National Historical Publications & Records Commission

NHPRC News - July 2009


July 2009





Inside the Commission

New Grants Announced

At its meeting in late May, the Commission recommended 82 grants for projects in 39 states and the District of Columbia for a total of $5.9 million. A complete list of grants is available in our latest press release, and among these are 31 awards through the State and National Archival Partnership grants, totaling just over $1.15 million, to enable various archives in the states to continue to offer a variety of programming and services.

75th Anniversary in Prologue 75th Anniversary Logo

On June 19th, the NHPRC celebrated its 75th anniversary along with the National Archives. Executive Director Kathleen Williams provides a brief history of the Commission in the latest issue of Prologue.

Goodbye to Nathan Sowry

We also say goodbye and best wishes to office assistant Nathan Sowry as he leaves the NHPRC for graduate school at Washington State University.

Upcoming Conferences and Meetings

Society of American Archivists MeetingDeputy Executive Director Lucy Barber will be attending the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA) meeting in Seattle, WA this month.

Kathleen Williams will be attending a portion of the second Archives Leadership Institute in Madison, WI on July 19-20.

In addition, we invite attendees to look for NHPRC staff members at the upcoming joint meeting of the Council of State Archivists and the Society of American Archivists in Austin, Texas, August 11-16.

  • We will be holding office hours in the conference exhibition hall on Friday, August 14 from 11:30a.m.-1:30p.m., and we encourage you to stop by to discuss your project ideas and proposals in-the-works.


Legislative Update

House and Senate on the FY 10 Budget

Both the House and the Senate Subcommittees have reported on the budget recommendations for FY 2010 for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. The House Subcommittee recommends $13 million for grants, and the Senate Committee recommends $12 million. These initial figures will be resolved through a House-Senate conference once bills are passed.

Both houses strongly support the NHPRC program and call for focus on three core initiatives: providing online access to the Founding Fathers publishing projects; publishing historical records of key figures and movements in our Nation's history; and advancing archives preservation, access, and digitization projects. The Senate report also recommends funding for the implementation of two new grant programs in the Presidential Historical Records Preservation Act of 2008 (Public Law 110-404), including grants for Presidential centers of historical excellence and grants to preserve records of servitude, emancipation, and post-Civil War Reconstruction.

Grant Deadlines and the Application Process

The following Grant opportunities are currently available and online:

Go to Grant Opportunities for more information.


News from our Grantees

Old Hickory Makes News

A stolen letter written by President Andrew Jackson has been recovered, thanks to the keen eye of Tom Coens, assistant editor of The Papers of Andrew Jackson at the University of Tennessee. The four-page letter, written in 1824 by Jackson before he became president, was to Major Samuel Swartwout, a friend and campaign supporter, to decline a campaign visit.

The letter was a familiar one to Coens. He had seen a copy in recent months, when he borrowed microfilm containing a collection of Jackson documents - which included the stolen letter - from the New York State Library.

The Jackson Papers project tracks and catalogs all known Jackson documents, and Coens regularly searches for Jackson documents online. "It's a tedious process, but it's very much a necessary thing," Coens said. "It's not uncommon to encounter something brand new."

In March, Coens spotted a Jackson letter for sale for $35,000 on the auction Web site Profiles in History. "I recognized it immediately," Coens said, noting that the letter was once part of the New York State Library's collection, which rarely deaccessions items.

Coens called New York State Library officials, who decided to let New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo handle the investigation. The letter turned out to be one of the stolen letters, and investigators found an autograph dealer trying to sell it. The seller did not realize the letter was stolen, and it has been returned. Coens recalled a similar experience that happened three years ago, when he spotted an 1814 Jackson letter on an antique store Web site. Coens reported it, and the letter was returned.

When asked whether his job description includes fighting crime, he said it's just a byproduct of his job. "I'm in the position of being able to spot this kind of thing," Coens said. "I'm also the only one who is looking at this kind of thing, has the familiarity with our files, and knows how to recognize them."

Another letter, this one to President Jackson, was featured in a recent episode of the History Detectives on PBS. The episode concerns a letter threatening assassination, signed with the name Junius Brutus Booth (a famous actor and father of Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth) and sent to Jackson on July 4, 1835 from Brown's Hotel in Philadelphia. Housed in the Library of Congress and long known to scholars, the letter has been presumed by Jackson biographers and political historians (following the lead of John Spencer Bassett, who printed it in his Correspondence of Andrew Jackson with Booth's name in quotation marks) to be the work of a pseudonymous writer, while some Booth biographers and theater historians have accepted its authenticity but considered it a gag among friends. The Jackson Papers staff were instrumental in proving that neither is correct. Booth really wrote the letter, apparently in one of his legendary choleric rages. He later apologized.

Finally, The Papers of Andrew Jackson has agreed to become part of the American Founding Era collection of the University of Virginia Press's Rotunda Digital Editions. Rotunda already includes the papers of George Washington, Adams Family, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Dolley Madison, and Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution editions. To date, seven chronological volumes of The Papers of Andrew Jackson have appeared in print, and all will soon appear as Rotunda Digital Editions. In all, the Jackson Papers are projected for seventeen volumes.


Going to Carolina

The North Carolina Office of Archives & History has been particularly busy this summer. Three projects funded by the NHPRC will help bring a Traveling Archivist to the state; provide resources for disaster preparedness; and help a local archives make its collections more widely available.

Traveling Archivist

The State Historical Resources Advisory Board (SHRAB) through a grant of $33,223 will allow North Carolina to create a "Traveling Archivist" pilot program. The Traveling Archivist will demonstrate hands-on preservation and collection techniques and practices to safeguard the rare and precious materials from damage or deterioration. "This grant represents an opportunity to share technical expertise and knowledge among our archives and libraries and to showcase North Carolina's extraordinary documentary heritage," said Dr. Jeffrey J. Crow, deputy secretary for the Department of Cultural Resources and state coordinator for the SHRAB. The program is designed to identify collections at greatest risk from damage or neglect. Each site will receive oral instruction, training and an Archives Starter Kit containing the basic supplies to house, label and properly store archival materials. The Traveling Archivist Program will be coordinated by the SHRAB and the North Carolina State Archives.

Disaster Preparedness

As North Carolina enters another hurricane season, an updated Web site for the North Carolina State Historical Records Advisory Board ( is now available to assist cultural institutions such as archives libraries, museums and historic sites plan for and recover from natural disasters. The comprehensive disaster preparedness section provides access to generic plan templates, assessment guides, funding sources, educational resources and many other tools to assist cultural repositories in writing disaster preparedness plans. In addition to resources about disaster preparedness planning, there are also links to general information about the care and handling of archival materials. The Federal Emergency Management Administration touted the Web site in its Education "Notes of the Day."

"The disaster preparedness section of the new SHRAB Web site should prove an extremely helpful resource to all institutions large and small that need vital information about emergency and disaster preparedness," stated Dr. Crow. "We spent months gathering data and designing a site that contains relevant and current information about how to protect North Carolina's valuable cultural heritage collections."

The Outer Banks

Outer Banks History Center

Although it is widely known as a vacation spot for many in the South and Mid-Atlantic, North Carolina's Outer Banks have a rich history, and many researchers turn to the Outer Banks History Center in Manteo for information on lighthouses, shipwrecks or even pirates. Thanks to a $40,327 NHPRC grant that task could prove more productive. The grant will support work of a full time archivist who will arrange and describe some of the collections for the center's Reaching New Audiences program.

"This will reduce a significant backlog," says State Archivist Dick Lankford. "People will know what's in the collection and will be better able to use it." The Outer Banks History Center is a regional archives and research library whose collections document the social, economic, and ecological history of the Outer Banks and surrounding areas. Subjects include maritime history, commerce, local and regional history, African American, American Indian, European and Elizabethan history, the Civil War, outdoor theater, and much more.

"This project will make finding aids available for most of the collections we have received in the last few years," explains Curator Kaeli Spiers. "The finding aids will have background information on the organization or individual, and on the collection's size and format with a detailed inventory." The grant has two major goals: to expand the online bibliographic catalog of holdings by creating Encoded Archival Description finding aids for its processed collections and uploading them to the Web, and to reduce the backlog of unprocessed materials for at least 50 percent of its current holdings.


Subvention? What's A Subvention?

Records of Salem Witch-Hunt cover

The subvention program of the NHPRC is designed to help defray the costs of publishing historical documentary editions. Because of their selective audience of research libraries and scholars, these volumes often operate at a loss for the publishers, but through this grants program, the NHPRC is able to offer assistance through grants of up to $10,000 for documentary editing projects that have been either supported or endorsed by the Commission.

Many publishers, adapting to the opportunities of the Internet, are also making selective editions of papers available, in whole or part, via the Internet.

Harriet Jacobs Family Papers coverA new publishing effort, the Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt is an example of NHPRC-endorsed projects made possible through subventions, and the The Harriet Jacobs Family Papers, documenting the life of the African American slave Harriet Jacobs, is an example of NHPRC-sponsored projects published through a subvention.


An Artist's Take on Jefferson

Maira Kalman is an illustrator, author and designer who also writes a blog for the New York Times. She has written and illustrated 12 children's books, and her artwork is featured in a recent edition of Strunk and White's Elements of Style. Her blog "And the Pursuit of Happiness," about American democracy, is scheduled to appear on the last Friday of each month. Her entry for June Time Wastes Too Fast combines words, images, photographs, and excerpts of documents on Thomas Jefferson and his home at Monticello.


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