Get to Know Medieval Londoners: A Crowd-Sourcing Project on Zooniverse
The Get to Know Medieval Londoners project, led by Grace Campagna, uses a browser-based crowdsourcing platform called Zooniverse to create digital transcriptions and structured data from medieval records. The source material is composed of over 3,000 medieval property records from London’s Husting Court. The original records are held in the London Metropolitan Archives, but are written in a highly abbreviated Latin court hand that is not suitable for a public-facing project. Fortunately, researchers had created more accessible versions as part of a project led by Derek Keene called The Social and Economic Study of Medieval London c. 1100-1666, which ran from 1979 to 1988 and was based at the Centre for Metropolitan History. This initiative examined the history of property ownership in select London parishes, especially those centered on the market areas of Cheapside and Walbrook. The lead researchers, Derek Keene and Vanessa Harding, with help from Martha Carlin, John Stedman, David Crouch, and Joanna Mattingly, transcribed and translated several thousand property records onto index cards. The result was a large set of expertly prepared material that is suitable for a public-facing project and addresses accessibility issues surrounding the legibility of the sources for a non-specialist audience.
In summer 2022, the Institute of Historical Research, which holds the index cards, facilitated our work in making high quality scans, which have now all been uploaded to the project website. After several months of testing and development, Get to Know Medieval Londoners officially launched on June 28th, 2022. In its first few months, the project attracted over 1,300 volunteers who made over 16,000 data classifications. By the first week of July 2023, 80 percent of the workflows accounginting for some 20,000 classifications had been completed by 1,770 volunteers. The site features extensive discussion boards for asking questions and sharing findings. Through dialogue with each other and the project team, participants have added dozens of new abbreviations to reference guides, helped each other translate phrases from Anglo-Norman, found rare examples of women admitted to the freedom of the city, and much more. Volunteers joining the project for the first time will find a community of like-minded people who are fascinated by history and eager to share their knowledge with one another.
Volunteers from around the world can participate in the project with no training—an internet connection is all that is required. Participants help with data collection through workflows, which provide prompts to identify people and geographic locations in the documents. Zooniverse is the ideal platform for this work because it is free for both participants and researchers, runs on all major browsers, and already has an extensive and dedicated volunteer base. All of the data produced during the course of the project will become part of the Medieval Londoners Database, which governs many of the data collection standards used in this project.. Volunteers will receive credit for their work through a cataloguer field in the database.
Get to Know Medieval Londoners is affiliated with the Medieval Londoners Project, both of which are hosted by the Center for Medieval Studies at Fordham University. Check the Get to Know Medieval Londoners announcement board for updates or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information about the project.