The Arch Project is a collaborative tool that helps you transcribe, share and discover historical manuscripts.

There are tens of millions of pages of manuscript material in archives around the world. Much of it is incompletely indexed, hard to find and harder to access. That makes the work of historians harder; it also separates the general public from from the original sources that underpin our understanding of the past.

The goal of The Arch Project is to make out-of-copyright manuscripts easier to find and use. By making historical documents available and searchable online, we hope it will be easier for people to discover the connections that so improve our understanding of the past.

Who are we?

Well, right now we're only one. My name is Anthony House. I have a doctorate in Modern History from Oxford. You can find my thesis here: The City of London and the Problem of the Liberties, c1540 - c1640. Since leaving Oxford, I've been working for a technology company in London where (among other things) I've learned a little bit of code and a lot about the general benefits of making more high-quality information online.

That's why I started work on The Arch Project in August 2010. I built the site from scratch, and I'm paying for the hosting out of my own pocket (though I'm hoping to subsidise the costs of running it with advertising at some point soon. I'd welcome your support! If you're a researcher, please contribute your transcriptions by registering as a contributor. If you're an historian with tech skills or a geek with a passion for history...or if you just want to donate five quid to help keep the site up and running, get in touch. In any case, I hope the site helps people learn something new about the past. That's why it's here.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why should I make my transcriptionss public?

The short answer: transcribing historical manuscripts to The Arch Project makes it easier for people to find and use them.

The long answer: There are tens of millions of pages of manuscript material trapped in archives around the world. They're hard to find and hard to use. A very small proportion of the world's manuscripts have been published, or even indexed thoroughly. While an increasing number of archives are putting scans of their items online. But optical character recognition technology is no match for the handwriting of the past. So those scans remain unsearchable, and therefore difficult to find.

Historians of all stripes--academics, graduate students, local & family historians, antiquarians, etc.--work tirelessly to discover the information those manuscripts contain, and to put that information in context. In most cases, however, the process of discovery is solitary.: transcriptions remain isolated, either in the historian's notebook or personal computer. By transcribing historical manuscripts to The Arch Project, you will help others--historians and the general public alike--discover information about the past. In time, The Arch Project will make it easier for historians to discover information--and the connections between seemingly disparate facts. That way, they can spend less time trying to find information and more time putting that information in context.

But I don't want someone to publish my discovery before I do...

We've found that most breakthroughs are incremental. It's not the information contained in a single folio or scroll but a knowledge of the general context of that information that matters. A given historian may transcribe seemingly incidental information that, to another historian, represents a major breakthrough. The Arch Project makes those discoveries easier, but it needs your help.

If you do stumble across something so groundbreaking that you can't share it with the world immediately, though, we allow the first transcriber of an item to make it secret for up to twelve months. We ask that you use this option sparingly, as it undermines our collective understanding of the past. After the period of secrecy is up, your transcription will appear in the general corpus of The Arch Project. In addition, if someone else transcribes the same item, their transcription will be public, and you will be notified.

What about materials under copyright?

Don't transcribe them! The Arch Project is for historical manuscripts that are out of copyright. Ifs you find something on The Arch Project to whcih you own the copyright, please send us the URL through the feedback page, and we'll remove it. Contributors who repeatedly transcribe items under copyright may be banned from membership.

Why do I have to license my contributions under Creative Commons?

The goal of The Arch Project is to improve access to information about the past. By contributing, you're making the information you transcribe available to the whole web, and the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License 3.0 (Unported) makes that possible. If you want more information, please see our Terms of Use.

Product Roadmap

This is only the beginning for The Arch Project. We're working on additional features that will make it better:

  • The ability to tag dates that appear in items--in a variety of calendars.
  • Map integration, so that you can tag the locations in an item, and discover items related to a specific place.
  • Improved search: by location or date.
  • Name tags, for easier identification across different manuscripts.
  • The ability to upload images of a manuscript.
  • Sharing a private transcription with other specific users.
  • Language tags for individual items.
  • Translation options.
  • Messaging system so you can connect with other contributors (if you want).