The fourth annual Douglas Day Transcribe-a-thon


The Division of Global Cultures, the Office of Diversity Affairs and the Sordoni Art Gallery sponsored its fourth annual Douglas Day Transcribe-a-Thon in Breiseth Hall from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Feb. 14.

The focus for transcription was on the records of activist and writer Mary Ann Shadd Cary. All that came were able to stay and aid in transcribing for as long as they wanted. 

Not only were students able to take part in preserving an important part of history, but it was a crucial learning moment about an incredible woman that advocated for women’s suffrage and recruited soldiers for the Union during the Civil War. 

“The Transcribe-a-Thon is about getting people together to help digitize important archives of Black Americans,” said Dr. Chris Zarpentine, associate professor of philosophy and division of global cultures chair.

Many students and faculty members were excited to celebrate the fourth annual Douglass Day Transcribe-a-Thon. According to Dr. Amy Sopcak-Joseph, assistant professor of history, Douglass Day is administered through the Center for Black Digital Research at Penn State and the Colored Conventions Project.

“I love a good history lecture, don’t get me wrong, but Douglass Day lets us learn and make an impact at the same time instead of just passively taking in information,” said Sopcak-Joseph. “It truly is so much easier to learn and feel the importance of knowledge when one is actively engaging with the works of that time.”

From the first Transcribe-a-Thon occurring on campus in Feb. 2020 on the eve of COVID-19, to transitioning to virtual, and now being able to come back full swing, it was a significant event to be able to participate in alongside many institutions in the country.  

“Students had an interactive experience and the ability to make a small but really important impact on history- right here from campus,” said Dr. Sopcak-Joseph. “A website held all of the documents and/or pictures that needed to be transcribed and participants simply typed anything that they read.”

Participants transcribed historical text on a document, which helped make these texts more word-searchable for researchers and teachers. It was an important way to make historical archives accessible to a broader audience.

There were light refreshments offered in Breiseth Hall during this event for all transcribers to enjoy and from the looks of it the student body was excited to be involved. 

“I would always be interested in events being held to honor and respect people of my culture,” said Nate Whitaker, junior digital design and media arts major. “I think it is important for events like these to be held and for students to get involved in.”

Look out for other Black History Month-related events happening on campus throughout the rest of the month.