BYU Research and Writing Center will participate in Douglass Day ‘transcribe-a-thon’

Students transcribe papers by Black activists to celebrate Douglass Day last year in BYU’s Research and Writing Center. Douglass Day is Feb. 14, the date abolitionist Frederick Douglass chose to celebrate his birthday. BYU students will participate in a virtual transcribe-a-thon on Feb. 12 this year to celebrate the occasion. (Judy Weeks)

The BYU Research and Writing Center will participate in a virtual “transcribe-a-thon” on Feb. 12 to celebrate Douglass Day and honor Black History Month.

Douglass Day is held on Feb. 14, the date abolitionist Frederick Douglass chose as his birthday. RWC Associate Coordinator Shannon Liechty said the Douglass Day organization celebrates the occasion by hosting transcription events in honor of influential Black Americans.

BYU participated for the first time last year when the Douglass Day organization honored African-American scholar and activist Anna Julia Cooper. Liechty said the organization chooses a different Black American to honor each year and participants transcribe their papers. Douglass Day will honor human rights activist and teacher Mary Church Terrell this year.

The event will be held virtually from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 12. The Zoom link is on the library news website and no registration is necessary.

“There are a lot of papers for black activists, but they’re not accessible now. These transcribe-a-thon events help get them digitized so they’re accessible to everybody,” RWC assistant Judy Weeks said.

Liechty said she had heard about Douglass Day from other writing centers and felt like it would be a good thing for the BYU RWC to participate in.

“It’s a cool way to get close to history and to celebrate the work that these (influential Black Americans) did,” she said.

Students transcribe African-American scholar Anna Julia Cooper’s papers for the 2020 Douglass Day event. This year, they will honor human rights activist Mary Church Terrell. (Judy Weeks)

The Douglass Day organization’s live event starts with a 30-minute live stream discussing the person for whom the participants will transcribe, Weeks said. Then participants break away and transcribe for the next hour. They return to the national live stream for the final half-hour for closing remarks.

BYU participants gathered in the library to transcribe last year, but the event will be completely remote this year. Liechty said the Research and Writing Center hopes to create a Zoom environment where participants can share their screens and ask questions.

She also said there is usually cake, “but since everything is a lot more virtual this year, we are doing without.”

Raquel Macias, an RWC teaching assistant, said she is really excited about the transcription event. She described Terrell as an activist, advocate for civil rights and “just an amazing woman.”

“Having her writings permanently and being able to share them with the public is a big blessing because she was a woman who was able to achieve many great things in her life,” Macias said.

Weeks said she thinks it’s fun to look at the personal correspondences activists like Terrell wrote and learn more about their lives. She encouraged students to transcribe even if they cannot attend the live event. Readers interested in transcribing can find papers at the Library of Congress’ crowdsourcing page.

“It’s a really cool event,” Liechty said. “I’m grateful for these other people who have worked to make it what it is so that people around the country can participate in it.”

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