UNESCO: Put a World of Pictures into Words

Help the UNESCO Archives enrich its exceptional photo collection! We’re transcribing information from 5,000 photos of our historic collection. It’s a big job, so we need your help!

Current status

  • 5,050 scans
  • 269 participants

  • 5,048
    • 0% Unusable
    • 100% Entered
    • 100% Validated data
    Entered 100%
  • 5,048
    • 0% Unusable
    • 100% Entered
    • 100% Validated data
    Validated data 100%
Participate in this project


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About the Crowdsourcing Project

Join us in transcribing captions from a selection of 5,000 newly-digitized photos which demonstrate the wealth and breadth of UNESCO’s activities from 1945 to the present. These exceptional photos, available online for the very first time, document watershed UNESCO moments like the Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia (of which there are over 400 photos!). Other photos reveal themes of common international interest, including fundamental education, youth, journalism, space exploration, oceanography and more. Trouble is, it's difficult to find all the interesting treasures they contain: specific UNESCO programmes, precise locations, individuals, and all the stories these photos tell us about the history of UNESCO’s ideas and actions over the past 70 years.

To solve this, we want to improve the collection by inviting you, the public, to help us transcribe and enrich the information about each photo. This will allow us to dramatically expand the ways in which the collection can be researched and accessed, opening doors to new kinds of discoveries.

To thank you for your commitment, we will offer to the five most active participants a surprise giftbag containing goodies from the official UNESCO boutique. We have prepared them with the greatest care and they are waiting for you. The winners will be announced at the end of june 2020. In the meantime, we are counting on your participation!   

We’re using Heritage Helpers to make the transcribing simpler, but it’s a big job, so we need your help. Want to see what we’ve got inside the Archives?

Questions? Comments? Please contact us.

The UNESCO Photograph Collection

The UNESCO Archives, located at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, is the institutional memory of the Organization, and is responsible for the historic UNESCO Photograph Collection. The Collection contains an estimated 170,000 photographs, including prints, negatives and slides.

The Digitizing Our Shared UNESCO History project has digitized an important selection of over 5,000 of the Collection's photographic prints (recto and verso, totalling 10,000 scans). The project team took three months to select the 5,000 prints using criteria that aimed to achieve a balance of geographical, cultural and chronological diversity, and to ensure that all major programme areas were covered.

What are the goals for this crowdsourcing project?

Digitizing Our Shared UNESCO History is the first major digitization project undertaken by UNESCO, and this crowdsourcing initiative is the first time we’ve taken this approach to transcription. The goal is to have volunteers transcribe and enrich the metadata of all 5,000 digitized photos.

The ultimate goal is to find the means to digitize the entirety of the UNESCO Photograph Collection – and, if this ‘experiment’ goes well, to launch a larger scale crowdsourcing project to transcribe and enrich the approximately 170,000 photos we have yet to discover.

What exactly will transcribing accomplish?

Right now, the only information that is digitally searchable from the photos is the descriptive data recorded for each photo when they were selected and registered for the digitization project. This includes useful information such as the geographical location (country), year, photographer and theme. But there is important information missing: the backs of the photos were, in general, stamped by UNESCO’s photo unit of the time with an English and French caption, describing the subject of each photo. These captions are only accessible by reading the digitized verso (i.e., backside) of each photo. Transcribing will make the precious caption information on the back of each photo searchable and findable.

How will this information be used?

Researchers who use the UNESCO Archives, including the Photograph Collection – be they historians, writers, university students, etc. – often have specific questions they’re trying to answer. In what countries were UNESCO’s fundamental education activities in the 1950s? When did UNESCO first start its work on seismology? What about cultural heritage preservation? What is the significance of the architecture of UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris? Who represented Bolivia at UNESCO’s General Conference in 1976? To find out these sorts of details more easily, we need to extract all the interesting data locked as pixels inside these digitized photos. The best way to do this is transcription.




Put a World of Pictures into Words is an initiative of Digitizing Our Shared UNESCO History, a UNESCO Archives digitization project that aims to safe-guard and make UNESCO's own heritage assets, which form part of the collective memory of all UNESCO Member States, more accessible and engaging to stakeholders around the world.

This project has received generous support from the People of Japan.