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AnnoTate – Tate and Zooniverse’s crowdsourced transcription project – has now been live for five months, and during this time over 10,000 participants have worked to transcribe more than 20,000 documents. The materials being transcribed are items containing text from artists’ archives in Tate’s collection, which range from annotated sketches, observations, letters and poetry, to correspondence and administrative documents. Many of the AnnoTate participants share details of their transcription travails on the AnnoTate Talk forum, posting the source documents and commenting on the pleasures, problems, and peculiarities encountered whilst undertaking the tasks at hand.

The project has proved fascinating in all its complexity, and has covered much new ground in the emergent field of crowdsourced contextual transcription. Indeed the difficulties encountered in the transcription process are as enlightening as the successes. For example, a number of transcribers have encountered spots of pother when just one hard-to-read word on a page obscures the broader meaning of a document, confusing entire sentences – or worse, passages. This can be caused by a number of things; semantic drift for example, which describes the process of words changing their meaning over time. Often it’s do with context – knowing an artists’ pet name or their circle’s private slang can prove useful! Other times it’s a matter of cursive script - whether neatly or messily rendered – proving tricky to decipher.

However these instances allow Talk to come in to its own, with other community members sharing knowledge to support their peers, which consequentially encourages further engagement with art and artists, related histories, language, philosophy, and much more beyond. It has been a pleasure to have been involved in the Talk community, who since AnnoTate launched, have highlighted the delights and depths of the archive collections in new and inspiring ways.

First English translation of a Klaus E Hinrichsen poem

One such moment came after a Talk correspondence initiated by transcriber Barbara Jung resulted in the voluntary translation of a poem found in Klaus E Hinrichsen’s archive. Unattributed and written in German, to our knowledge, this is the first time the verses have appeared in English. The poem thoughtfully explores the abject absurdity of the internment of detainees during World War Two. Hinrichsen himself had fled to Britain during the 1930s to escape Nazi persecution. While interned in Hutchinson camp on the Isle of Man during the early 1940s, he befriended other German and Austrian scientists, musicians and artists – most notably Erich Kahn and the dadaist Kurt Schwitters – and helped to establish what became known as the ‘Hutchinson University’, where internees could while away the hours behind barbed wire in a creative spirit. The translated poem can be read below:

Let us, as slight efforts allow,

get inside the mind of the cow that grazes on the fields green and rich

on the other side of the fence-wire pitched.

How often have I asked myself with nagging doubt
the urgent question about

what thoughts occurring about our ways,
the cow has throughout her livelong days.

For instance when the cow, on her lawn
sees us at seven, at dawn

during the so-called rollcall –
how might she understand it all?

Likely with envy she thinks it a gesture
that the others are being lead to pasture.

Yet we know how the cow is wrong:
as we yearn too, those many hours long.

Also the cow might, with dismay
wonder several times a day

about the nature of the event
over there, where some men sleep in a tent –

Who knows how is it that we are able
to understand men sleeping in a stable,
whilst all the while the cattle unroused
sleep easily inside their dwellings, housed?

This is why the dumb cow maybe
thinks of humankind as she does the refugee.

And the nightguards yelling over the fence
to the cattle, simply do not make sense. 

that grazes on the fields green and rich
on the other side of the fence-wire pitched.

How often have I asked myself with nagging doubt
the urgent question about what thoughts occurring about our ways,

the cow has throughout her livelong days.

For instance when the cow, on her lawn
sees us at seven, at dawn

during the so-called rollcall –
how might she understand it all?

Likely with envy she thinks it a gesture
that the others are being lead to pasture.

Yet we know how the cow is wrong:
as we yearn too, those many hours long.

Also the cow might, with dismay
wonder several times a day

about the nature of the event
over there, where some men sleep in a tent –

Who knows how is it that we are able
to understand men sleeping in a stable,
whilst all the while the cattle unroused
sleep easily inside their dwellings, housed?

This is why the dumb cow maybe
thinks of humankind as she does the refugee.

And the nightguards yelling over the fence
to the cattle, simply do not make sense.

And so the cow might draw the conclusion
that she is in the midst of confusion

as over there the shepherd moos
as if he were in a cow’s shoes.

Dear cow, let them their will;
as the herd is silent they have to be shrill.

And sometimes the cow thinks: isn’t it unfair;
those bull calves do not take heifers there?

When every now and then, we female born
want to take a bull by the horn.

The cow does not know how accurately bromide can
replace the most beautiful woman.

I have not yet been able to reprimand
all the cow does not understand

But yet we must at neither calf nor cow sneer
when reason abiding to ourselves is unclear.

And even though it sounds like a paradox
Everybody understands the ox!

The crowdsourced transcription project AnnoTate will run until 2017, and anyone is free to join in during this time. New users can learn how to transcribe using the tutorial offered on AnnoTate, or for more information refer to Tate’s introductory blog.

There is much to explore in Tate’s Archives, and AnnoTate offers just one means of entry. AnnoTate is an outcome of the Archives & Access project, which has seen 52,000 objects from Tate’s Archive digitised and made available online. A suite of digital tools and resources (such as the Animating the Archives video series, which examines some of the stories behind Tate’s archives of British art, including Klaus E. Hinrichsen and the artist Kurt Schwitters) have also been created, and a national Learning and Outreach initiatives have been facilitated. Read more about Archives & Access here.