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Herencia and Cultural Patrimony: The importance of community work in Hispanic Division Services

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Royal Order of June 26, 1741 concerning payment of annuities by the city of Zaragoza in compliance with the regulations on this matter, approved and ratified on October 9, 1734.

[Haz clic aquí para la versión en español]

The Hispanic Division is excited to support the Law Library of Congress and By the People (BTP) in their invitation to improve access to a collection of Spanish Legal Documents. The Herencia BTP crowdsource campaign is the first at the Library of Congress to focus on Spanish, Catalan, and Latin language materials. In fact, it is the Library’s first entirely non-English campaign.

Crowdsourced transcription enables anyone with an internet connection to make names, dates, places, institutions, and subjects easier to find in digitized documents through enhanced metadata. Word-for-word transcriptions also enable greater readability of historical documents, including by accessibility technologies. The combination of audio accessibility and volunteer-aided discovery in the #Herencia campaign is especially significant for the Hispanic Division since both underscore our foundational services.

Since 1943, the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape has facilitated audible access to collection items written in Spanish and Catalan, as well as other languages spoken in the Caribbean, Iberia, and Latin America. The Handbook of Latin American Studies (HLAS) has engaged readers and researchers in making collection items easier to find since the first volume came out in 1935.

HLAS, an annotated bibliography comprised of references selected and evaluated by educators in the humanities and social sciences, has invited outsourced descriptive terminologies since its inception. Since 1935 and up to the present, scholars have volunteered their time and efforts to evaluate and describe thousands of works about Latin America. Legal documents had a strong showing in 1935. Nearly 500 annotations in the first volume of HLAS included the word law or ley, underscoring efforts at the time to document primary source materials in Latin America for improved access and historical study.

One exemplary essay in that volume enumerated holdings in the Colonial Archives of Guatemala in hopes of rescuing them from obscurity. The writer notes: “some 300 legajos (files) are (or were, in 1934) heaped in magnificent disorder in a rickety back room, where the mice and cockroaches have free access to them.”

Lesley Byrd Simpson. “The Colonial Archives of Guatemala.” Handbook of Latin American Studies 1 (1935): 292-234.

Technologies for preservation and access have evolved since 1936. In addition to pest control, digitization and crowdsourcing enable diverse audiences to interact with historical documents and attach searchable metadata through transcriptions.

This campaign will make familiar surnames like López, Martínez, Sánchez, Pérez or García more searchable while it reveals other fascinating information, linking additional researchers to content in historical legal documents. A previous Law Library intern, Stephanie Crespo Méndez, who worked with a similar collection, recounted how excited she was to find references to a Puerto Rican municipality about 30 minutes from her home. Transcriptions also create a body of computational text that researchers can use for emerging forms of digital research, such as analysis of word usage.

Many stories of the Americas have materialized over seven centuries in documents that reveal how Spanish officials used legal systems to ensure power; and how everyday people contested authority. The Herencia BTP campaign could enable 483 million Spanish speakers worldwide (with over 41 million in the United States) to find and search these documents.

You can help as a virtual volunteer from anywhere via the online platform. There is no need for qualifications or a specific commitment in time. You do not even have to create an account to transcribe, but registered users are able to track their work and review – the crucial final step before the Library can publish transcriptions on to aid researchers. While Spanish, Catalan or Latin language skills may be helpful, you do not need to read or speak any of these languages to participate.

By the People is the Library’s crowdsourcing platform for transcription. The Law Library will soon invite volunteers to transcribe, review, and tag the documents in our Spanish Legal Documents (15th – 19th Centuries) collection (Herencia: Centuries of Spanish Legal Documents)

Please take a moment to preview the Herencia collection items and check out the BTP platform at You might also learn more about the Spanish Legal Documents collection in previous posts on the In Custodia Legis Blog and about law in Latin American history through the HLAS database. Try a search for law AND history.

To learn more about how the transcription process works, visit the Welcome Guide.

In preparation for the first release phase of these documents later this month, the Hispanic Division will participate in two webinars. The first webinar will provide instruction on how to identify and transcribe the special scripts in the collection. The second will offer a primer on what to expect at our online/in-person transcribe-a-thon and how to hold a transcribe-a-thon on your own! In the spirit of the Herencia collection, we offer these webinars, as well as other promotional materials and instructions, in Spanish and English! We encourage you to register in advance using the links below:

To celebrate the launch of this campaign, we will hosting an on-site transcribe-a-thon here at the Library of Congress! On March 19, 2020 at 5 pm ET, we invite you to join us in the Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building. Laptops will be provided, as well as an exhibition of select documents from the Herencia collection.

Join us in the Great Hall for a Herencia Transcribe-a-thon
Thursday, March 19 2020, 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM (ET)
Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, Great Hall
10 First Street, SE
Washington, DC 20540

Off-site but online? Volunteers are encouraged to participate on, and to join in the discussion on History Hub and Twitter (@LawLibCongress@Crowd_LOC). We thank you in advance for all valuable contributions as we work to bring this collection of unique materials to life.

You can help us with this special initiative by participating as a virtual volunteer. This project does not require specific schedules or qualifications. You also don’t have to create a BTP account to transcribe, although reviewers do need to create and access your account. Contribute at times that are convenient for you. It is important to emphasize that, although it is useful to have skills in other languages, it is not necessary to speak Spanish, Catalan or Latin to participate.




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