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Transcribe-a-thon at Marquette honors the work of Frederick Douglass

Portrait of Frederick Douglass.
Portrait of Frederick Douglass.
Transcribe-a-thon event flyer.
Transcribe-a-thon event flyer.

Frederick Douglass, the famous activist and statesman, was born into slavery. Like many enslaved people, he didn’t know what his birth date had been, so chose his own birthday: Feb. 14, now known by some as Douglass Day. In honor of his birthday and Black History Month, Marquette University is joining other institutions around the country for what’s known as a transcribe-a-thon.

"The idea behind this event, the Douglas transcribe-a thon, is to involve people all over the country and really all over the world in typing out clean copies of many of these archived materials that might be a little bit hard to interpret," says Dr. Jenn Fishman, co-director of the Ott Memorial Writing Center, one of the organizations at Marquette that is putting on the event.

The event brings together people to help transcribe archival pieces related to Douglass' work and his contemporaries in the movement. This work can include typing up handwritten speeches, printed flyers, or recorded speeches and conversations. These transcriptions help make these archives accessible and searchable.

Marquette has been participating in the transcribe-a-thon since 2019 and in that time Fishman says the event has allowed people to engage in "activist learning" and understand Douglass' work in a new light.

"Whether you know a great deal, whether you're first learning, you're sort of inside this, trying to interpret why these words were so important at any given time, and why they might still resonate with us today," says Fishman.

Marquette's Douglass Day Transcribe-A-Thon eventwill be all day Feb. 14 on the first floor of Marquette's Raynor Memorial Library.

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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