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University Libraries


Digital archives, Digital scholarship, Collections as data, Handwritten text recognition, Artificial intelligence, Ethics


A recent project at the University of Denver Libraries used handwritten text recognition (HTR) software to create transcriptions of records from the Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society (JCRS), a tuberculosis sanatorium located in Denver, Colorado from 1904 to 1954. Among a great many other potential uses, these type- and hand-written records give insight into the human experience of disease and epidemic, its treatment, its effect on cultures, and of Jewish immigration to and early life in the American West. Our intent is to provide these transcripts as data so the text may be computationally analyzed, pursuant to a larger effort in developing capacity in services and infrastructure to support digital humanities as a library, and to contribute to the emerging HTR ecosystem in archival work.

Just because we can, however, doesn’t always mean we should: the realities of publishing large datasets online that contain medical and personal histories of potentially vulnerable people and communities introduce serious ethical considerations. This paper both underscores the value of HTR and frames ethical considerations related to protecting data derived from it. It suggests a terms-of-use intervention perhaps valuable to similar projects, one that balances meeting the research needs of digital scholars with the care and respect of persons, their communities and inheritors, who lives produced the very data now valuable to those researchers.

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Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.

Publication Statement

This article was originally published as:

Maness, J. & Pham, K. (2022). Just because we can doesn't mean we should: On knowing and protecting data produced by the Jewish Consumptives' Relief Society. Humanist Studies & the Digital Age 7(1).

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Jack M. Maness, Kim Pham


Received from author

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English (eng)


14 pgs

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402 KB

Publication Title

Humanist Studies & the Digital Age



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