I have from time to time mentioned the online courses I take from Coursera , and one of those courses, which I am about 2/3 through, is a course on Spanish documents from the 15th century that deal with the relationship between Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the town of Placensia, Spain. Today, in looking at the lectures (and quizzes) for the course, I was struck by how the course itself is seeking to use its roughly 7000 students around the world as a resource in transcribing a test quickly and thus saving a lot of time for the professor, who is himself a researcher in ancient texts dealing with the Conviviencia (that is, the Coexistence) of different faiths in Spain before the dominance of Catholicism over the whole peninsula, leading ultimately to the expulsion of Jews and Muslims or to their uncomfortable attempts at blending in as Catholics, with varying degrees of success. What would take the researcher himself several years to do on his own will be done in a few weeks with the help of a lot of citizen scholars.
There is a saying that many hands make a light work, and research would appear to be one of those areas. Part of this week’s required reading for the class was a document that sought to provide some examples and strategies for transcribing texts that was specifically tailored for the document that we will all be transcribing in the last three weeks of the class. Surely, this is a technique that has a great deal of use in other areas. I am familiar with computers being used for such matters as the search for extraterrestrial life, or other ways in which the computing power of many can help solve problems that require brute strength in order to resolve through the processing of data. That said, the use of numerous citizen scholars to help make large and complicated texts accessible for others to study is not a phenomenon I am as familiar with.
Of course, naturally I wonder if there are other sorts of transcriptions that would be as useful for a mass group of citizen scholars. One thing I am curious about knowing is the extent to which there are documents from the Church of God history (whether one is looking at the Seventh Day Baptists of Rhode Island or the various newsletters of Sabbatarians throughout the 19th and 20th century) that have not gotten a lot of attention because they are only in obscure manuscripts that have never been transcribed on the computer. There are plenty of citizen scholars in the Church of God who would be willing to transcribe such documents, especially if there was a place for their open dissemination for researchers on the Church of God and its history, as well as a modest credit (like a webpage thank you to contributors) for those willing to engage in such a project. If someone can find 7000 people to transcribe religious documents in Spanish, surely there can be at least a few hundred Church of God members who would be willing to help out with providing solid source data for better knowing our own history, right?
 See, for example: