By Brittany-Rae Gregory
Since childhood, I have always enjoyed learning about the historical background behind people, places and things. Being able to understand events and trends has always given me a stronger understanding of the world that we live in.
As a young tyke interested in all things architecture, I spent many Saturdays watching America’s Castles on A&E. If I searched the depths of my parent’s attic, I’m sure I could find a VHS recording of the series somewhere. These days I spend my spare time reading biographies and historical fiction, watching documentaries that chronicle historical events, listening to history podcasts like Slow Burn, and reliving historical happenings in real time through dramatic recreations such as FX’s American Crime Story series.
This year, I decided that I wanted to find a way to channel my passion for history through my community service efforts. One of the many benefits of having reliable Internet access is being able to do community service online. Even though many traditional in-person service projects have been altered as a result of the global pandemic, there are so many ways in which we can share our time and talents with neighbors in need with the same technologies that allow us to work, learn, or access medical care and essentials service from the safety of home.
The Smithsonian museums offer unique opportunities to give back online through the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers Program. Through this initiative, volunteers from around the globe can work together to transcribe historical documents for the world’s largest museum and research complex. The Smithsonian regularly relies on volunteers to help complete transcriptions, and they make it fairly easy to do so. To become a contributor, you just need an email address to create an account and begin transcribing materials.
I recently helped transcribe records from the Freedmen’s Bureau, one of the many projects available for transcription. These records help historians learn more about the lives of formerly enslaved people during the Reconstruction Era. Documents include everything from photo albums to meeting minutes which can be sorted by museums and themes.
You don’t have to live near the Smithsonian to contribute to its legacy. I enjoy contributing to this ongoing project and encourage you to find opportunities to volunteer online wherever you are. Every act of service makes a difference.