Curating Menus

We are scholars researching questions about food and culture using the historical menu collections from the New York Public Library.

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Data Dictionary

A reference resource for those interested in using the open data from the New York Public Library's menu transcription project.


The Collection

The New York Public Library Rare Book Division holds over 45,000 historical menus. About half of these were collected and curated by Frank E. Buttolph between 1900 and 1921. The menus date from the 1850s to the present and include menus from restaurant, railroad and steamship companies, as well as a range of other organizations.

The Crowd

Beginning in 2011, menus from the NYPL's collection were digitized and transcribed with the help of thousands of volunteers. Through the NYPL’s What’s on the Menu? project, volunteers looked at digitized copies of the menus and typed in the many pieces of information included on each one, such as restaurant names, locations, dishes, prices, and dates.

The Data

The What's on the Menu? project makes all the data from its crowdsourced transcriptions available via bulk downloads and via an application programming interface (API). The current data set includes around 400,000 data points from the transcription project and the library's metadata on the over 17,000 menus digitized so far.

The Researchers

Katie Rawson is Humanities Librarian for English at Emory University's Robert W. Woodruff Library. Katie has published on food in Faulkner, labor at Waffle House, collaboration in the academy, and data curation in the humanities. She has a PhD from the Graduate Institute for the Liberal Arts at Emory University and was previously the managing editor of Southern Spaces and the Coordinator for Digital Research at the University of Pennsylvania.

Trevor Muñoz is Assistant Dean for Digital Humanities Research at the University of Maryland Libraries and an Associate Director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH). He works to foster digital projects that involve close collaboration between librarians, archivists, and other digital humanities researchers. As part of this work, he has written, spoken, and consulted about the strategic opportunities and challenges of doing digital humanities work within the institutional and cultural structures of academic research libraries.