International Tracing Service Archive (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)
The posting on Crowdsourcing + Machine Learning… reminded me to check on access to the archives of the International Tracking Service.
Let’s just say the International Tracking Service has a poor track record on accessibility to its archives. An archive of documents the ITS describes as:
Placed end-to-end, the documents in the ITS archives would extent to a length of about 26,000 metres.
Fortunately digitized copies of portions of the archives are available at other locations, such as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The FAQ on the archives answers the question “Are the records goings to be on the Internet?” this way:
Regrettably, the collection was neither organized nor digitized to be directly searchable online. Therefore, the Museum’s top priority is to develop software and a database that will efficiently search the records so we can quickly respond to survivor requests for information.
Only a small fraction of the records are machine readable. In order to be searched by Google or Yahoo! search engines, all of the data must be machine readable.
Searching the material is an arduous task in any event. The ITS records are in some 25 different languages and contain millions of names, many with multiple spellings. Many of the records are entirely handwritten. In cases where forms were used, the forms are written in German and the entries are often handwritten in another language.
The best way to ensure that survivors receive accurate information quickly and easily will be by submitting requests to the Museum by e-mail, regular mail, or fax, and trained Museum staff will assist with the research. The Museum will provide copies of all relevant original documents to survivors who wish to receive them via e-mail or regular mail.
The priority of the Museum is in answering requests for information from survivors.
However, we do know that multiple languages and handwritten texts are not barriers to creating machine readable texts for online searching.
The searches would not be perfect but even double-key entry of all the data would not be perfect.
What better way to introduce digital literate generations to the actuality of the Holocaust than to involve them in crowd-sourcing the proofing of a machine transcription of this archive?
Then the Holocaust would not a few weeks in history class or a museum or memorial to visit but experience with documents of the fates of millions.
PS: Creating trails through the multiple languages, spellings, locations, etc., by researchers than can be enhanced by other researchers, would highlight the advantages of topic maps in historical research.