National Historical Publications & Records Commission

NHPRC News

June 2013

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Inside the Commission

National Archives Awards $2.97 million in Grants

Following the May meeting of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero has awarded 30 grants totaling $2.972 million for historical records projects in 18 states and the District of Columbia. The National Archives grants program is carried out through the NHPRC.

Young Thomas Edison in front of the phonograph, courtesy Thomas Edison National Historic Site

Grants totaling $1.26 million were recommended for 15 documentary editing projects to publish the papers of key American figures, including Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Martin Luther King, Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, and the Presidential Recordings project. The Association for Documentary Editing received a grant for three years of support for the Institute for Historical Editing, a weeklong training camp for historical documentary editors, now in its 40th year.

War Birds by Elliott White Springs, an account of this American pilot's service in the RAF during World War I. The Springs papers are being processed at the University of South Carolina.

Grants totaling just under $900,000 were recommended for 10 archival projects, including the three archives in South Carolina; African American women's collections at Emory University; historical New England manuscript collections at the Society for the Preservation New England Antiquities; Pacifica Radio's American Women Making History and Culture collection; and a manuscripts collection process at the University of Guam comprising the premier holdings of materials related to the U.S. territory of Guam and the Marianas, as well as Micronesia.

Four projects received funding under the new Innovations funding category: Simmons College for a program of archival education for municipal clerks; a new email archives model program designed at Stanford University; strategies for enhancing digital graphics description and discovery created by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania; and a digital-only edition of the George Washington Financial Papers project at the University of Virginia. A full list of grants from the May meeting is available at http://www.archives.gov/nhprc/awards/awards-5-13.html.

Grant Deadlines

The following Grant opportunities are currently available:

  • Documenting Democracy: Access to Historical Records
    For projects that promote the preservation and use of the nation's most valuable archival resources. Projects should expand our understanding of the American past by facilitating and enhancing access to primary source materials.
    Final Deadline:   October 3, 2013
  • Innovation in Archives and Documentary Editing
    For projects that are exploring innovative methods to improve the preservation, public discovery, or use of historical records. Final Deadline:   October 3, 2013
  • Publishing Historical Records
    For projects to publish historical records of national significance.
    New Republic through the Modern Era - Final Deadline:  October 3, 2013
  • State and National Archival Partnership Grants
    For projects to strengthen archives and historical records programs in each of the states and build a national archival network.
    Final Deadline:   September 5, 2013

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Founders Online Launches

Screenshot of the Founders Online website.

On June 13, the National Archives launched the Founders Online website http://founders.archives.gov/. This free online tool, sponsored by the NHPRC, brings together the papers of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison in a single website that gives a first-hand account of the growth of democracy and the birth of the Republic.

Founders Online was created through a cooperative agreement between the NHPRC and The University of Virginia (UVA) Press. In announcing the launch, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero was joined by University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan, NHPRC Executive Director Kathleen M. Williams, and George Mason University Professor of History Cynthia A. Kierner. National History Day student winners searched the records of the very beginnings of American law, government, and our national story.

"Through Founders Online, you can now trace the shaping of the nation, the extraordinary clash of ideas, the debates and discussions carried out through drafts and final versions of public documents as well as the evolving thoughts and principles shared in personal correspondence, diaries, and journals," said Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero.

Teresa A. Sullivan, President of The University of Virginia, at the launch of Founders Online.

"From the beginning, this has been a collaborative project that has brought together people and organizations that care deeply about our nation's early history and the need to preserve it for future generations," said University President Teresa Sullivan. "Today, with the launch of Founders Online, we take a great stride forward, as we make the words of our nation's founders available to anyone, anywhere in the world."

Dr. Kierner, spoke about the lasting impact the site could have on high school and college students, and drew the biggest laugh of the day when she shared how she used to tell her students they would not be able to finish their projects on their home computer sitting around in their underwear. "Now, you kind of can," she said.

For the past 50 years, the NHPRC has invested in documentary editions of the original historical records of the Founding Era. Projects led by dedicated historians and experts in editing historical documents have collected-from archives across the country and around the world-copies of original 18th- and 19th-century documents, transcribed them, provided annotations, and produced hundreds of individual volumes.

Only a handful of scholars across the country have the training, knowledge, and intricate expertise necessary to undertake this work. An individual volume in a series may cover a span of several months of the working life of the subject, run 500-600 pages with footnotes and index, and take 12-18 months to produce and print.

Several of these monuments to the men and ideas underlying our democracy have been completed. Other projects are in various stages of progress due, in part, to the sheer size and complexity of their subjects, the difficulties inherent in dealing with 18th century materials, particularly handwritten documents, and in assembling and keeping trained and expert staff for this type of careful, detailed work.

The Founders Online project emerged from hearings of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary held in February 2008. Inspired by the testimony of historians such as David McCullough, Congress provided funding and directed the Archivist of the United States to expedite public access to these founding documents through online publication.

Print editions of some volumes from the Papers of George Washington.

Founders Online includes thousands of documents, replicating the contents of 242 volumes drawn from the published print editions. As each new print volume is completed, it will be added to this database of documents.

In addition, all of the unpublished and in-process materials (about 55,000 documents) will be posted online over the next three years through the work of Documents Compass, a program of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Researchers can view transcribed, unpublished letters as they are being researched and annotated by the editors and staff.

Altogether, some 175,000 documents are projected to be on the Founders Online site. This website promises to be of immense value for the public's ability to understand the world and intentions of the nation's founders. It will also provide a bold economic, educational, and technical model that will provide important lessons as we plan future efforts for online publication of historical materials.

Searching the Founders

In addition to finding out about the giant cheese delivered to Thomas Jefferson, students can also find his notes on making macaroni. From the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Library of Congress.

The very first search on the public site for Founders Online was from a National History Day student who looked for the keyword cheese. She received 252 results, the first result from George Washington during the French and Indian War in June 1755, and the last is an account of the "Mammoth Cheese" delivered to President Thomas Jefferson on New Year's Day, 1802 from the citizens of Cheshire, Massachusetts. The gift was an enormous wheel of cheese, measuring more than 4 feet in diameter and weighing an estimated 1,235 pounds.

That's a lot of cheese. From fun examples like this to more scholarly subjects, Founders Online provides a way into the works of the Founding Fathers like no other resource around. It allows people to search by keyword, finding not only those terms used by the Founders themselves, but documents that may not mention specific words but have been tagged to show up in search results. Faceted searches will also help users find what they are looking for, and you can read all about the complexity of the Search Function at http://founders.archives.gov/help/searching.

NHPRC Executive Director Kathleen Williams assists students from National History Day as they do the first searches on Founders Online.

You can see first-hand the close working partnership between George Washington and Alexander Hamilton from their time in the Revolutionary War to Hamilton's draft of Washington's Farewell Address.

Or read John Adams's description of Congress as a place where "There is so much Wit, Sense, Learning, Acuteness, Subtilty, Eloquence, etc., among fifty Gentlemen, each of whom has been habituated to lead and guide in his own Province, that an immensity of Time, is spent unnecessarily."

You can track Benjamin Franklin's role in the Treaty of France in 1783, ending the war with Britain, and imagine what might have happened had he gained his wish for the British to cede all of Canada to the United States.

Or you can follow Thomas Jefferson's drafting of the Declaration of Independence, and James Madison's role in shaping the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the fierce debates between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists.

A facsimile of a letter from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, dated April 12, 1793, and its transcription on Founders Online.

Just as remarkably, you can find insights into their private lives: the devotion expressed in the letters between John and Abigail Adams; Madison's views on slavery; Hamilton's feud that led to the fatal duel with Burr; the stuffed moose sent to Jefferson in Paris; Ben Franklin's turkey; and yes, Washington's decades-long problems with his teeth.

One of our favorite pieces is this letter from James Madison to Eliza House Trist, 21 May 1789, two years after the contentious debates in Virginia over the Constitution. Here he shares an anecdote concerning William Grayson, one of the Anti-Federalists, which shows how men of good intentions on both sides of political issues can remain friends, long after their enmities have ceased :

Col. Grayson has at length joined us. He too considers himself as a member of the invalid corps. But enjoys good spirits which is a proof that his malady is nowise akin to his former one.1 We have just been together, laughing over a paragraph in one of his speeches in our Convention just come to hand in the 2d vol. of the debates. That you may judge how far there was room for it, I will transcribe a specimen-"We are now told by the hble. gentleman (Govr. Randolph) that we shall have wars & rumours of wars; that every calamity is to attend us & that we shall be ruined & disunited forever, unless we adopt this Constitution. Penna. & Maryland are to fall upon us from the North like the Goths & Vandals of old. The Algerines, whose flat-sided vessels never came farther than Madeira, are to fill the Chesapeake with mighty fleets & to attack us on the front. The Indians are to invade us with numerous armies on our rear in order to convert our Cleared lands into hunting grounds. And the Carolinians from the South, mounted on Alligators I presume, are to come & destroy our corn fields & eat up our little children. These Sir are the mighty dangers which await us if we reject."

South Carolinians mounted on alligators! You can look it up.

A young student from National History Day searches Founders Online.

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NHPRC News is published every other month. If you have news you wish to share or would like to receive an e-mail alert when the next issue is available, please contact Keith Donohue, Director for Communications, at keith.donohue@nara.gov.

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