Just Because We Can Doesn’t Mean We Should: On Knowing and Protecting Data Produced by the Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society


  • Jack Maness University of Denver
  • Kim Pham University of Denver Max Planck Institute for the History of Science




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.

Author Biographies

Jack Maness, University of Denver

Associate Dean University Libraries

Kim Pham, University of Denver Max Planck Institute for the History of Science

Assistant Professor Research Fellow