This summer, I met Charles M. Russell, one of America’s most important artists through his writing. I was a Digitization Assistant at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, OK. Last semester, I successfully wrote a grant to the Charles and Marion Weber Foundation in the Grant Writing for Museums Course (MSM-7063) to hire a graduate student to transcribe documents from the Charles M. Russell Research Collection (Britzman). Since I wrote the proposal, worked in the Digitization department, and knew the most about the project, I was hired for the job!
I transcribed 270 letters, stories, newspaper clippings, notes on envelopes, and text found on note cards in the collection. The 20th century American artist, Charles Marion Russell, was known for his paintings and sculptures that depict a Western American lifestyle and his quirky sense of humor. I became very familiar with his personality while transcribing his letters and stories. He wrote using a cowboy slang and purposefully used misspellings to capture conversations as they sounded. This became a challenge. My brain wanted to correct the spellings, but a true transcription records exactly what Russell wrote – misspellings included!
This project used the Distance Cataloguing Interface (DCI). This is a new software that the museum is developing. It allows outside experts and volunteers to give their own input and help catalog the museum’s collections. My specific project helped test the transcription input field, so future transcription projects could potentially be outsourced from the museum.
I learned a lot from working at Gilcrease and with the Digitization team. Before this project I was not familiar with writing styles of the late 19th and early 20th century. I learned what it takes to transcribe historical documents and make them available for public access. There is a lot more that goes into it than one would think!
Museum Science and Management Student Molly McVey