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Commemorating D-Day: Transcribing Veteran Questionnaires from the Libraries’ Cornelius Ryan World War II Papers—Join Us.

Kate Mason
May 24, 2022
Commemorating D-Day: Cornelius Ryan Story Banner
Photo courtesy of the “Cornelius Ryan Collection of World War II Papers” from University Libraries’ Mahn Center. Here Ryan works on his manuscript for the “Longest Day.” Photo by Eugene Cook.

Join Ohio University Libraries and the Canadian Research Mapping Association (CRMA) for an online panel discussion highlighting an international collaborative crowdsourcing project of transcribing and digitizing questionnaires from the Libraries' Cornelius Ryan Collection of World War II Papers” held June 1 from 3-4:30 p.m. via Microsoft Teams. The event is free and open to the public.

In the 1950s, Ryan, a war correspondent and best-selling author of “The Longest Day,” solicited first-hand accounts of over 150 interviews and 900 questionnaires from civilians and military personnel across the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France and Germany who had participated in the D-Day invasion at Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. 

This collection of personal stories about the battle on the shores of Normandy gives an extraordinary insight into World War II in a way that had never been seen before—through the eyes of people who lived through it.

“In order to write the books, he [Ryan] put out an ad in Readers Digest to get veterans’ accounts of D-Day and their memories, and he kept all his research material,” said Greta Suiter, manuscripts archivist and one of the presenting panelists. “These are all individual stories, and individual’s reminiscences of what they remember about World War II and D-Day.” 

Some of the compiled handwritten or typewritten questionnaires went on for quite a few pages, while other questionnaires were short and concise. 

“It gives you this insight into soldiers and veterans’ mindsets even after [the war] … So, that way too, you have had some of those experiences crystalize in people’s minds,” explained Suiter.

The interviews and questionnaires, however, are in various stages of readability like this example, and can be hard to read even with optical character recognition (OCR) software, an electronic conversion of text into machine-encoded text, so the outcome is sketchy. The need for human transcribers to undertake the transcription process became apparent and led to an international partnership to heighten discoverability of the primary resources stemming from the Cornelius Ryan Collection—which ultimately led to the campaign to recruit volunteer transcribers.

“[In 2021], we collaborated with the Canadian Research and Mapping  Association (CRMA), because they are very interested in the Canadian interviewees and questionnaires that are in the [Ryan] collection,” said Suiter …“So, [CRMA] was able to recruit transcribers.” 

According to Erin Wilson, digital imaging specialist & lab manager and one of the project coordinators, “…transcription is a vital component of digital projects that reuse textual data, such as the CRMA’s Project ’44, an interactive web map that allows users to explore WWII through digitally preserved maps, aerial imagery and war diaries. To support this effort, the CRMA recruited volunteers to transcribe the full extent (over 1,000 pages) of accounts from Canadian military personnel.”

As interviews and questionnaires were digitized, they went into FromThePage, a user-friendly crowdsourcing manuscript transcription software that supports communication between recruited volunteers and project coordinators, and from there, people from around the world could transcribe those questionnaires, which ultimately end up in CONTENTdm, the Libraries’ content management system for digital archives.

“[For researchers,] to get these to be fully searchable in CONTENTdm, having that transcription really helps,” said Suiter. “If someone is looking for a specific person, which a lot of people are wanting to find a relative., they could put in a specific name and every single questionnaire that mentions that person’s name should come up.” 

The panel discussion titled, “Commemorating D-Day: Transcribing Veteran Questionnaires from the Libraries’ Cornelius Ryan World War II Papers” is free and open to the public. Moderated by Miriam Nelson, the June 1 discussion, focusing on multiple aspects of the project, promises to be a lively conversation with panelists: Greta Suiter, University Libraries’ manuscript archivist; Sarah Powers, Alice Jennett and Luigi Mancano, volunteer transcribers; Geoff Osborne, researcher; and CRMA Executive Director Nathan Kehler. 

Through crowdsourcing efforts, like this collaborative project, the Libraries’ team of librarians and archivists hope to empower, innovate, create and push the boundaries of research. For more information, about the panel discussion or working on the project, please contact  Greta Suiter or Erin Wilson.