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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Noses to the grindstone

Just three weeks after Jane Austen’s House launched its much-hyped group effort to transcribe the unpublished memoir of Austen’s older brother Francis, the project is already well underway.


“Our global community of transcribers is hard at work, working from high resolution photographs of the original manuscript to accurately copy down each word and punctuation mark, to create a full, accurate transcript,” Jane Austen’s House announced in a post on its website. “We will check each page and collate a full transcription. Eventually, the full Memoir will be published here on our website for all to read.”


As blog readers will recall, last month the museum asked for volunteers willing to transcribe a single page of Frank Austen’s seventy-eight-page memoir, which was privately owned until Jane Austen’s House bought it at auction in 2023. More than two thousand Janeites applied for the job within the first twenty-four hours—so many that the museum quickly closed down the process.


It’s not clear how the winners were chosen, but at least five—including a British novelist, an American Austen scholar, and a Brazilian whose X bio describes her as a writer, archaeologist-in-training, and tarot card reader—have tweeted about their participation in the project. (Tweets can be found here, here, here, here, and here.)


I note that Jane Austen’s House, which initially billed the initiative as a more-or-less genuine scholarly endeavor, has taken to calling it “a community engagement project . . . . that will bring together amateur historians, friends of the museum and fans of Jane Austen’s work.” Since it’s transparently clear that the purpose of the crowd-sourcing was to get people interested in the museum, rather than to speed up production of a transcript that would probably take a literary scholar just a few days to complete, this reformulation seems a good deal more accurate to me.


Even if you weren’t one of the chosen few transcribers, you can still take a stab at translating Frank’s spidery nineteenth-century hand: The whole manuscript can be viewed on the Jane Austen’s House website. And of course we’ll soon have the crowd-sourced transcript to enjoy.


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