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The Kheel Center ILGWU Collection

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Do You Know Yiddish?


The Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives at Cornell University and the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick are embarking on a transatlantic digitization project to make available online Yiddish language material.  Through a new partnership, both repositories will be scanning Yiddish journals from their collections and jointly posting them to a newly created website that allows viewers to read and translate the pages.  The crowdsourcing site currently contains over 1,500 digitized pages of Yiddish journals and newspapers from the late 19th and early 20th century, and we are seeking members of the Yiddish speaking community to help.

A major archive repository in the UK, the Modern Records Centre collects modern social, political and economic history, with a special concentration on labor and the national history of industrial relations and politics.  Across the Atlantic, the Kheel Center is committed to the preservation of original source materials relevant to the history of American labor unions, management theory as it applies to labor and industrial relations, and the history of employees at the workplace.  The similarities in the collections provide the ideal opportunity for collaboration to increase scholarly knowledge, interest, and access to the materials at the repositories. This cooperative crowdsourcing project will attempt to unite both archives and create one of the first digital transatlantic modern labor history resources that will hopefully lead to further projects in the future.

The Yiddish language material currently available for transcription focuses on the Jewish immigrant population of the working class.  Included are the Modern Records Centre’s newspapers from the East End of London written for Eastern European Yiddish speaking immigrants.   The Polish Yidel and Hashulamith come from the archives of Aaron Rollin, who was an active member of the Amalgamated Jewish Tailors’, Machinists, and Pressers’ Trade Union, and the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers.  The Ladies’ Garment Worker, the first official publication of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU), originally published sections in English, Italian and Yiddish, and is part of the larger ILGWU collection at the Kheel Center.  As the project continues, more items in Yiddish relating to labor and particularly the garment industry, will continually be added as pages are transcribed.    The current emphasis of the project focuses on translating the Yiddish language material found in the collections.  Statistics from a U.S. Census report entitled “Language Use in the United States: 2007” issued April 2010 shows Yiddish knowledge and usage declining almost 50% over a period of twenty seven years (1980-2007).  The most recent data demonstrates that Yiddish speakers in the U.S. now number only 158,991, and the number of individuals speaking Yiddish in the UK is significantly less.  The drastic decline in the use of the Yiddish language as well as the continual decrease in the percentage of speakers reveals an urgent need to get the material translated and the information available to the public.  A significant amount of the archival collections in the form of newspapers, journals, manuscripts and documents is currently unavailable to researchers simply because it only exists in Yiddish.

Participation is simple.  First register for an account.  Applications are reviewed, but verification and notification should be confirmed within 24 hours.  Second, begin transcribing!  Select a journal by edition, date, or page number and click on the link.  Zoom in on the digital image for each scanned page to magnify the text so that it becomes legible, and move around the page to view a different column or section.  From the tabs at the top select edit to obtain a text box.  It is here that you can begin typing your translation.  Complete as much or as little as you wish—a whole page or a paragraph.  When finished, click on “save page” at the bottom of the screen and you can return later to continue, or even begin a new page or a different journal.  One important thing to remember is that it does not have to be a perfect translation. It is more important to provide an overall sense of the documents and the content.   You will be able to change and amend your version as many times as you like, and it is expected that pages will go through a number of drafts before a final version is produced, so it is important to remember that all the contributions to site may be edited, altered, or removed by other contributors.  Also included on the site is a space to discuss each page, as well as a general forum for questions and comments.

Material is ready so let the translating begin!  Click here to go to the website:

To view The Ladies' Garment Workers Yiddish language covers: 

December 1911

December 1914

June 1916