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The first Jesselson-Kaplan American Genizah project initiative took as its subject the dispersed corpus of Isaac Leeser's correspondence, the entire run of the Occident, and his publications. Thanks to a start up grant from the Gershwind-Bennett Families, we began transcribing and scanning the correspondence. Our Leeser site now contains digital images of over 2,100 original letters. Each letter has been transcribed so that it can be easily read, and each letter has been encoded using TEI, to allow for the most sophisticated type of full text search and discovery. The entire Occident, including most of the rare advertiser wraps that originally accompanied the monthly issues, has been encoded in XML, segmented files in partnership with the National Library of Israel, and Leeser's publications have been converted from ASCII files into fully searchable OCR documents. Notably, we hired a programmer to write original code to search simultaneously across all of these types of encoded documents.
Credits & Acknowledgments
The Leeser project could not have gotten off the ground without a generous start-up gift from Penn Library Board of Overseer Erik Gershwind, W’93 and Jackie Gershwind and Stacey Bennett, C’95. The Gershwind-Bennett Isaac Leeer project was completed thanks to two major, matching gifts from the Jesselson and Kaplan Family Foundations. Notably, the Leeser project also received valuable help from the Lyrasis Internet Archive Initiative; The Historic Jewish Press Project, Tel Aviv University and the National Library of Israel, which carried out, in conjunction with the Olive Software Company, the processing of the Occident into segmented XML files.
The entire corpus of Leeser correspondence was encoded in TEI thanks to the team at Backstage Library Works. In particular, we would like to thank and recognize the following BLW staff: John Reese, Alicia Sell, Maritta Coppieters, and especially Nicole Arbuckle for her intensive encoding work.
I. List of Participants
The below list of participants includes institutional and private partners, as well as staff who have played invaluable roles in helping to realize this project. Notably, Dr. Gary Zola, the Executive Director of the Jacob Rader Marcus American Jewish Archives and Dr. David Kraemer, Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian and professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at The Jewish Theological Seminary, have actively support this initiative.
II. Project Team:
Principal Investigators: Arthur Kiron, Schottenstein-Jesselson Curator of Judaica Collections and David McKnight, Director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library and Curator of Digital Collections.
David McKnight was responsible for developing the best practices for the project including envisioning way to mark-up the letters in TEI and make the full texts of those letters searchable. He oversaw the purchase of equipment and product software (Olive) and provided the technical oversight to realize the goals of this project, the most creative of which involves using digital technologies to search and discover otherwise invisible yet meaningful connections among a dispersed corpus of manuscript and print print materials.
As Technical Project Leader, David McKnight oversaw the technical production of the project.
Project Manager: Michael Overgard
Michael Overgard was responsible for:
Website Development and Design by: Dennis Mullen
Project Programmer: John DiMattia
Leah Fishbane, a graduate student at Brandeis University specializing in the mid-Victorian period of American Jewish history, was hired in the Summer of 2007 to inventory and transcribe an initial representative sample of letters belonging to Mr. Kaplan. The SCETI team set about producing high resolution digital scans of the letters. Penn also benefited from the work of senior undergraduate intern Sarah Breger, brought into the project under the auspices of Penn’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF). In February of 2007, Fishbane, who was only thirty-four years old at the time and a mother of a four year-old daughter, died suddenly of a brain tumor. Her tragic death and Sarah’s graduation in the May of 2007 led to a break in the transcription work. Nonetheless, the project continued on other fronts. Over the course of the summer of 2007, the entire twenty-six volumes of the Occident, a total of 16,128 pages, were scanned. In August 2007, the Penn Libraries received a significant gift from the Goldstein Family Foundation to support the purchase of the Olive Software suite. In January of 2008, the Penn Libraries hired two graduate students studying Library Science, Rebecca Goldman (Drexel University) and Heather Newlin (Clarion University), to re-start the transcription project. In the summer of 2008, they were joined by a new CURF intern, Andrew Kincaid.
The transcription team also benefited enormously from the participation of Louise Strauss, C'82, a Penn alum, who volunteered to work on the transcription of Leeser letters. In the Spring semester of 2008, we received, on-loan from an anonymous source, an exceptionally rich collection of 212 additional Leeser items. In the Fall of 2012, we partnered with the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary to produce digital copies of Leeser letters in the Abraham and Deborah Karp Collection of Early American Judaica at the LJTS.
All Leeser letters have been transcribed by Heather Newlin, who has also reviewed all previous generations of transcriptions and revised our final transcriptions accordingly. All Hebrew writing in the Leeser correspondence were been transcribed by Esther Lassman and entered into the final transcription files which were encoded in TEI by Backstage Library Works.
Leah Levitz Fishbane died of a brain tumor on March 1, 2007. Leah was married to Professor Eitan Fishbane, and was the mother of a four year old daughter Aderet Fishbane. A graduate student of Professor Jonathan Sarna at Brandeis University, Leah specialized in nineteenth-century American Jewish history. In the course of her work on the Leeser pilot project, she made significant contributions to the development of our cataloging template and was always a joy to work with her. Leah was transcribing the Leeser letters in the Kaplan collection in the days before her tragic death. Leah's participation in our project will not be forgotten and her memory will remain for a blessing.