recognition for 14 years of work was due to our volunteers for our 36,000th title on September 7, 2018: The 124th issue of The American Missionary that we contributed to Project Gutenberg. We posted our first issue of that periodical in 2004. Read more about it here.

37,000 titles. On April 16, 2019, we submitted our 37,000th project, French Painting of the 19th Century in the National Gallery of Art. This booklet, described in more detail here, contains many vivid colour plates and descriptions of several of the masterpieces in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. This type of booklet has helped make the world of art accessible to readers and to highlight the offerings of this major museum – and, by creating this online version, DP helped extend that audience still further.

Annali d’Italia. In May 2019, we completed and posted the 8th volume of the Annali d’Italia series, Annali D’Italia dal Principio dell’Era Volgare Sino All’Anno 1750. These important books, written by Lodovico Antonio Muratori, present the history of Italy from its beginnings until 1750.

Project Gutenberg’s 60,000th title. In July 2019, we were proud to contribute Project Gutenberg’s 60,000th title, The Living Animals of the World (volume 1 of 2). You can learn more about this milestone here. And Librivox has recorded an audiobook version of this fascinating project to help us celebrate our 20th anniversary.

The Golden Bough. In September 2019, we posted the final volume of James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough, with all 12 volumes prepared at DP. This masterwork on mythology and religion had a huge influence on the literature of the time and on modern thought. We marked this major achievement here.

Southey’s History. At the end of September 2019, we also posted the final volume of Robert Southey’s History of the Peninsular War, with all six volumes prepared at DP. Though perhaps better known for his Romantic poetry, Southey was also a fine historian, as demonstrated by his detailed account of Spain and Portugal’s struggle against Napoleon. The completion of the set at Project Gutenberg is an accomplishment of which to be proud.

38,000 titles. Our 38,000th contribution to Project Gutenberg, on November 8, 2019, was The Birds of Australia (volume 3 of 7). The seven volumes of this masterpiece of ornithology were published between 1840 and 1848 and introduced readers to 681 species, almost half of which had never been described before. The lithographic plates in the books, many produced by the author’s wife Elizabeth, are exquisite. Learn more about it in this blog post.

39,000 titles. For our 39,000 book, we were thrilled to highlight a project in a language other than English. Volume 6 of Wilhelm Hauffs sämtliche Werke in sechs Bänden (Wilhelm Hauff’s Collected Works in Six Volumes) was posted on April 27, 2020. The 19th-Century German poet and novelist Wilhelm Hauff died young, but his legacy lives on in his Märchen (fairy tales), contained in this volume, which remain favorites of German-speaking children even now. We celebrated this achievement in a blog post in both English and German.

Captain Cook and Pliny. In July 2020 we posted the last volumes of two major sets of volumes to Project Gutenberg:

Tomorrow, we take a look at the People who make all this possible. Congratulations to everyone at Distributed Proofreaders on 20 years of great books!

This post was contributed by WebRover, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


10 Years of Hot off the Press

October 1, 2020

October 1, 2020, marks not only the 20th anniversary of Distributed Proofreaders (DP), but also the 10th anniversary of this blog. For a decade, Hot off the Press has celebrated the great work DP volunteers do “preserving history one page at a time.” It was begun as part of the celebration of DP’s 10th anniversary – and it’s amazing how quickly these ten years have passed, and how much we’ve accomplished in that time. DP volunteers have contributed over 170 blog posts since then.

Here’s a selection from the Hot off the Press archives that we hope you’ll find absorbing and entertaining.

The posts published in the nine days following the blog’s founding on October 1, 2010, give an excellent idea of the wide range of work DP volunteers do. A post on Sir Walter Scott’s journal celebrated DP’s 6,000th title (posted to Project Gutenberg in 2005). A review of a 1916 astronomy book followed. Volunteer content providers shared stories of how they found projects for DP in “Turn around when possible”, Garage Musings, and In Pursuit of Poetry. Classic fiction was represented in reviews of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories and Alice Duer Miller’s Come Out of the Kitchen (with photos from the hit Broadway play). A member of DP’s Music Team reviewed Rimsky-Korsakov’s masterful Principles of Orchestration. And there was a review of the equally masterful Encyclopedia of Needlework by Thérèse de Dillmont.

Over the past decade, our blog posts have looked at the work we’ve done on books that range across many different cultures. Among them was Music and Some Highly Musical People, a survey of African-American music and musicians in the 19th Century, written by former slave James Monroe Trotter. Castes and Tribes of Southern India was seven-volume subset of a large set of volumes on the peoples of India. We reviewed The Status of Working Women of Japan, a sociological study written by a Christian missionary. One of our volunteers who worked on a dictionary of Cebuano, a language of the Southern Philippines, turned it into a smartphone app!

Many DP volunteers are bilingual and even multilingual, so our projects range across a number of different languages other than English. Hot off the Press has often featured non-English books, like our 27,000th title, Storia della decadenza e rovina dell’impero romano, an Italian translation of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. And we’ve had a few bilingual blog posts. For example, for the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation, our review of The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents was in English and French. And our review of our 39,000th title, volume six of Wilhelm Hauffs sämtliche Werke (Wilhelm Hauff’s Collected Works) was in English and German.

We DP volunteers take our mission of preserving books very seriously. This week being Banned Books Week, it’s a good occasion to mention that Hot off the Press featured America’s first banned book, The New English Canaan. Thanks to our volunteers, it’s freely available at Project Gutenberg, which shares our dedication to the Freedom to Read.

Our volunteers have also contributed accounts of the work they do at DP. In addition to the early blog posts by content providers mentioned above, we’ve had posts on the joys of proofreading, smooth reading, post-processing, mentoring, and music transcription. And a look at the life of a book at Distributed Proofreaders will give you an excellent idea of our process.

We know how to have a little fun, too. A DP volunteer created our first crossword, based on Marjorie Dean: Marvelous Manager, a juvenile fiction project we had worked on. There have been several crosswords since, including a 20th Anniversary special that you’ll see later this week.

This is just a small sample of what our volunteers have shared about the work they love at DP. Browse through our blog offerings – you’re bound to find something fascinating. Happy 20th to DP, and Happy 10th to Hot off the Press!

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer and editor of Hot off the Press.


What’s Cooking?

September 1, 2020

Bisquick coverHungry? Distributed Proofreaders volunteers have contributed over 225 cookbooks to Project Gutenberg, with recipes ranging over many centuries, many regions, and many styles. So keen is the interest that a Cookbook Lovers Team was recently formed for DP volunteers to break bread together, as it were, and talk about working on cookbook projects past, present, and future.

Among the oldest surviving cookbooks from antiquity is Apicius de re coquinaria (Apicius on Cooking). If your Latin is rusty, Project Gutenberg also has an English version, Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome, with fascinating notes on the work’s provenance and history. The recipes are attributed to a 1st-Century Roman gourmet, Marcus Gavius Apicius. Much like a modern cookbook, it’s organized in sections relating to different types of foods – including exotic poultry from far-flung corners of the Roman Empire, like flamingo or parrot. There are also helpful hints, like disguising a “goatish smell” emanating from game birds that are a tad too aged with herbs, spices, vinegar, and other aromatics.

The French are famous for their haute cuisine, which goes much farther back than its 19th-Century heyday. Le viandier de Taillevent, a collection of recipes from medieval manuscripts, dates back to 14th Century. The eponymous author, whose real name was Guillaume Tirel, served as chef to Philip VI of France. His observations on the use of spices, the creation of sauces, and the presentation of dishes (like embellishing roast meats with gold leaf) are all still key to French cuisine today.

Not to be outdone, the English had their own medieval cookbook, The Forme of Cury. Compiled around 1390 by “the Master-Cooks of King Richard II,” it is the earliest known recipe collection in English. It contains common dishes like roasted meats, as well as special dishes fit for a royal banquet. It also incorporates expensive rarities for the time, like spices and sugar.

Jumping ahead to the 17th Century, we find a comparative explosion of cookbooks. Just as the ancient Romans flavored their cuisine with a dollop of imperialism, so, too, did the European nations who explored even farther-flung corners of the world, acquiring exotic foods and flavorings. Spices and sugar were still expensive, but more readily available, and seem to be incorporated, along with some odd ingredients, into as many recipes as possible. One example is The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened, a 1669 cookbook compiled by a servant of the learned and adventurous Sir Kenelm Digby. Here’s a recipe for a black (or blood) pudding:

Take three pints of Cream, and boil it with a Nutmeg quartered, three or four leaves of large Mace, and a stick of Cinnamon. Then take half a pound of Almonds, beat them and strain them with the Cream. Then take a few fine Herbs, beat them and strain them to the Cream, which came from the Almonds. Then take two or three spoonfuls (or more) of Chickens blood; and two or three spoonfuls of grated-bread, and the Marrow of six or seven bones, with Sugar and Salt, and a little Rose-water. Mix all together, and fill your Puddings. You may put in eight or ten Eggs, with the whites of two well-beaten. Put in some Musk or Ambergreece.

That last ingredient is ambergris, a waxy substance found in the digestive system of a whale and, like musk, mainly used in perfumery. Its chief merit in a dish had to have been more to add to its impressiveness than to enhance its flavor.

The 19th Century brought a wealth of cookbooks designed for the home cook of middle-class means. The best-known of these is Isabella Beeton‘s Book of Household Management, first published in book form in 1861. It is not just a cookbook, but also a comprehensive guide to managing a Victorian household, still being reprinted today. Its most memorable recipe has to be the one for turtle soup that begins: “To make this soup with less difficulty, cut off the head of the turtle the preceding day.”

Specialty cookbooks gained great popularity in the 20th Century. The First World War brought us Foods That Will Win the War. The Complete Book of Cheese tells us everything we need to know about, well, cheese, including a humorous riff on “rarebit” vs. “rabbit.” There are even cookbooks targeted at single men, like 1922’s The Stag Cook Book, and for suffragist women, like 1915’s The Suffrage Cook Book. The latter has this recipe among the real ones:

Pie for a Suffragist’s Doubting Husband

1 qt. milk human kindness
8 reasons:
War
White Slavery
Child Labor
8,000,000 Working Women
Bad Roads
Poisonous Water
Impure Food

Mix the crust with tact and velvet gloves, using no sarcasm, especially with the upper crust. Upper crusts must be handled with extreme care for they quickly sour if manipulated roughly.

Food manufacturers also got into the cookbook game. Spices take center stage in McCormick & Company’s 1915 recipe booklet, aptly titled Spices, posted to Project Gutenberg just last month. And American cultural icon Betty Crocker (a fiction of General Mills) gives us 157 easy recipes in her Bisquick Cook Book of 1956 – you can make pancakes for 25 people with just three ingredients!

This is just a tiny sampling of the tasty delights to be found at Project Gutenberg. Take a look at the Cookbooks and Cooking Bookshelf, with its many culinary contributions from Distributed Proofreaders volunteers, and find out what’s cooking.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer and devoted amateur cook.


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