The development of a prototype interface for a tool that would allow scholars and interested members of the general public to contribute to transcription materials related to culinary history, using the menu collection of the New York Public Library as a testbed.
The New York Public Library (NYPL) seeks funding from NEH to build an online platform called "What's on the Menu" that will build capacity for crowdsource transcription of its unique collection of historic restaurant menus. With approximately 40,000 menus dating from the 1840s to the present, NYPL’s collection is one of the largest of its kind in the world, used by historians, novelists, food writers, and general food enthusiasts. These menus are cultural artifacts and ephemera beyond simple descriptions of food; they provide insights on matters as diverse as politics, neighborhood development, and the evolution of graphic design. The planned menus database, which will store keyword-searchable structured information like restaurant location, dish-level descriptions, and food prices, will enable researchers, authors, culinary and other historians to track ingredients, dishes, prices, fads, and food vernacular through history, opening up new possibilities for discovering who we were through what we ate.