Language and Culture Archive of Ashkenazic Jewry Digital Archive User Guide: Acknowledgements

This is a guide to using the Digital Archive to the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry (


The National Endowment for the Humanities provided us with a generous grant from 2015-2017 to digitize the paper records of the data and to create the website of digitized materials.  The NEH also gave us funding to digitize a portion of the audiotapes in 2000-2002.  We are very grateful for their support in producing this project.

This project would not have been possible without the assistance of many institutions and individuals.

  • It builds upon the impressive achievement of the original Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry project team created and led by Uriel Weinreich, and then, after his untimely death, by Marvin Herzog, to survey and document the language and culture of the Yiddish-speaking community and its interaction with the languages and cultures among which it resided. They and their expert scholarly team of interviewers have given us a body of material of unique breadth and depth, one that continues to be of enormous potential value for understanding the European Jewish community, language interaction, and the history and culture of Europe in general.
  • The members of the LCAAJ Editorial Collegium overseeing of the publication of the three volumes of the atlas that have thus far appeared in print, Ulrike Kiefer, Robert Neumann, Wolfgang Putschke, and Andrew Sunshine, graciously gave us permission to digitize the materials held in the LCAAJ project archive.
  • While the LCAAJ project itself formally came to an end in the early 1990s, the kind of work it had begun has been continued by a number of researchers, most explictly by the EYDES project, led by Dr. Ulrike Kiefer and Robert Neumann, who were members of the original project team. Their site has not only hosted the digitized copies of the audiotapes of the LCAAJ tapes preserved by Columbia in an earlier NEH-funded grant; it has also created a body of authoritative documentation, a growing set of tools, and transcriptions of some of the full-length interviews.  The informationat EYDES lies at the base of much of the content metadata provided here. Ulrike and Robert also generously allowed us to use their transliterations of the questionnaire and their geographic coordinates for the interviewee locations in our site.  We look forward to continued work with EYDES, and ultimately hope to link our two projects for a seamless connection between the answer data data, here, and the audio files and full text interview transcripts. We thank Ulrike and Robert for their sound advice and counsel throughout the project production.
  • Former members of the LCAAJ research team on the Columbia campus also played key roles in inspiring and informing the Libraries' digitization efforts:
    • Dr. Andrew Sunshine performed the tremendous task of preliminarily processing the LCAAJ archive when it first arrived at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.  Without his initial work, the monumental task of putting together the finding aid would have been impossible.  Andrew also did preliminary processing on the Marvin Herzog papers, which we hope to complete in the coming year.   His published works on the history of Yiddish at Columbia and on the LCAAJ as an early computing project were invaluable in providing context for those of us working on the project.  It was also his approach to the Libraries' Electronic Text Service and Center for Research in Information Access that inspired the 1995 NEH grant to digitize the audio portion of the LCAAJ project.
    • Charles Nydorf and Elinor Robinson played a similar role for this phase of digitization, approaching the the Digital Humanities Center a few years ago about the need for online access to the project's answer sheet data and continuing to advocate strongly for a solution.  They promoted the idea as well through the creation of and leadership in a popular and active FaceBook group, Friends  of the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry.  At all stages of the project they and their written research have served as an invaluable source of guidance and information about the original project, its data, its scholarly significance, and the best ways to present the material in a new online setting.  They were joined in this ongoing consultation by Andrew Sunshine, and by Alec Burko, a doctoral candidate at Jewish Theological Seminary who has taken a deep look at the LCAAJ project as part of his dissertation work. We look forward to their continuing guidance as this project and the work of the LCAAJResearch group move forward. 
  • Many individuals at Columbia contributed in important ways to guiding the work of the current project:
    • Janet Gertz, Director of Digital Preservation and Conversion, has been working on making the LCAAJ accessible since the 1990s, when she was the Primary Investigator on a project to digitize the audio tapes (in conjunction with EYDES).  Janet has once again served as the Primary Investigator on this digitization project, and has led the project team magnificently, overseeing the drafting of the grant proposal and ensuring that the work was carried out in a timely manner to fulfill the contract, but also bringing her digitization and preservation expertise to bear in overseeing the preparation, digitization, and
    • Stephen Davis, Director of Library and Scholarly Technologies, oversaw the transformation of the digitized data into digital library assets and the development of a special database for finding and retrieving them. He also kept the team grounded, helping us to identify those aspects of the project that were essential for this first stage, and which would best be developed subsequently in broader dialog with the community of users.
    • Bob Scott, Digital Humanities Librarian and Michelle Chesner, Jewish Studies Librarian were responsible for the overseeing the scholarly content, explaining its significance to colleagues and funding agencies, engaging the support of scholars, consulting with specialists, planning for the use of material and the functionality of the site, and developing a user guide and an LCAAJResearch workspace. Michelle also oversaw the reorganization and description of the physical archive, and Bob led the process of machine reading of the printouts and their preparation for further use by researchers. 
    • Barbara Rockenbach and Pamela Graham, successive directors of the Libraries' History and Humanities Division, brought the valuable perspective and support of the brought the valuable perspective and support of one of the primary expected Columbia user groups to the ongoing deliberations of the project steering team.
    • Mariel Stein, project research assistant, spent many, many hours surveying and preparing the archived answer data for digitization, and then in in quality control, correcting vendor errors and making sure the images were as complete and correct as humanly possible.  Mari also did the bulk of the work to identify the printout pages in each of the series associated with answers to specific questionsand helped to format of the digitized printouts for OCR.
    • Image Coordinator David Ortiz ably received and managed the mass of digitized resources until it could be passed on to the teams in the Library and Scholarly Technologies Division and Digital Humanities Center for final transformation.
    • The OCRing of the printouts also benefitted for many hours of formatting and cleanup by DHC staff members  Zachary Aldridge and Kenneth Green.
    • Researcher Benjamin Kulakofsky volunteered his considerable programming and linguistic skills to produce tools for parsing and transforming the OCRed data that will soon be implemented on the  new LCAAJ Research site.
    • The skilled technologists of  the Library and Scholarly Technologies Division spent hours cataloging, annotating, ingesting, iindexing and presenting the digitzed data online in a well-designed databased.  Ben Armintor  was responsible for technical coordination and image APIs, including IIIF capacity, Robbie Blitz for metadata design and cataloging (as well as coordinating meetings between the development and content teams), Eric O'Hanlon for map and image support, Eric Ryerson  for site design, and Dina Sokolova for digital asset preservation and workflow. We are very grateful for their patience and persistence in understanding a complicated project and moving it into a digital environment. Former members of the division also provided valuable assistant in earlier stages of the project.  Terry Catapano provided much valuable advice at the outset and did the first formatting of content metadata for use by the project team, and Stuart Marquis produced an early proof-of-concept prototype, whose elegant  online mapping interface is sure to inform our thinking for the next phases of the project.  
    • Melanie Wacker and Amber Billey in Technical Services provided very helpful guidance with metadata issues.
    • Sandra Chiritescu spent months reprocessing the LCAAJ archive to make it accessible to users, and prepared a preliminary document that Cathy Ricciardi was able to turn into an EAD finding aid.
  • Lea Schaefer was the first scholarly user of the digitized LCAAJ materials.  Her project, Syntax of Eastern Yiddish Dialects (SEYD), went live before ours did. We look forward to collaborating further with her and researchers like her in the coming months.
  • In addition to those already named, the following scholars were generous with their support and advice at various points in the project: Marion Aptroot, Jeremy Dauber, Juerg Fleischer, Agi Legutko, Neil Jacobs, Dov-Ber Kerler, Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett, William Labov, Rakhmiel Peltz, Gertrud Reershemius, and Jeffrey Schandler