Transfer Learning for Historical Corpora: An Assessment on Post-OCR Correction and Named Entity Recognition


Transfer learning in Natural Language Processing, mainly in the form of pre-trained language models, has recently delivered substantial gains across a range of tasks. Scholars and practitioners working with OCRed historical corpora are thus increasingly exploring the use of pre-trained language models. Nevertheless, the specific challenges posed by historical documents, including OCR quality and linguistic change, call for a critical assessment of the use of pre-trained language models in this setting. We consider two shared tasks, ICDAR2019 (post-OCR correction) and CLEF-HIPE-2020 (Named Entity Recognition, NER), and systematically assess using pre-trained language models with data in French, German and English. We find that using pre-trained language models helps with NER but less so with post-OCR correction. Pre-trained language models should therefore be used critically when working with OCRed historical corpora. We release our code base, in order to allow replicating our results and testing other pre-trained representations

Computational Humanities Research