The Newsbook Transcription Project

For several years Tyger’s Head Books has been transcribing the English Civil War newsbooks. These pamphlets, printed during the Civil War and containing vital historical information, mostly survive in the Thomason Tracts at the British Museum. Whilst the pamphlet contents are public domain, and public access is not restricted – anyone can view the pamphlets or download electronic copies of the originals for research – access is restricted in practical terms by virtue of them only being available at the British Library, or at a computer terminal in larger libraries with an academic subscription, or by individual academic login through an institution that subscribes to the relevant system.

Even when access is possible, the newsbooks are not indexed or otherwise searchable in any way, and there is no way to find small details without trawling through every item by hand.

Making the newsbook texts fully searchable was why in 2013 Tyger’s Head Books began transcribing, indexing and publishing them (Mercurius Civicus volumes I and II); however, this is a slow process, and if the newsbooks are to be searchable any time soon, the process has to change.

Crowd-sourced Transcription
The best way to achieve this is to move to a ‘crowd-sourced’ model of transcription, and make the results available online, and Tyger’s Head is moving forward as follows.

The project will be hosted in a login-controlled section of the new Tyger’s Head Books website, and will have two phases.

1) Transcription phase
2) General user phase

The transcription phase will require volunteer transcribers, and will last for as long as it takes to get all the newsbooks transcribed. During this phase, access to all the currently transcribed material will be available to transcribers who have completed and returned an initial package of 10 newsbook transcriptions. In return they will be given a free, permanent login to the site, which they will be able to use even during the remainder of the transcription phase, as the site is being populated. They can, of course, continue to transcribe after submitting their initial 10 transcriptions, until the project is complete.

When all the newsbooks are transcribed and uploaded, the system will be opened up to general subscribers, requiring a small monthly fee to cover the ongoing hosting and associated costs. Transcribers will continue to have free access.

Example of page from the English Civil War Newsbooks

Printed, but unsearchable pages from a printed English Civil War newsbook

Beyond the Newsbooks
After the newsbook work is complete, other transcribed material will be made available to subscribers over time, for example the Calendar of the Committee of Compounding and Sequestration, which Tyger’s Head will also be publishing in paper format.

Tyger’s Head plans to continue publishing in paper format, as well as making material available online. The exception is volunteer-transcribed newsbooks, which will only be available online.

How To Become A Volunteer Transcriber
Simply email and volunteer, and we’ll send you instructions. You don’t need to be an ‘academic’, or have an academic login with an institution, all you need is a computer, eyes, a PDF file reader (see below), and any version of Microsoft Word/Open Office Writer. A liking for detective work – in this case, deciphering unclear print, or working out who a named individual is – would be a bonus.

You will need software that can read PDFs, for example Adobe’s Acrobat Reader, which is free to download. Any PDF-reading software will do, however, as you only need to view the PDF, you don’t need to do anything to it.

If you have an academic login and would be able to use it to access the material directly (via the Early English Books database), or, if you have access to a library which maintains its own academic subscriptions and allows visitors to access the material via a terminal, please let us know – this will save time and administration (to clarify: Tyger’s Head is not connected to any academic institution).

All the newsbooks are printed, and usually they are relatively easy to read (see image above). Although sometimes the text may be faint, or obscured by ink bleed-through, requiring patience to decipher it, you do not need to understand contemporary ‘secretary hand’, or decipher handwritten documents.

You can stop volunteering at any time, but will only be able to get a free permanent login after you’ve submitted the initial 10 transcriptions.

If you have any questions, please get in touch.