Assignment 1 – The American Soldier.

Zooniverse is one of the most rewarding and gratifying crowdsourcing websites in which I had the pleasure of participating in. Crowdsourcing today has most definitely become more and more prominent. My experience of crowdsourcing first began last year when we completed an assignment regarding Open Street Mapping, which was undeniably rewarding upon completion. However, Zooniverse is a big step up. Zooniverse allows for a variety which engages with your interests, making it more intriguing for those who wish to help with crowdsourcing while also participating in something that they find interesting. Zooniverse allows you to explore and contribute to over 90 crowdsourcing projects. The way in which you participate in Zooniverse is completely up to you, whether you complete a task or not, it is your decision.
Upon making an account the process was quite clear and simple, I had made my account within minutes. The information needed from me was very limited in nature as all that was required was simply my name, email and a password. It would have been more secure if they asked more personal questions such as what degree I am studying or where I am from, just to get a sense of who is participating. The website itself was appealing to the eye. Everything was very clear and precise, I didn’t get lost or confused about where to click which was quite helpful. There were clear headings such as “Projects”, “About”, “Get Involved” and so on, which again made navigation quite clear and comfortable. Under “Projects” was a staggering 96 projects to choose from ranging from sections that suit people most such as “Arts”, “Languages” and more. You can see which projects are active, paused or finished.
From browsing Zooniverse, I was immediately drawn to the projects under the “History” section, as history has always been something I was quite interested in since studying it for my leaving cert. I wanted to engage my minor in intermediate Italian into this project also, so I began about finding a project with both Italian and history. There were 14 projects to choose from which unfortunately none of them linked to Italy but managed to link to topics which I have studied in Italian. However, after much searching, I choose the project “The American Soldier”. There was a detailed introduction and a brief about this project which aims to “make available to scholars and to the public a remarkable collection of written reflections on war and military service by American soldiers who served during the Second World War” (Zooniverse, 2019).
Figure 1.

When beginning this project, I was first introduced to a quick pop up tutorial on how to classify, identify and achieve the main goal of this project. The tutorial was quite simple to follow with the aid of pictures with a quick explanation. I was then given a random picture of a document in which I had to distinguish each of the documents with four options [Figure One]. There was a variety of questions presented depending on which option you chose. I had the option to zoom in or out or enlarge the image while also letting me drag around the image to get a closer feel. Depending on each question shown, I was then asked to distinguish what answers each soldier had chosen and written. The questions asked were mainly about the soldiers’ personal experiences such as if they can sleep at night, do they get nervous, do their hands ever tremble or if they ever get upset or worried and more [Figure Two]. The questions that were asked allowed for each soldier to express themselves in full honesty, letting them write lengthy, detailed and personal accounts.

Figure 2.

The most challenging aspect of this project was trying to decipher each written text as the handwriting was sometimes quite difficult to read. However, upon further inspection, there is a feature called “field guide” which teaches you how to understand different types of writing. I was quite impressed by this as it truly helped me to grasp the concept of cursive writing [Figure Three].

Figure 3.

By adding this feature, it opens more opportunities for everyone to get involved, which I found quite exceptional. I did roughly about six documents, each ranging from question to question. It was quite difficult to distinguish between some words/sentences as some of them had black marks on the page or some of the writing is blotched.  Despite this, there are options to choose from if the writing is unclear. Another interesting feature was the talk option. This option allowed you to interact with others and discuss your experiences, opinions or if you simply have an inquiry. There were four options to choose from such as if you wanted a chat with the team behind the project or engage in a broader discussion with fellow Zooniverse participates. It was interesting to see other people’s opinions and ideas on this project. People were also uploading images if they could not understand the writing in which others would help, this was quite comforting as if I had any problems, I knew I could count on the community for support [Figure Four].

Figure 4.

The responses in each document had quite a huge variety, with some soldiers perceiving a negative outlook on war while some characterising war in a positive way. It was quite touching reading their responses knowing how they were in a position in which was mentally and physically challenging, this brought upon a feeling of sadness. From doing this project, it has well and truly opened my eyes about the harsh reality of war. We see soldiers as just soldiers, no names or stories but as ID numbers. However, this project gives them a voice. We get a visual insight into their thoughts, emotions and opinions which is something that deserves to be shared with the world. This project wishes to highlight and share the personal, harsh and cutting reality of war while also exploring the mindset of those soldiers involved, which is quite beautiful yet brings a feeling of grief. We truly get a glimpse into the life of a soldier, although they remain anonymous, it brings a sense of closure. It is also quite beneficial for scholarly students/teachers in history or associated fields in terms of research. ­

To get a sense of comparison, I decided to look at another project like that of “The American Soldier”. Another similar project that caught my attention was “African American Civil War Soldier” in which you must transcribe old military records from the American civil war. The style of writing was quite similar, again having that field box in the right corner to help with identifying any letters/writing that is difficult to distinguish. The instructions were quite the same as the other project. You must identify what the soldier wrote in each filed and translate each question [Figure Five].

Figure 5.

However, this was more forward and easier to identify as they are basic questions asked such as age, eye colour, occupation and so forth, unlike that of American Soldier where you had to identify quite a big piece of their own personal experience. This was much shorter and direct although personally, I did enjoy “The American Soldier” more as it was by far more engaging and more challenging. With this project, it is simply basic questions and answers while the other project had opinions and experiences making it quite more interesting. However, for the rest of this assignment, I am going to completely focus on “The American Soldier”.

In relation to my minor which is intermediate Italian, we are currently studying topics of immigration/emigration which subtly mentions those who have migrated or fled from the war. I am currently working on a five-page essay of how emigration affects those who migrate and those who live in the country. Somehow, I feel like this links quite nicely as from doing the Zooniverse project which is all about the topic of soldiers, I also see the lives of those who either fled or migrated from world war two and how they coped with such challenges. It is quite nice to have a piece of basic knowledge in Italian of such a topic. Although this project is based solely on the lives of soldiers it somehow complements nicely with Italian migration/emigration.
From doing this project I have gained various skills such as how to understand cursive writing and attention to detail while also maintaining patience. The fact that this project has over 72,000 images of survey responses which have been each digitized by the National Archives really intrigued me as one of the modules I am currently studying is based on archives and archiving, which fits in quite nicely. One of my projects in that module is working on archiving over thirty covers of The Cork Film Fest book covers from the last sixty years. The idea is quite the same as I had digitised each cover front and back and archive them on a website, Omeka. The fact that I have somewhat little experience in archiving really helped me with this project as attention to detail is extremely important. I believe that this experience will truly help me with the Cork Film Fest project as I have learned how to pay attention to detail, no matter how big or small. I hope that in the future If I work on archival projects or any form of crowdsourcing, that this experience of using Zooniverse will benefit me. 

Although I have a small experience of crowdsourcing in the past, I am more open to being more active whether it be Zooniverse or another crowdsourcing site. Zooniverse is free and quite accessible to use. The idea that you can pick up where you left off is very important as it allows you to work at your own pace. After doing this assignment, I have downloaded the Zooniverse application on my phone, as I use my phone more than my computer. I simply log in and carry on with my different crowdsourcing projects when I am either bored or I sometimes get the urge to experience different projects. The fact that you can download the application or use Zooniverse on your computer again adds to the diversity of this site, which is another reason why it is so successful. I feel that I carried out each objective to the best of my ability, bringing in my history skills and knowledge from school and my minor subject.

                                                            Bibliography
“Zooniverse.” Zooniverse.org. Accessed February 10, 2019. https://www.zooniverse.org/projects?discipline=history&page=1&status=live.