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01-12-2020

Huygens ING starts Goetgevonden crowdsourcing project to unlock prime source digitally

The Huygens ING starts Goetgevonden!, a crowdsourcing project on VeleHanden.nl. Volunteers can help here, based on tens of thousands of old texts, to teach software programs to read more than 1 million political decisions of the States-General and make them searchable.

The Resolutions of the States-General of the Republic of the Dutch Republic (1576-1796) are still an underused source for the history of the origin of the Netherlands. They contain more than 1 million political decisions of the central governing body of the Republic.

The Huygens Institute for History of the Netherlands will make this source fully digitally accessible in five years, using the latest digital techniques such as handwriting recognition and the help of the public. In the project Goetgevonden! citizen scientists teach the computer to read old manuscripts on the crowdsourcing platform Velehanden.nl (Many Hands). And conversely, participants get an unprecedentedly lively insight into the turbulent history of the young Republic.

In 2018, NWO awarded a large grant to the REPUBLIC project (REsolutions PUBLished In Computational environment). In this project, historians and data experts are working on online access to 1 million handwritten and printed resolutions. More than half a million pages have now been digitized and these scans will be converted into searchable text and metadata in the coming years. The latest digital techniques are used, including artificial intelligence tools such as Handwritten text recognition (HTR) and Named entity recognition (NER). But people are needed to train those tools.

Crowdsourcing project Goetgevonden!

In the project Goetgevonden! on Velehanden.nl, history buffs can help to make 50,000 scans (with 100,000 pages of handwritten text) searchable word for word. Participants do not have to transcribe themselves but correct the texts that the computer program Transkribus has already automatically produced. That’s probably enough to let the computer do the rest of the half-million pages on its own. After a pilot in the summer, the project is now being opened up to outside members. Everyone can join, knowledge of old writing is not necessary, one learns that along the way.

“It is as if you can join the most secret meetings for a while,” says crowdsourcing project leader Esther van Gelder. Anyone with an interest in Dutch history can help.

Resolutions: the decisions of a new world power

The archive of the old States-General is kept in the National Archives of the Netherlands. It covers more than 1200 meters of archive shelf. The backbone is formed by the resolution books, in which clerks recorded all the decisions taken daily by the delegates of the seven provinces.

The decisions provide a lively insight into the turbulent period in Dutch history. They are about foreign policy, warfare, overseas trade, and colonial expansion. Meetings are held on peace treaties and declarations of war; commissioned to build warships or strengthen fortifications. Ambassadors walk in and out and settle disputes or forge alliances. But the decisions also cover all kinds of internal affairs, such as trade, religion, and science: passports for merchants traveling in and out, patents for inventions, and the re-use of Catholic monasteries.

About Vele Handen

VeleHanden.nl is a crowdsourcing platform from Picturae. Picturae is a Dutch company active in digitizing and providing access to heritage collections for museums, archives and libraries at home and abroad.

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