Distributed Proofreaders Turns 19

October 1, 2019

Since its founding on October 1, 2000, Distributed Proofreaders has contributed over 37,000 public-domain e-books to Project Gutenberg’s vast free library. To celebrate our 19th anniversary, we look back at some of our accomplishments since our 18th anniversary.

Milestones

Distributed Proofreaders’ 37,000th title. In April 2019, Distributed Proofreaders posted its 37,000th unique title to Project Gutenberg, French Painting of the 19th Century in the National Gallery of Art. The celebratory blog post is here.

Project Gutenberg’s 60,000th title. In July 2019, Distributed Proofreaders contributed Project Gutenberg’s 60,000th title, The Living Animals of the World (volume 1). You can learn more about this milestone here.

Significant Projects

Many of the projects at Distributed Proofreaders have particular historical or literary significance. Recent examples:

Annali d’Italia. In May 2019, we posted to Project Gutenberg the eighth volume of the Italian history series Annali d’Italia dal principio dell’era volgare sino all’anno 1750 (Annals of Italy from the Beginning of the Common Era until the Year 1750), by the 18th-Century historian Ludovico Antonio Muratori. This important work — the first large-scale history of Italy — was initially published in Milan in 1743. Though Muratori died in 1750, the series was continued and updated for many years. The edition Distributed Proofreaders worked on was the fifth, published in Venice in 1847, nearly a century after Muratori’s death.

The Golden Bough. In September 2019, we posted the final volume of James George Frazer’s twelve-volume masterwork, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (3rd edition, 1915). Distributed Proofreaders volunteers prepared all twelve volumes. Frazer’s monumental study of comparative mythology and religion, first published as a two-volume work in 1890, had a huge influence not only on the field of social anthropology, but also on the literature and art of the time, and on the newly developing science of psychology.

Development

Site development has continued to flourish at Distributed Proofreaders, thanks to the hard work of our “squirrels” (the nickname for Distributed Proofreaders administrators), our developers, and the many volunteers who helped to design and test improvements such as:

  • Updating the Distributed Proofreaders Walkthrough and translating it into French.
  • Upgrading the software for both our wiki and our forums.
  • Updating our official documentation for Post-Processors (the volunteers who wrangle the final proofed and formatted text into its final version for posting to Project Gutenberg).
  • Continuing work on the Workbench tool for Post-Processors so they can more efficiently complete their final checks on a text.
  • Making numerous other improvements to our interface, workflow, and tools to make it easier for volunteers to do their jobs and for projects to be posted more quickly.

In Memoriam

Distributed Proofreaders mourned the loss of three devoted members during the past year:

Halamus was a retired violin teacher and music publisher from Australia who joined Distributed Proofreaders in 2004. She was an extremely active Post-Processor and was responsible for 178 projects posted to Project Gutenberg. She also worked as a Post-Processing Verifier, and in that role she mentored new Post-Processors and shepherded 33 projects to completion. With her extensive musical background — she wrote and published many books of violin music and theory — Halamus was an important resource on our Music Team.

MarcD, from Belgium, was a longtime supporter of and liaison between Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg. He was the founder of Free Literature, an organization through which he produced many e-books for Project Gutenberg.

RSPIII joined Distributed Proofreaders in 2011 and during his time with us proofread and formatted 1,698 pages. He also post-processed eight books and had taken out several more to work on before he died. RSPIII was active in our community forums, and many of our volunteers remember him fondly.

Collaborative Projects

Project PHaEDRA. The Distributed Proofreaders collaboration with Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institute on Project PHaEDRA is ongoing. This challenging project involves transcribing original notebooks created in the 19th and early 20th Centuries by researchers at the Harvard College Observatory, including early female astronomers and the famous Harvard Computers. One of the oldest handwritten notebooks in the collection, from 1848-49, has completed the proofreading rounds at Distributed Proofreaders and is currently making its way through the formatting rounds.

Mundaneum Project. In connection with an exhibition in March-April 2019 at the Mundaneum in Mons, Belgium, entitled “Data Workers,” Distributed Proofreaders volunteers have been transcribing French and French-English texts from the Mundaneum’s archive. Our General Manager, Linda Hamilton, was interviewed on Skype for the exhibition. Additional Mundaneum texts in German, Spanish, and Italian are in preparation at Distributed Proofreaders.


Many thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers, past and present, who have given us 19 years of “preserving history one page at a time.”

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


The Living Animals of the World

September 1, 2019

On July 29, 2019, Project Gutenberg posted its 60,000th title, The Living Animals of the World (volume 1 of 2). Congratulations to Project Gutenberg and to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who made this milestone possible!

Humankind has always been fascinated by Nature. At first, it was matter of mere adaptation for survival. Once humans learned to make themselves comfortable, philosophers in ancient times began to study the workings of the natural world. In medieval Europe, that study became a matter of theology.

A more scientific approach began to take hold during the Renaissance, and by the 19th Century there was an explosion of interest, both amateur and professional, in natural history. Empire-building by various European nations enabled naturalists to rove all over the globe, studying flora and fauna, taking careful notes, and amassing collections that began as private “cabinets of curiosities” and ended by forming the cores of the great natural history museums that were founded throughout Europe and America.

As general education in the Western world improved and books became more accessible, natural history became a subject of popular interest as well. Numerous books on plants and animals, often lavishly illustrated, were published for general audiences. A fine example of this is the two-volume set of The Living Animals of the World. First published in London in 1901, it bills itself as “A Popular Natural History.” The two volumes contain a total of over 1,100 black-and-white photographs and two dozen color plates.

Volume 1 deals with mammals, while Volume 2 (in progress at Distributed Proofreaders) concerns itself with birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, other sea creatures, and insects. The eminent British zoologist C.J. Cornish was the editor, heading a stellar team of contributors that included explorers F.C. Selous and Sir Harry Johnston, zoologist W.P. Pycraft, hunter and naturalist H.A. Bryden, marine biologist William Saville-Kent, and entomologist W.F. Kirby, among others.

The introduction to Volume 1 extols the popularity of natural history and notes the great boon of photography to aid in its study:

… the interest now taken in Natural History is of a kind and calibre never previously known, and any work which presents the wonders of the Animal World in a new or clearer form may make some claim to the approval of the public…. Every year not only adds to the stock of knowledge of the denizens of earth and ocean, but increases the facilities for presenting their forms and surroundings pictorially. Photography applied to the illustration of the life of beasts, birds, fishes, insects, corals, and plants is at once the most attractive and the most correct form of illustration. In the following pages it will be used on a scale never equalled in any previous publication.

The work of Distributed Proofreaders volunteers in creating the e-book version of The Living Animals of the World, complete with its hundreds of photographs, does ample justice to that boast. This handsome volume is a fitting way to celebrate Project Gutenberg’s 60,000th title.

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


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.


Emmy’s Legacy

May 1, 2017

emmy_legacy_flower_wedding_finis

Distributed Proofreaders is a tight-knit community, and when beloved members pass away, we all grieve together. In February 2017, we lost Emmy. But her legacy lives on in the memory of her beautiful nature and in the many lovely e-books she left us.

Emmy was much loved for her warmth, her keen sense of humor, and her unfailing kindness. She never missed an opportunity to be friendly and helpful to anyone who needed a hand or a boost or a smile, and as a result she had many close friends among the DP volunteers.

And Emmy was a powerhouse. She joined DP in 2004 and performed many roles — proofer, formatter, Project Manager, Post-Processor, Post-Processor Verifier, and Mentor. She even contributed several pieces to this blog, though she preferred to do so anonymously. As Project Manager, she was responsible for 321 books posted to Project Gutenberg, all of which she also post-processed herself, including the lovely A Flower Wedding, which was DP’s 33,000th Unique Title. On top of that, she post-processed over 700 books for other Project Managers — making her responsible for contributing over 1,000 e-books to Project Gutenberg.

Although Emmy had a special love for children’s literature, her projects ranged from agriculture to Westerns and just about everything in between. To celebrate Emmy’s amazing legacy, DP’s General Manager, Linda Hamilton, put together a Project Gutenberg Bookshelf, Emmy’s Picks. It’s a library of extraordinary range and beauty.

And today, May 1, 2017, begins Children’s Book Week, a celebration of books for young readers, and a time that was always dear to Emmy’s heart. DP volunteers are making an extra effort for the celebration to produce children’s books in Emmy’s honor.

Browse, read, enjoy, remember.


Motor Matt

March 31, 2017

During the “age of the dime novel,” generally considered to run from 1860 to 1915, popular entertainment options were quite limited compared to today. There was no film, television, radio or Internet, and theatre was a rare luxury for most. Instead, when someone wanted a quick dose of escapist adventure or romance, chances were good they would turn to a dime novel.

The first dime novels were small pamphlets of about a hundred pages, each containing a complete story. As the years went on, publisher competition led to the format’s evolution, adding more illustrations and more color, and experimenting with different price points. While the “dime” name has stuck as a term for the format, many of the most popular titles were actually “nickel weeklies” – booklets closely resembling today’s comic books, but containing prose in place of comic panels.

One of the most influential dime novel series was actually a nickel weekly called Tip Top Weekly, published by Street & Smith and containing the ongoing adventures of ideal American boy Frank Merriwell (and later, his brother and son). The Merriwell saga was filled with sports victories, action sequences, and a bit of romance – as readers spent a good part of the series speculating on which female character Frank would ultimately marry. Quite a few Merriwell adventures can be found on Project Gutenberg, but the scope of the series – a novel a week for decades – makes this one of the longest works of serial fiction ever written.

Motor Matt cover

Another title, heavily influenced by Tip Top Weekly but of a more manageable size, has recently been added to the Project Gutenberg collection in its entirety, making it the first complete dime novel series to be found there. This series is Motor Stories, containing the adventures of “Motor Matt” King, a young man with a prodigious talent for working with gas-powered motors. Over the course of the series, he travels the country (and beyond), making friends and acquiring new vehicles to experiment with. The stories were clearly written with an eye on the news, as some of the technology described here – particularly heavier-than-air flight – was quite cutting-edge at the time of publication. There are 34 Motor Matt stories in all – 32 published as the Motor Stories nickel weekly, and two more published as part of Brave & Bold (a more general-purpose series) after Motor Stories was discontinued. While they hardly qualify as great literature, all of them remain surprisingly entertaining today.

The positive features of the series can all be attributed to its author, William Wallace Cook (writing as Stanley R. Matthews), an incredibly prolific writer who was one of the few to successfully bridge the gap from the dime novel era into the succeeding pulp era. Cook was fearless about approaching a wide variety of styles and genres, and he wrote very quickly. He also had a knack for plots, meaning that even though his stories were written speedily, they don’t feel hastily-constructed, and they usually contain at least one or two interesting twists. Cook is still remembered today for his creation of Plotto, a book containing a complex mechanism for generating plots and characters – it is still in print today. To learn more about Cook and his process, you can also take a look at his autobiographical work, The Fiction Factory, written under the name John Milton Edwards, which is available in the Project Gutenberg collection.

One of the ways in which Motor Stories is fascinating, but sometimes potentially offensive to modern readers, is in the way it portrays many of its characters. The series has a surprisingly diverse cast of characters, with many of its heroes and villains representing different parts of the world. It perhaps goes without saying that the prejudices of 1909, when the series was written, were a bit different than those of today, and much of this comes through in the text, which contains broad dialect, racial slurs and grossly stereotypical portrayals of certain ethnic groups.

In some ways, however, the books manage to contain surprisingly positive messages for the time. Matt himself, who is clearly designed as a model of ideal behavior for readers to emulate, treats everyone fairly and equally regardless of their race or nationality, even though his friends often do not. This is a dramatic change from earlier dime novel “heroes,” who in some cases were known to kill people on the basis of race without even asking questions (see Frank Reade and His Steam Horse in the Project Gutenberg collection for one example of this sort of behavior, though this is certainly not the only book to embrace the repellent philosophy that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian”). The author is also uniformly kind to characters of mixed race, apparently demonstrating a broad belief in the potential of the American “melting pot.” In a few cases, particularly when Chinese characters join the narrative late in the series, he also attempts to show cultural differences without dehumanizing the underlying characters – a feat that he only partially succeeds at, but that he tried puts him in a class above many of his contemporaries. Finally, while the series was clearly marketed toward boys, and most adventures go by with scarcely the appearance of a female face, on those occasions where a woman figures in the narrative, she is usually more than just a token for the “Motor Boys” to rescue (and on at least one occasion, she does the rescuing).

Apart from matters of representation, the biggest complaint most readers will have about the series is the fact that it ends where it does, with certain mysteries and plot threads entirely unresolved. Clearly Cook had set himself up to write many more of these if reader demand had been greater. As it is, the stories ended up having quite a long life. Not only were several of the early Motor Stories reprinted in Brave & Bold, but many of the stories were later edited together into longer novels to be sold in both paper-covered and cloth-bound formats. This makes the saga not only one of the last original dime novel epics but also a fairly early example of the juvenile series book later epitomized by Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift. For some reason, some of the names were changed during these edits, so it is possible that more readers over the years have known Motor Matt as “Bob Steele.” However, the original versions, with their colorful covers and bite-sized delivery, may well be the most fun. It is wonderful to have them so conveniently available to the world, after more than a century in obscurity.

This post was contributed by Demian Katz, a DP volunteer.


The Border and the Buffalo

June 1, 2016

cover

Proofreading at Distributed Proofreaders has exposed me to a whole genre of books I never knew existed and which I’ve learned I really enjoy: first-hand accounts of the exploration and development of America—especially the American West.

Recently I worked on proofing one of these, a 1907 autobiography, The Border and the Buffalo: An Untold Story of the Southwest Plains, by John R. Cook. Cook participated in the slaughter of what is now believed to have been about 4.5 million American buffalo in a few years during the 1870s. Alarmed by the prospect of the buffalo’s extinction, several states, including Colorado and Kansas, had outlawed wholesale slaughter of buffalo. But not everyone thought that was a good idea. When the Texas Legislature met regarding a bill drawn up for the protection of buffalo,

General Phil. Sheridan … went to Austin, and, appearing before the joint assembly of the House and Senate, told them that they were making a sentimental mistake by legislating in the interest of the buffalo…. He said: “These men have done in the last two years and will do more in the next year, to settle the vexed Indian question, than the entire regular army has done in the last thirty years. They are destroying the Indians’ commissary; and it is a well-known fact that an army losing its base of supplies is placed at a great disadvantage. Send them powder and lead, if you will; but, for the sake of a lasting peace, let them kill, skin, and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle, and the festive cowboy, who follows the hunter as a second forerunner of an advanced civilization.”

I was aware that the buffalo slaughter had occurred, but had no idea of the role Sheridan had in encouraging it, nor that it was an intentional strategy to control the Native American populations and to open up the prairies for cattle. I had thought it was just the shortsightedness of individuals seeing the opportunity for financial gain and not realizing, or perhaps not caring, about their impact on the long-term survival of the species. They reduced the population of buffalo from multiple millions to what is believed to be only 300 in 1900. Today, with conservation efforts, the American buffalo population has increased to about half a million.

The hunters were after the hides and sometimes the tongues, which they dried and shipped east. In what appears to be an exception, Cook tells us about the Moore brothers, who “dried tons and tons of meat for a St. Louis firm.” In most cases, after killing the buffalo for their hides, the hunters left the rest behind.

But all was not wasted. When the army of hunters had annihilated those massive, sturdy creatures, the hair and bone scavengers followed them up with four- and six-horse, mule, or ox teams. They gathered up and hauled to the nearest railroad station every vestige of buffalo hair and bones that could be found.

I saw in 1874, the year before the great buffalo slaughter began in earnest, a rick of buffalo bones, on the Santa Fe railroad right-of-way, and twenty miles ahead of the track from Granada, Colorado, piled twelve feet high, nearly that wide at the base, and one-half mile long. Seven, eight, nine, and ten dollars per ton was realized from them alone.

I was also interested in the fact that individuals who had fought on opposite sides of the American Civil War, just a few years later, were working together in the American West. One group is described thus:

There were several ex-Confederate soldiers and Union ex-soldiers who had joined issues in a common cause. There were three school-teachers. All the party were native-born Americans with the exception of the two Englishmen, whose camp had been destroyed.

In the following tale they seemed to have more in common in the fact that they had had military experience than in the fact they had fought on opposite sides.

This book is written in an entertaining style. Cook introduces the reader to many characters of the time and tells interesting stories about them: the man who doesn’t realize he can use a left rear wagon-wheel to replace a damaged right rear wheel by turning it around—later known as Wrong-Wheel Jones; a horse that plays lame and dead and allows his owner to use his head as a gun rest; and Cook’s meeting with Pat Garrett, the man who later became sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico, and who killed Billy the Kid.

Through Cook we meet Smoky Hill Thompson, Squirrel-eye, Limpy Jim Smith, Wild Skillet, Crazy Burns, Buffalo Jones, Dirty-Face Jones, Arkansaw Jack, and Powder-Face Hudson, and sometimes we learn the source of their nicknames.

Cook also shows some regret at the slaughter he was involved in. Whether it really occurred at the time as represented, or whether it came to him when he wrote his autobiography some thirty years later, he reflects:

I then thought: What fertile soil! And what profitable and beautiful homes this region would make if only moisture were assured! How seemingly ruthless this slaughter of the thousands of tons of meat, one of the most wholesome and nutritious diets, as a rule, in the world!… Then a slight feeling of remorse would come over me for the part I was taking in this greatest of all “hunts to the death.” Then I would justify myself with the recollection of what General Sheridan had said; and I pictured to myself a white school-house on that knoll yonder where a mild maid was teaching future generals and statesmen the necessity of becoming familiar with the three R’s. Back there on that plateau I could see the court-house of a thriving county seat. On ahead is a good site for a church of any Christian denomination.

In addition to stories about killing buffalo, Cook tells many tales of encounters with Indians, personal stories of other travelers, and accounts of experiences while traveling through the American West in its last days before development. He provides an entertaining and insightful view of a time and place experienced and documented by only a few travelers. He wraps up one of his stories: “And this is just simply another of the many remarkable incidents that happened on the Range during the passing of the buffalo.”

This post was contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.


We are time travelers

March 1, 2016

detail from Allegory of Vanity, by Antonio de PeredaAs part of Distributed Proofreaders, yes, we are time travelers. We get glimpses of time. This is not just because we work on history books written in their own time. We also get a contemporary perspective on technology, science, medicine, entertainment, vocabulary, attitudes, personalities, language, and more from a different time.

Because public domain is restricted in America to items that were published before 1923, with a few exceptions, we spend most of our proofing time in the past. We’re not hopping back and forth between something using current vocabulary and spelling vs. something older. We stay in the past. As a result when we see words like burthen, intrust, inclosure, to-day, skilful, musquitoes, &c., we begin to recognize them as accurate for the time and see them as old friends. We know that a receipt is a recipe. We learn that children are encouraged to work on projects with knives, saws, chemicals and the like (see this review of The Boy Craftsman for a good example of that). Oh yes, we are in another time.

We discover references to some event that was common knowledge at the time a book was published, and that knowledge is lost now. Several books with stories of early US western travel refer to stopping at the farm of early missionaries, the Whitmans. And then they end that portion of the tale with, “of course that was before the massacre.” Apparently any reader of the time knew about the Whitman massacre.

On any given day, volunteers at DP have the opportunity to travel to many times and many places. To-day my choices include: Nagaland in northeast India, in ancient times as viewed in the late 1800s and early 1900s; Mexico in the early 1500s; Königgrätz, Bohemia, in 1866; print shops in the US and England in 1888; England from 1066 to 1154; English towns in the 1400s; Russia from 1903 to 1912; Napoleonic War experiences during the period 1804-1814, compiled before 1815, in a book originally published in 1839 that nearly disappeared before being republished in this edition in 1902. This example demonstrates that there are the times in the books and the times of the books—when they are about vs. when they were written, published and printed. In a single volume we can go back to at least three times: the time being presented, the time it was written—which impacts word choice, perspective and attitude—and the time it was published—which impacts typesetting, font, characters (like long s) and layout.

Come and join us. Where else can you make such a trip through time!

This post was contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.


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