Document Photography at the Hawai‘i State Archives
We continue to expand our collection. The documents in our initial corpus were scanned as a part of a collaboration giving us access to a SMA 21 overhead document scanner. In 2009 we acquired a Canon 5D Mark II digital camera. Working off of a tripod, with a custom book cradle and portable studio lighting, we continue to digitize documents in the basement of the Hawai`i State Archives.
Our camera work has been a continual process of experimentation and evolution of process. The product reflects well upon the skill and hard work of Ray Wang, who has been doing the photography.
The camera gives us some unique capabilities that scanners do not. We have found that for loose leaf collections it is possible to image successive pages more rapidly than is possible with a scanner. For delicate and crumbling documents the camera is a more gentle interaction with the page. Finally, the enormous sensor in the Canon allows us to obtain very detailed color photos of our documents. This image quality allows us to bring these documents to life and, when faced with faded ink or ancient pencil on yellowed pages, allows us to discern characters in the images that would otherwise be lost.
In the last two years we have been imaging the records of the Crown Lands Commission, records and opinions of the Attorney General, and records of the Commissioners of Rights of Way and Water Controversies along with case files in pre-Statehood Water Law. We must acknowledge the fantastic support we get from the folks at the Hawaii State Archives in giving us space in which to work and access to their collection.
Hawaiian Manuscript Transcription
The original language of government in Hawai‘i was of course, Hawaiian. Much of the early government record was transcribed in both Hawaiian and English. We have subjected that to optical character recognition (OCR), and that has been uploaded to our databases. Much of the early record, particularly that in Hawaiian, remains in manuscript. The images will be uploaded shortly but the documents will be accessible only as images unless transcribed.
To continue to strive toward full access to the text of our Hawaiian language documents, including full text searching, we are transcribing the manuscript. Law students with scholarship or community service obligations along with some volunteering, all with proficiency in Hawaiian, receive our documents on cd, transcribe the contents into word as their schedules allow and email their work to be assembled for upload.
The output of our OCR is error filled. This is a reflection of the variable quality of early typesetting and the effects of time on the printed page. We are striving to clean up our data to create an accurate digital record that reflects well on the history of Hawai‘i and upon our law school. Last June we held a day long work party at the law school in which you pitched in to help. Students, staff and faculty, alumni and lawyers in the community attended. We had prosecutors, a judge and community activists participating. Many of our attendees were students and faculty from other departments at the University. We had participants from Kamehameha Schools and OHA. All brought laptops to the work party, received OCR data to work on along with the source document images and all set about fixing the errors in the data.
Our volunteers cleaned up twelve hundred pages of digital documents collectively. All of their work has been compiled and uploaded and can be seen in the legislative journals and the records of the Privy Council. It was hard work for all, the enthusiasm was continuous and the product now belongs to the community. We look forward to our next pā‘ina.