Readers may recall that some time back we alerted you to the new Civil War Bluejackets Project, which is exploring Civil War sailors through an examination of the recently digitised Ship’s Muster Rolls. Somewhere in the vicinity of 20% of these sailors were Irish-born. The project (which Damian of Irish in the American Civil War is working on) has now moved into the data gathering phase, with the launch this month on the Zooniverse Citizen Science platform of the transcription element. This calls for volunteers to become project Citizen Scientists and help to transcribe the Muster Rolls of these U.S. vessels that served through the war. If any of our readers are interested in participating, you can click here to go to the Zooniverse Project Page– and we are keen to spread the word far and wide! The project Press Release that went out in Ireland is included below if you would like to find out a bit more…
PRESS RELEASE: MAJOR NEW PROJECT TO REVEAL NEW INSIGHTS INTO ORDINARY IRISH 19TH CENTURY SAILORS IN THE U.S. NAVY
A major new research project involving historians and computer scientists will help tell the stories of ordinary United Sailors in the American Civil War in ways never before possible. The “Civil War Bluejackets” Project—so named because of the distinctive uniform worn by U.S. Civil War sailors—is a collaboration between Irish historians Professor David Gleeson and Dr Damian Shiels at Northumbria University, information and data scientists at the University of Sheffield and the University of Koblenz-Landau, and U.S. partners including the United States Naval Academy Museum. Funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, the project launches on 6 September 2022 with a call for citizen volunteers to help transcribe tens of thousands of Civil War “Muster Rolls”, documents that were carried on board U.S. ships and which capture the personal details of the c.118,000 men who fought on water for the Union between 1861 and 1865. The project team are making use of the online Zooniverse platform to share tens of thousands of these Muster Rolls, and are asking the public to help in revealing their contents. Principal Investigator (and Tipperary native) Professor David Gleeson of Northumbria University said:
“We are calling on “people-power” to help us tell the story of common sailors in the Civil War in a way never before possible. We estimate that some 20 percent of these men were born in Ireland, many more were the children of Irish emigrants. With your help, we aim to create a new freely available database of these men, and use the information generated by citizen scientists to explore the social and military experiences of these ordinary people in a way never before possible.”
As well as using public transcriptions to decipher the Muster Rolls, the team also hope to develop new software to allow computers to “read” 19th century hand-writing. Co-Investigator Dr Morgan Harvey of the University of Sheffield commented:
“By comparing the public’s transcriptions with the original 19th century hand-writing, we hope to “train” computers to assist in the reading and deciphering of historic documents, thereby creating a major new tool in the armoury of anyone interested in uncovering the past.”
Included among the stories the team hope to reveal are those of the thousands of Irish who departed these shores and ended up helping the U.S. battle the Confederacy on water. It will also examine the large numbers of others—including thousands of recently enslaved African Americans—who donned the U.S. Navy’s famous bluejacket during the conflict. Among the information the project aims to reveal are answers to questions such as where U.S. Civil War sailors came from, their background and what they did before they enlisted, how they lived and interacted on board, and what became of some of them in the years after the conflict.
Those interested in finding out more about the project can visit the www.civilwarbluejackets.com website, or go direct to the Zooniverse Civil War Bluejackets page at https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/bluejackets/civil-war-bluejackets.