Our 18th Anniversary

October 1, 2018

18th anniversaryEighteen years ago, on October 1, 2000, Distributed Proofreaders volunteers began “preserving history one page at a time” by preparing public-domain e-books for Project Gutenberg. Since then, DP has contributed over 36,000 unique titles. Here’s a look back at some of DP’s accomplishments since our last retrospective.

Milestones

33,000 titles. In November 2016, Distributed Proofreaders posted its 33,000th unique title to Project Gutenberg, A Flower Wedding, by the great children’s book illustrator Walter Crane. You can read all about it in this celebratory post.

34,000 titles. Our 34,000th title was, appropriately, A Manual of the Art of Bookbinding, and was posted in July 2017. The DP blog post on this milestone is here.

35,000 titles. DP contributed its 35,000th title, Shores of the Polar Sea, in January 2018. This beautifully illustrated account of a 19th-Century expedition to the North Pole is celebrated in this blog post.

36,000 titles. Just last month, DP celebrated 36,000 titles with the May 1882 issue of The American Missionary. You can find out more about this historic periodical — of which DP has posted over 125 issues, with more to come — here.

Significant Projects

Over the past two years, Distributed Proofreaders has also contributed to Project Gutenberg a number of projects of particular historic and literary significance. These include:

Motor Matt. DP posted the last of 32 issues of this popular dime novel series in November 2016. Read all about it in this blog post.

The History and Romance of Crime. In February 2017, we posted the 12th and final volume, Oriental Prisons, in this series of sensational accounts of crime and punishment around the world by a 19th-Century British prison administrator.

The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents. This is an important series of reports, in French, Latin, and Italian, with English translations, from Jesuit missionaries in the territory that became Canada. We celebrated the posting of eight volumes of these reports in a blog post in both English and French commemorating the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation on July 1, 2017.

The Gallery of Portraits: with Memoirs. In November 2017, DP posted the seventh and final volume of this important set of books, which was produced under the superintendence of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, a 19th-Century organization devoted to providing resources for self-education.

Songs of the West. We posted this important 19th-Century collection of folk songs from Cornwall and Devon — with audio files so you can hear the music — in February 2018. Read all about it here.

Development

Site development has flourished at Distributed Proofreaders over the past two years, thanks to the unflagging efforts of our “squirrels” (DP’s nickname for its administrators), our developers, and the many volunteers who helped us design and test these changes. Some major undertakings:

  • We updated our operating system to Ubuntu 16.04 and migrated to a new server and hosting facility.
  • The OS update made possible some important upgrades to our forum and wiki software.
  • We also made important updates to our site coding and some of our page designs to enhance consistency, usability, accessibility, security, and future support.
  • We updated our official documentation and placed it in our wiki to improve our members’ access to it.
  • The entire DP site is now available in French.
  • We updated our code of conduct and privacy policy.

In Memoriam

Distributed Proofreaders is a close-knit community, and we all mourned when we lost three well-loved members during the past two years.

Pucon, a retired geologist, was a prolific proofreader who completed over 27,000 pages in his three and a half years at DP.

Long Green, whose friends knew her as Mama Beth, was an active proofreader and formatter who also post-processed a number of projects, some of them quite challenging. Her final project is celebrated in this memorial.

Miller, known to her friends as Emmy, performed numerous roles at DP. As a project manager, she contributed 321 books, which she also post-processed, and she post-processed over 700 books contributed by others. Her legacy is celebrated here.

Collaborative Projects

Distributed Proofreaders is collaborating with Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institute in Project PHaEDRA. This project involves transcribing original notebooks created during the 19th and early 20th Centuries by researchers at the Harvard College Observatory, including early female astronomers and the famous Harvard Computers. Our General Manager, Linda Hamilton, recently participated in a video interview about our participation in Project PHaEDRA.


Many thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers, past and present, who made this 18th anniversary possible!

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a DP volunteer.


Celebrating 36,000 Titles

September 7, 2018

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Distributed Proofreaders celebrates the 36,000th title it has posted to Project Gutenberg, The American Missionary, May 1882. Congratulations and thanks to all the DP volunteers who worked on it.

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The American Missionary was published by the American Missionary Association (A.M.A.) from 1846 to 1908, and continued publication under the guidance of other Congregational missionary societies until 1934. The American Missionary Association itself continued under that name until 1999, when it was incorporated into another department in the Congregational Church. The periodical was published monthly for much of its lifetime, but occasionally less frequently. Throughout the era of Reconstruction, it served as the marketing arm of the A.M.A., educating the readers of its 20,000 monthly copies about the work of the A.M.A., and openly soliciting support for the continuance of that work. The aim and work of the A.M.A., stated in each issue of the magazine, was

To preach the Gospel to the poor. It originated in a sympathy with the almost friendless slaves. Since Emancipation it has devoted its main efforts to preparing the FREEDMEN for their duties as citizens and Christians in America, and as missionaries in Africa. As closely related to this, it seeks to benefit the caste-persecuted CHINESE in America, and to co-operate with the Government in its humane and Christian policy toward the INDIANS. It has also a mission in AFRICA.

Although written primarily from a single point of view — that of white, northern Congregational Christians — The American Missionary provides an interesting real-time view of how social opinion and public policy developed through the era of Reconstruction and beyond. During the 1870’s and 1880’s, it chronicled history seldom taught in schools — the impact of yellow fever on commerce and education in the South, the fear of Northern states that Southern illiteracy was a danger to U.S. democratic institutions, and national concern that California’s response to Chinese immigration would cause another secession from the Union, to name just a few. The periodical chronicled society’s gradually increasing awareness of the essential humanity of all races, decrying the missteps along the way, and sometimes inadvertently revealing the prejudices of the A.M.A. itself. These developments were reported and commented upon as they occurred, without hindsight to distort their contemporaneous meaning and impact.

The May 1882 American Missionary issue is Distributed Proofreaders’ 36,000th unique title prepared for Project Gutenberg. It is a typical issue for the 1880’s. It contains an announcement of President Chester A. Arthur’s veto of Congress’s first attempt to pass the Chinese Exclusion Act and a daily journal of a trip up the Nile by steamer and across the desert by camel, through Thebes and Cairo. It also contains a description of the Chinese New Year as celebrated by the Chinese-American community, and a biology lesson by a teacher in Atlanta. As do all American Missionary issues, it contains a list of donations, by city, church, and name, for a single month, useful for historical and genealogical research.

DP provided the first American Missionary project to Project Gutenberg in April 2004. It was the issue for January 1888. Since that time, we have finished over 125 issues. Over 120 others have finished the rounds, and are awaiting completion—most due to missing pages and covers still to be collected by volunteers. The projects still in process cover the period of June 1882 to the fourth quarter of 1901.

Although most of the American Missionary issues are partially available from online sites other than Project Gutenberg, such as the Hathi Trust, the scans at those sites are generally missing the front and back covers, which were either not included in the bound collections of issues, or which were bound separately from the issues at the backs of the volumes. These cover pages often list the officers and meeting notices of the A.M.A., as well as some of the advertisements.

Many online copies, other than those at Project Gutenberg, are also missing all of the advertisement pages. The advertisements cover church organs and corsets, guns and fencing, architectural services and theological books, stove polish and life insurance—a cross-section of the goods and services available for purchase in the latter part of the 19th Century. Many advertisements include pricing and street addresses useful for historical research. These missing pages are included in most of the American Missionary issues prepared for Project Gutenberg by Distributed Proofreaders. Dedicated volunteers search out original copies from university libraries and other sources, obtaining high-resolution copies of the missing pages and matching them to the appropriate magazine issues. Some of the engravings in the advertisements are particularly fine, although time has taken a toll on their clarity. The rotary printing press, Singer factory and Remington guns in the May 1878 issue are excellent examples.

This post was contributed by ArleneJoyce, a DP volunteer who is the Project Manager and Post-Processor for many of the American Missionary projects.


How Time-Travel Led Me to Distributed Proofreaders

August 31, 2018

Samuel Pepys

Over the years I’ve travelled in time again and again.

Through the letters of Abigail and John Adams, I’ve lived through the start of the American Revolutionary War, 18th-century smallpox vaccinations, travel abroad, and the early days of a new republic. The originally unpublished diaries of Mary Boykin Chesnut took me to the start of the U.S. Civil War. I sat with her and her friends waiting breathlessly for news from the Battle of Fort Sumter where their husbands and brothers fought. The diary of John Evelyn took me to the Sun King’s court and to England in the time of Charles II. I cried with him over the early death of his two young sons. And my mother’s diary from the year she turned 17 took me to the early days of World War II in Western Canada — full of accounts of boy-friends, dances, factory work, and friends going off to war (I can still remember my mother’s “You read my diary?! — Give it back!!”).

The time travel that has enthralled me most was nine years in 17th-century England with a young man so full of life and so involved in the events of his time.

I had wanted to read the diaries of Samuel Pepys for many years, when I found an abridged version in a local bookstore. It didn’t take me long to realize that there was little of interest there — no more than a collection of “he was really there” names and events. Then I found the Project Gutenberg version of the full nine years of the diary (although, the edition on which it was based having been published in 1893, it had a few ellipses to hide the most racy bits, which I soon found out how to track down elsewhere).

Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1660 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1661 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1662 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1663 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1664 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1665 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1666 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1667 N.S.
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1668 N.S
Diary of Samuel Pepys — Complete 1669 N.S.

The Project Gutenberg version opened up a whole new world to me — the world of a young man in his 20s celebrating Christmas openly after the puritanism of the Cromwell years, travelling with the court to return the rightful king to England, and obtaining a new and interesting job through the influence of highly-placed friends. It took me years to live through the diaries, reading slowly night by night and heading off to bed myself with his “And so to bed” which ended so many of his daily entries.

I lived through a young man’s excesses in his nightly drinking with his friends and his delight in learning about the “hair of the dog,” until his reluctant decision to lead a more sober life. I experienced his joy at playing musical instruments, and all the details of his many house-decorating forays. With him, I casually passed by the bonfires of Guy Fawkes Day celebrations and experienced the terror and excitement of “shooting the bridge” by riding out the torrent of Thames tidewater under London Bridge with the ferrymen. I lived through the plague as it decimated London, leaving the streets silent and empty as more and more deaths were recorded each day, and was terrified anew by the great fire of London and the drama of the king and his brother working tirelessly with the citizens to save the city. And there was the time when everybody feared imminent invasion by the Dutch and I went with Pepys to hide his valuables. He was upset that one bag of buried coins could not be found. And of course, there were his constant infidelities, described in detail despite the ever-present ellipses.

How did the adventures and infidelities of this young man lead me to Distributed Proofreaders? After a few years of downloading and reading the Pepys diaries that had been prepared for Project Gutenberg by David Widger, I felt guilty. I’d had such a lovely time in 17th-century England that it seemed wrong for me not to repay in some way. By joining Distributed Proofreaders, I discovered a way to help create e-books that other people could download and enjoy.

I hope that some of the books I have helped prepare have given readers as much joy as the Pepys diaries have given me, and that you’ll consider joining the time-travellers at Distributed Proofreaders on our journeys into the past.

This post was contributed by Linda Hamilton, General Manager of Distributed Proofreaders.


Memoirs of the Dukes of Urbino

July 31, 2018
Duke and Duchess of Urbino

Federico III da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, and his wife Battista Sforza, by Piero della Francesca

So much praise has been heaped on Florence as the cradle of the Italian Renaissance that it is sometimes easy to forget that there were other glorious centers of art and literature outside of Tuscany. Urbino, a city in the Marche region of Italy, about 115 miles east of Florence, was one such example.

Urbino flourished most under the House of Montefeltro, which wrested control of the town from the Papacy in the 13th Century and eventually turned it into a dukedom. It reached its apex under the rule of Duke Federico III da Montefeltro (1422-1482), a true Renaissance man whose interest in the arts, and whose fortune, made Urbino into a mecca for culture.

One of the best accounts of Urbino’s legacy was written by a Scotsman, James Dennistoun of Dennistoun. His three-volume history, Memoirs of the Dukes of Urbino, originally published in 1851, covers “the arms, arts and literature of Italy” during Urbino’s golden years, from 1440 to 1630. As the subtitle suggests, however, Dennistoun’s work is also a wide-ranging review of “arms, arts and literature” that extends beyond the borders of the duchy to great Renaissance works throughout Italy.

Dennistoun rightly lavishes a great deal of attention on Federico III, a devoted humanist whose court was well known for its atmosphere of learning. Federico formed one of the greatest manuscript libraries in Italy, employing the finest scribes and illuminators to hand-produce, on the highest-quality parchment, nearly a thousand bound manuscripts for his collection. (Movable-type printing was still an innovation in Europe at that time, but there were also some printed books in Federico’s original collection.) The Florentine librarian and bookseller Vespasiano da Bisticci, who provided Federico with many of the original works for copying, and who supervised the binding of the final products, estimated that Federico spent more than 30,000 ducats on the library — over $5 million (USD) in today’s money. Later Dukes added many items to the collection over the next two centuries.

The Project Gutenberg e-book of the Memoirs is based on an enhanced edition published in 1909 and edited by Edward Hutton. In his Introduction, Hutton notes:

The book, which has long been almost unprocurable, is full, as it were, of a great leisure, crammed with all sorts of out-of-the-way learning and curious tales and adventures. Sometimes failing in art, and often we may think in judgment, Dennistoun never fails in this, that he is always interested in the people he writes of, interested in their quarrels and love affairs, their hair-breadth escapes and good fortunes…. Full of digressions, a little long-drawn-out, sometimes short-sighted, sometimes pedantic, it is written with a whole-hearted devotion to the truth and to the country which he loved.

Among the enhancements in the second edition of the Memoirs are numerous black-and-white photographs of Renaissance portraits, medals, paintings, sculptures, artifacts, and buildings, many taken by the famed Florentine photography house of Alinari. Hutton added his own footnotes expanding on, and occasionally correcting, Dennistoun’s text. And the first volume contains an interesting catalogue of the sale of Dennistoun’s own collection of Italian and other artworks after his death in 1855.

After over four centuries of rule by the Montefeltro and della Rovere families (with a brief stint under Cesare Borgia), the Duchy of Urbino fell back into papal hands in 1626. The great library Federico had founded was sold to the Vatican for a pittance in 1657, and it remains there today. But Urbino’s contributions to the “arms, arts and literature” of Italy, and to the Renaissance, are indelible. Through Dennistoun’s scholarly labor of love, we have a rich portrait of its former greatness.


A DP Crossword: The Last of the Bushrangers

June 30, 2018

Our popular crossword feature returns with a puzzle based on The Last of the Bushrangers, a lively 19th-Century account of the capture of a gang of Australian robbers, written by a former police superintendent who was there.

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In order to solve the puzzle, first read the book — it’s entertaining — then decide how you want to proceed:

  • 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.
  • Use the printable PDF version to print out the puzzle and solve it the old-fashioned way, with your favorite writing implement. Check your solution with the PDF answer key. No peeking! (But who’s to know?)

Happy Puzzling!

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


The Great Fire in St. John

May 31, 2018

“James Turnbull … was about to rush into the cellar and tell him [his father] how near the fire was when he turned and beheld a dark shadow in the doorway. It was coming towards him, and for a moment struck terror into his soul. The tall figure of a woman, deeply robed in black, holding up a long train in her hand, and with head-dress all aflame, stood before him in the hall.”

This is one of the scenes in George Stewart’s The Story of the Great Fire in St. John, N.B., June 20th, 1877, a detailed description of the massive fire that for nine hours tore through the city destroying 1,612 buildings, killing 18 people, and leaving more than 13,000 people homeless. At the time, St. John was one of the largest and most prosperous cities in North America, with shipyards that were famous around the world.

Prince William Street

Prince William Street, St. John, before and after the fire.

Stewart lived through the fire. Indeed, he lost his home and his pharmacy business to the flames. His book about the fire and its aftermath was so popular that its sales allowed him to recoup all his losses.

After weeks of dry warm weather, St. John citizens welcomed the strong wind that arose on “Black Wednesday.” They soon had reason to fear it, however, when a small fire that started at McLaughlin’s boiler shop swept into neighbouring buildings. The author witnessed as “in a few minutes the fire spread with alarming rapidity, and houses went down as if a mine of powder had exploded and razed them…. The huge blazing brands were carried along in the air for miles around, and where-ever they dropped a house went down.” The fire roared through the city and into the harbour where the flames mounted the masts of the schooners, passing from ship to ship until it “formed a complete bridge of fire from the north wharf to the south. It was like a gala-day celebration of fire-works on a large scale.” Passengers on the Empress steamship that was entering the harbour were stunned by the sight of a city in flames and tortured by fears for their homes and children.

The book describes how people frantically carted their belongings to places they believed would be safe from the flames, only to discover that safety was only temporary — “Men had their stores burned at four and five o’clock, and their goods burned at seven and eight o’clock.” One woman hired a team to carry all her valuables to her mother-in-law’s house, only to have all her goods destroyed when her mother-in-law’s home burned to the ground two hours later, while her own home was spared from the fire.

People who strove to save what they could often found that they’d left the most valuable things behind. A woman, who asked her husband to cart away the bag that contained the family silver, discovered that he had rescued the rag bag instead. One man saved an old tub and dipper, and watched his valuable library and private papers succumb to the flames. Another man tried vainly to protect his house by standing on his roof with a pitcher and splashing water onto the flying sparks. He escaped, but the next day all that was left of his house was a pile of ash and his pitcher, still standing on the ledge of the tall chimney where he had left it.

There are many images of horror. I can still picture the flock of pigeons whirling into the flames and the cat who, “maddened and wild, cut off from all escape, dashed along, when the fire pursued her, and she stood still.” The author continues, “On Thursday morning she was still standing in the same place. Her frame only could be seen, with head up and tail erect.” He describes a little boy who could not be comforted: “O, pa, pa, come and see! God is burning up the world, and He won’t make another, and He won’t make another!” But the book also recounts many moments of heroism as the people of St. John worked together to save themselves and their city.

As well as describing the struggles and frequent heroism of the citizens and the terrible losses suffered, this account covers the aftermath of the fire, including detailed lists of donations received. There are also many beautiful woodcuts of the city and its buildings before and after the destruction.

The Story of the Great Fire in St. John, N.B., June 20th, 1877 is a masterpiece of its kind, giving us a first-hand account of how ordinary people endured, survived and recovered from a disaster that destroyed more than half of their city.

This post was contributed by Linda Hamilton, General Manager of Distributed Proofreaders.


… this may be for you.

April 30, 2018

proofed textIf you are a perfectionist, a nit picker, a grammar “nut,” the punctuation police, know what the Oxford comma is, or can spot a typo or an anomaly a mile away, this may be for you.

If you would like a volunteer opportunity without a specific time or place commitment, this may be for you.

If you would like to volunteer from the comfort of your own home, your own PC, or your favorite library or coffee shop, this may be for you.

If you would like to be part of an online community with a shared purpose, mutually helpful and respectful, this may be for you.

If you enjoy passionate debate or if you choose to observe debate without participating, this may be for you.

If you like to read generally older materials, be in the know, review books before they become generally available (again), this may be for you.

If you are looking to be able to make a contribution that needn’t be a financial contribution, this may be for you.

If you want flexibility in what kind of volunteer work you do and which projects you work on, this may be for you.

If you are not afraid of getting addicted to an activity that is legal, this may be for you.

If you seek nerdy fun, this may be for you.

What is “this”? It’s volunteering time and energy to Distributed Proofreaders. For any, some or all of these reasons, I hope you’ll give distributed proofreading a try. You may discover that it really is for you.

This post was contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.


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