August 09, 2011
By Elisabeth Grant
The New York Public Library needs your help in transcribing its collection of over 10,000 digitized historic restaurant menus at its “What’s on the Menu” site. These menus are morsels of history that date back to the 1840s, but in their current state are difficult to search for specific information, like dishes, prices, and other details.
Just like the Civil War letters transcription project we reported on a few months ago, harnessing the power of the masses allows organizations like this to complete these projects faster and at much lower costs.
If this project proves successful, the New York Public Library may digitize the other 30,000 menus in its collection and set them up to be transcribed as well.
The What’s on the Menu Blog goes beyond just the text of the menus and delves into the “histories and culinary findings” related to the project. For instance, a recent blog post examined the history of oysters in New York City, explaining that “the oyster reigned supreme as the quintessential New York City food long before pizza, hot pretzels, bagels, and hot dogs.”
Whether you take part in this project or not, you can still enjoy the fruits of all this labor. Head to the Data Exports page and download a zip file of the most up-to-date version of the menus database (refreshed about every week). If you analyze the data and “make something cool,” send the project staff an e-mail about it. They hope to put together a gallery in the future of projects people send them using this data.