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.


The April Baby’s Book of Tunes

May 1, 2019

This post is published in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Children’s Book Week, April 29 to May 5, 2019.

Greenaway illustration

Distributed Proofreaders volunteers have always loved preserving children’s books, from the famous to the obscure. Hot off the Press has highlighted quite a few of our outstanding e-book versions of works for young people, such as L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, popular juvenile series starring the likes of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, dime-novel series like Motor Matt, and books illustrated by beloved artists like Walter Crane. But these are just a tiny fraction of the total: Distributed Proofreaders has contributed over 3,700 children’s books to Project Gutenberg.

One very recent example is The April Baby’s Book of Tunes, published in 1900. It tells the story of three little girls in Germany who are stuck indoors during an unexpected April snowstorm just before Easter. Their mother entertains them by setting a variety of well-known English nursery rhymes to music.

Though credited only as “the author of Elizabeth and her German Garden,” the author was Elizabeth von Arnim, then known as the Countess von Arnim-Schlagenthin. Born Mary Annette Beauchamp in Australia but raised in England, she married a Prussian count in 1891. They had five children (three of whom were the models for the little girls in The April Baby’s Book of Tunes), but the marriage was not a happy one. The count’s propensity for racking up debts eventually led to his being imprisoned for fraud. This in turn led to her writing her successful semi-autobiographical novel, Elizabeth and Her German Garden (1898), under the pseudonym “Elizabeth.” She wrote some 20 books, mainly novels; two of them, The Enchanted April (1922) and Mr. Skeffington (1940), were made into popular films. After the count’s death in 1910, a turbulent affair with H.G. Wells, and another unhappy marriage, this time to the 2nd Earl Russell (whom she satirized in her 1921 novel Vera), she led a peripatetic life that took her all over Europe and the United States. She died in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1941.

Perhaps the most delightful part of The April Baby’s Book of Tunes are its 16 charming color illustrations by the great children’s book artist Kate Greenaway. It was one of Greenaway’s last published works; she tragically died in 1901 of breast cancer at the age of 55. She was justly famous for her use of vibrant color in depicting beautiful children in beautiful surroundings, and The April Baby’s Book of Tunes is no exception.

As if that weren’t enough, the book features 10 little songs, prettily arranged for voice and piano (presumably by von Arnim herself; the composer is not credited). In the HTML version at Project Gutenberg, you can click on links to hear the music and download the notation if you wish.

The April Baby’s Book of Tunes is “Elizabeth’s” only children’s book, but it’s a lovely example of the genre. It could not fail to be, with Kate Greenaway’s entrancing illustrations.

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


Celebrating 37,000 Titles

April 16, 2019

Distributed Proofreaders celebrates the 37,000th title it has posted to Project Gutenberg, French Painting of the 19th Century in the National Gallery of Art. Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it.

french_painting_cover_blogAmong the joys for those who love both art and books are museum publications featuring their collections or exhibitions. Distributed Proofreaders’ 37,000th title, French Painting of the 19th Century in the National Gallery of Art is an excellent example of the delights available in this form. It’s a short booklet, just 43 pages, but it’s filled with lovely color plates of 16 selections from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery of Art was the brainchild of Pittsburgh banker and industrialist Andrew Mellon.  He had begun collecting art in the 1890s on the advice of his friend Henry Clay Frick, whose own vast collection later became a very fine New York City museum. In 1936, Mellon — who was then embroiled in tax difficulties — approached the Roosevelt Administration with an offer to build a national art gallery, to be formed from his personal art collection and maintained by the U.S. Government with the help of a substantial financial endowment. Mellon never saw the gallery completed, however; he died in 1937, and the gallery opened in 1941.

The French Paintings booklet approaches the art chronologically, from the neoclassical work of Jacques-Louis David — famous for his portraits of Napoleon, one of which is included in the booklet — to modernists like Auguste Renoir, whose Girl with a Watering Can graces the cover. Each color plate is accompanied by a short description of the painting and its place in art history, as well as the donor’s identity (the majority were donated by New York banker Chester Dale).

Museum publications like this one were designed to make art — or history or science — more accessible to museum visitors. Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg make publications like this accessible worldwide to anyone with access to a computer, tablet, or smartphone, including people who may never see a museum in person.

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


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.


April Fools

April 1, 2018

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Looking for a way to celebrate April Fool’s Day? Project Gutenberg has a few amusing works on pranks and hoaxes, thanks to the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders.

Bram Stoker, best known for Dracula, penned an entertaining volume on Famous Impostors. Here we find pretenders to various thrones, dabblers in magic and alchemy, witches and wizards, false claimants to great fortunes, and a number of celebrated hoaxes of bygone times.

One such hoax was the brainchild of professional practical joker Theodore Hook, who bragged of his exploits in The Choice Humorous Works, Ludicrous Adventures, Bons Mots, Puns, and Hoaxes of Theodore Hook. His most famous prank was the Berners Street Hoax. On a bet that he could make any house the most talked about in London, he ordered numerous goods and services to be delivered to an address in Berners Street, all in one day. Hook’s shenanigans are also cited in an essay by Irish writer Robert Lynd on “The Humour of Hoaxes” in The Book of This and That.

The American West in the 19th Century presented opportunities for get-rich-quick schemes that were often founded on swindles. Pioneer and adventurer Asbury Harpending tries to clear his “family name and reputation” in his account of The Great Diamond Hoax, a purported diamond field in California that had in fact been “salted” with cheap gems.

For those who like their pranks dramatized, there’s the one-act farce April Fools, part of an 1889 collection of plays “for Church, School and Parlor Exhibitions.” The plot is a bit reminiscent of Hook’s Berners Street Hoax:

Mr. Peter Dunnbrowne, a gentleman with several unmarried daughters on his hands, receives a note from Mr. John Smith proposing for his daughter Fanny. Presently Mr. James Smith calls, he having received a letter announcing that Mr. D’s mare Fanny is for sale, and an amusing dialogue at cross purposes ensues. This disposed of, Mr. Joseph Smith, an undertaker, calls, he having been notified that Miss Fanny had suddenly died, and another puzzle follows.

We won’t give away the “surprise” ending…

Of course, children love April Fool’s Day pranks, and there are several children’s books at PG with stories about them, including Fun and Frolic, The Last Penny, and A Flock of Girls and Boys.

It just goes to show that Project Gutenberg has something for every occasion — with over 56,000,000* e-books in its library, that’s no surprise.

*56,000. April Fool!


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