Unlock the potential of primary source archives.

Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) is a revolutionary new technology that reads and transcribes handwritten documents.

Gale has incorporated HTR technology into our Crime, Punishment & Popular Culture, 1790–1920 archive—at no extra cost to users—and it will be available in select new Gale archives in the future.

What used to happen?

For many years, the machine-created transcription produced by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology has  made it possible to search the full text of typed documents. OCR technology cannot be applied to handwritten documents, due to the greater level of variation in written characters. Handwritten sources in Crime, Punishment & Popular Culture have previously been discoverable—but based only on their metadata (summary information). Whilst the full text of typed documents was searched, only the metadata of handwritten documents was searched. As a result, numerous relevant documents may not have appeared in a user’s search results. 


What happens now?

With Gale’s game-changing Handwritten Text Recognition technology, the full text of all handwritten documents in Crime, Punishment & Popular Culture has been digitally transcribed prior to the user’s search, meaning the full text of all documents in the archive is searchable from the user’s initial query.

What are the benefits—to users and to libraries?

  • Increased search efficiency

    Users will return a larger number of relevant results from their initial query. This will direct researchers towards relevant material more quickly, saving valuable research time, and will open up more potential research pathways.

  • Accessibility to those without palaeography skills

    Handwritten documents are sometimes deemed too inaccessible to undergraduate level students who, often lacking palaeography skills, find them daunting. This issue is only going to increase as society loses familiarity with handwritten text. The transcripts derived from HTR technology illuminate the content of a source, assisting students in obtaining full comprehension. Plus, pointing students directly towards more relevant material—reducing the number of sources they need to tackle—makes research with handwritten documents less daunting.

  • Opening up archives to a wider user group

    Increasing the accessibility of these archival resources means the potential user group within an institution is bigger. Manuscripts no longer need to remain a niche resource for specifi c departments.

  • Easier to review a large number of documents

    Even researchers with palaeography skills will find easily readable transcripts useful as a means of quickly scanning the content of a source, thus enabling them to review many more sources in a set amount of time.

  • Incorporation in Digital Humanities projects

    Previously it was necessary to manually transcribe handwritten documents before they could be incorporated into Digital Humanities projects. This is time consuming and consequently a major barrier to the use of manuscript collections in Digital Humanities projects. Gale’s HTR technology automatically transcribes a large corpus of handwritten documents. As a result, handwritten manuscripts can now play a more robust role in digital scholarship. Using handwritten documents in Crime, Punishment & Popular Culture in this way will be particularly efficient with
    the Gale Digital Scholar Lab.

There is no screening or selection process in Gale’s creation of handwritten text transcripts. Gale’s HTR technology captures all the handwritten text—including misspellings, antiquated spellings, and misrecognised words—allowing the researcher to determine what is relevant.

Interested in reading a student's perspective on using Gale's HTR technology? 
Check out >> Criminality in Whitechapel – Using Hand Written Text Recognition technology to help examine villainy and justice in Victorian London

Explore the technology

The digital transcription of the handwritten document can be easily obtained via the ‘Download’ button.

The digital transcription of the handwritten document can be analysed alongside the manuscript, illuminating the document for students, making it easier for experienced researchers to process quickly and even helping students develop palaeography skills.

Previously this document would not have appeared in the results if a user searched ‘adultery’ as the word is not used in the metadata. HTR technology shows, however, that ‘adultery’ is used in several places throughout the document. As the full text of the document is now searched at the point of the user’s initial query, this primary source would now appear in their search results.