This is a guest post by Joshua Levy, a historian in the Manuscript Division.
In 1960, John Steinbeck set out on a months-long road trip to reacquaint himself with his country. He returned not with clear answers but with his head a “barrel of worms.”
The America he saw was too intertwined with how he felt in the moment, and with his own Americanness, to permit an objective account of the journey. “External reality,” he wrote, “has a way of being not so external after all.”
Pandemics aren’t the only reason Americans have found sanctuary in our homes, or the only anxious times we’ve itched to escape them. The American road trip was first popularized during the auto camping craze of the 1920s, with its devotion to freedom and communing with nature, but it was democratized after World War II.
The golden age of the American family vacation came during the very height of the Cold War. It was a time when, according to historian Susan Rugh, the family car became a “home on the road… a cocoon of domestic space” in which families could feel safe to explore their country.
In today’s post, By the People community managers Carlyn Osborn, Lauren Algee, and Abby Shelton reflect back on changes in their program since March 2020. Launched in 2018, By the People is a volunteer engagement and collection enhancement program at the Library of Congress that invites the public to explore and transcribe documents on the Library’s website, loc.gov. When transcriptions are completed by volunteers, they are integrated back into the Library’s online catalog, where they become fully searchable and readable by accessibility technologies.
Fifteen months ago, the By the People crowdsourced transcription program was in a different place.
We had launched fewer than a dozen campaigns representing 50,000 pages from the Library of Congress collection on crowd.loc.gov, and recruited and registered around 12,000 volunteers. Compare this to July 2021, where we now have 24 campaigns representing over 500,000 pages, with 25,000 registered volunteers. As the Covid-19 pandemic unfolded in March and April 2020, activity on our site more than doubled and suddenly we were seeing demand for Library of Congress virtual volunteering like never before.
During this transformational and challenging time, we were also asked to introduce an entirely new user group to By the People: fellow Library of Congress staff. As our buildings largely closed to the public fifteen months ago, many staff (including us) transitioned to telework. For some Library of Congress staff, it was possible to do their normal work remotely, but for many, it was necessary to identify new kinds of remote projects. In this context, as an already 100% virtual program, we were able to provide safe opportunities for our colleagues who needed to rapidly shift to remote work.
In fact, corn has traditionally been a symbol of life and fertility, particularly among the native peoples of the Americas, so I was delighted to see how artists and designers realized corn’s ripe possibilities in a variety of contexts.
Possibly my favorite is this musically inclined fellow composed of corn cob, leaves, and tassels (a composition that simultaneously demonstrates the rich linguistic play the word corn offers–I didn’t appreciate until I read the description that he is playing the cornet!):
For many of us, for better or for worse, the internet is home.
Our communities are here, because many of them could not exist any other way.
Superfans, shitposters, amateur experts, wiki nerds, grizzled forum moderators, obsessive sneaker enthusiasts, and hobbyists who spend a substantial amount of their time photographing vintage Furbies in human clothes, for example—the cultural and creative output of these communities is enormous and ever growing.
The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in commemorating and encouraging the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.
Spanning a timeframe of more than 200 years and showcasing over 200 objects, this exhibition examines the ways American girls have spoken up, challenged expectations and been on the frontlines of change.
Girlhood (It’s complicated) commemorates the anniversary of woman suffrage by exploring the concept of girlhood in the United States, but also how girls changed history in five areas: politics, education, work, health, and fashion. (Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History) View the exhibition »