KHS Executive Director Kent Whitworth appeared on a recent episode of Think Humanities, the podcast of the Kentucky Humanities Council. After a discussion of how we make history relevant to the pressing issues of the present, Whitworth and KHC Executive Director Bill Goodman turned to CWGK as an example of how KHS lives that mission through the digital humanities. The CWGK segment begins at about the 20:14 mark.
What mental health struggles did Civil War veterans face when they came back from the war? What happened to women and families when violence and the end of slavery forced them into refugee camps outside of military posts and Kentucky cities? What new economic opportunities arose amid the destruction of the Civil War years? How are the experiences of these everyday Kentuckians 150 years ago relevant to the challenges that face the Commonwealth today?
These are just a few of the questions that the Kentucky Historical Society’s Civil War Governors of Kentucky (CWGK) project helps researchers, students and policymakers address through a free, online collection of more than 10,000 documents associated with Kentucky’s three Union and two Confederate governors.
CWGK has received a new three-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to expand the number of texts it publishes online and enhance the ways that users can study them. This $300,000 grant in the Scholarly Editions and Translations program will continue NEH support for one full-time assistant editor and allow CWGK to hire a full-time research associate.
“It is an honor to receive one of these incredibly competitive awards,” said CWGK Project Director Patrick Lewis. “CWGK’s success on this national stage really is a reflection of the importance of KHS’s mission and our agency’s commitment to bridging the gap between historical research and finding ways to address the challenges that face us today. Kentucky issues are American issues, and they have been for centuries. Every citizen of the Commonwealth should be proud that national institutions like NEH look to KHS to lead these important American conversations.”
With this support between October 2017 and September 2020, CWGK will:
- Annotate and socially network each individual found in 3,000 documents
- Develop three classroom/public dialogue packages centered around pressing contemporary and historical issues highlighted through CWGK documents
- Plan an intensive search for relevant Kentucky documents in the National Archives and Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Since its public launch in 2011, CWGK has received two, three-year grants from NEH and three single-year grants from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Generous support for the project also has come from private donations to the Kentucky Historical Society Foundation.
Robert Buffum served his government bravely and received his nation’s highest military honor. Then he reached out to it for help when the burden of that service became too much for him to handle. But he received none, and that was a tragedy for him. And his family. And that of his victim.
CWGK is working with Brumfield Labs of Austin, Texas, to build an annotation and entity management system that will allow CWGK to locate, identify, and link together every person, place, organization, and geographical feature in every CWGK document. The annotation application, MashBill, has been live since February 2017, and CWGK staff and Graduate Research Associates working remotely from eight university campuses across the country have (as of April 2017) identified nearly 5,000 unique entities which appear over 8,000 times in nearly 700 CWGK texts.
CWGK published a preliminary plan for MashBill in the fall of 2016, but with the system now up and running, this post will move through through each step of the annotation process with screenshots.
The first step is to search for and select the assigned document on the CWGK website.
In the document view screen, the annotator activates a browser plugin called Hypothes.is, which enables annotation and commentary on any web page. All CWGK staff and GRAs are members of an invitation-only Hypothes.is group, which collects data and feeds it into the MashBill system.
The next step is to highlight all entities (people, places, organizations, or geographical features) at their first mention in the text of the documents, select annotate when the Hypothes.is icon appears above the text, and click “Post to CWGK”.
Once an annotator completes this process, they can click on the Hypothes.is icon in the browser toolbar to review all of the highlighted entities.
The annotator then moves into MashBill itself, where each user sees a dashboard of their own previous work, a running tab of the latest work in the database, and search fields to find an entity or document. Those search fields allow the annotator to look up the document number which has just been highlighted in MashBill.
Each of the character strings highlighted in Hypothes.is appear on the MashBill document screen.
The user selects “identify” to search the database for entity names which are at least a 30% match to the transcribed character string. This degree of proximity suggests likely matches, but still allows flexibility to account for name abbreviations, misspellings, and the use of titles to identify individuals.
After research in approved, authoritative, and reliable sources, the annotator writes a short entity “biography”, fills out a bibliography section, marks up any textual features including italics and underlining in Markdown, and fills in the metadata fields relevant to the entity type.
The annotator confirms the information is correct and creates the entity, which is automatically linked to the character string highlighted in Hypothes.is.
If an entity already exists in the MashBill database, the user simply chooses the correct entity from the suggested list and MashBill automatically links the entity record to the character string.
The annotator proceeds until all of the entities for the document have been identified. They then click “Document Needs Reviewed” which sends the document into the fact-checking queue.
When another staff member checks work for accuracy and adherence to editorial style, the document will be marked complete, and MashBill will insert reference tags containing the unique identifier for each entity biography into the TEI-XML transcription of the document stored in GitHub. These files will be re-imported into the existing CWGK Omeka site along with the entity biographies, allowing hyperlinked navigation between text and biography.
The final step in the current CWGK annotation process is social networking, documenting all of the relationships between individuals and organizations present in the text of the document itself.
Each relationship between entities is classified as one of a handful of types: familial, political, legal, economic, social, military, and slavery. Entities can have multiple relationships within documents if the relationship between the two is multifaceted or evolves as the document proceeds. Entities can also have the same type of relationship documented in multiple documents, adding weight to the vector between those two nodes. entities can be involved in a complex network of relationships.
When the relationships have been identified and created, the annotation stage on this document is complete and the annotator moves on to the next assignment.
It’s always nice when CWGK documents walk right into our office! While going through old family papers, KHS Head of Reference Services Cheri Daniels found an 1865 land grant to one of her ancestors, Matthew Pace, signed by Governor Thomas E. Bramlette. Land grants such as these are particularly difficult for CWGK to track down because they move administratively from the County Courts briefly to the executive department in Frankfort, and then back into the hands of the grantee. Documents like this one, in short, will likely have to come to CWGK via family holdings like Cheri’s.
As the CWGK staff got out the scanners, the story really took off. Register of the Kentucky Historical Society Associate Editor Stephanie Lang noticed the name of one of her Floyd County ancestors, William J. May, on the grant. KHS’s library collections came to the rescue, and the team quickly pulled maps of Floyd and Magoffin counties to locate the specific plot of land granted in this newly accessioned CWGK document.
Will this document change the way we understand the Civil War era in Eastern Kentucky? Perhaps not. But it does underscore the importance of every document in the CWGK corpus. Each document contains a link to the lives and stories of everyday people from across the Commonwealth and the globe. And bringing these documents together in digital public space allows CWGK researchers to make connections between one another in the context of our shared past.
Look forward to the digital debut of the Matthew Pace collection soon at Discovery.CivilWarGovernors.org!
Civil War Governors of Kentucky project director Patrick Lewis joins a world-class group of scholars and editors on the Papers of Abraham Lincoln Review and Planning Team. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum convened the team to assess over 15 years of editorial work on the Papers of Abraham Lincoln and to consult on digital platforms to publish images, transcriptions, and annotations of documents from throughout Lincoln’s life.
In addition to Lewis, other members of the Review and Planning Team include:
- Daniel Feller, director of the Papers of Andrew Jackson project at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville
- Susan Perdue, director of the Documents Compass program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities
- Matthew Pinsker, director of Dickinson College’s House Divided Project
- Jennifer Stertzer, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Digital Editing and senior editor for the Papers of George Washington Digital Edition
These projects represent the cutting edge in documentary editing and digital history. The inclusion of CWGK among them is a testament to the importance of the work this project has done since it organized in 2010. In addition to delivering a new perspective on the Civil War to teachers, students, and researchers across the Commonwealth and the United States, CWGK has earned a seat at the table for important discussions about where the history field will go in the twenty-first century.
“These folks that were brought in have worked on different projects around the country, and have many years of experience in different areas,” Lowe said. “They’re all quite skilled in documentary editing and understand that world.”
The Papers of Abraham Lincoln project began in 1985 as the Lincoln Legal Papers Project, dedicated to finding all surviving records from Lincoln’s legal career. When that work was finished, the mission was expanded in 2000 to finding all Lincoln documents and putting them into a digital format.
Civil War Governors of Kentucky project director Patrick Lewis and Kentucky Historical Society colleague Mandy Higgins led a #TuesdayTakeover of the Southern Historical Association’s Graduate Council Twitter feed on February 14, 2017.
The SHA Grad Council invites historians to share career advice with emerging professionals in graduate programs across the United States. Lewis and Higgins live tweeted their work day and used their activities to offer tips and advice on managing public history careers, digital history startup and sustainability, and the transferability of graduate skills into the public history workplace.
Preview the day’s advice below, and see the full recap here:
- Digital history and how it is useful
- A historical “social network” being developed through CWGK annotation
- The place in digital humanities for early career historians
- How to use the documentary project’s user guides
Want to learn how to search the new Civil War Governors site? How to use its features to build a research project for class or for family or local history? Interested in applying these 10,000+ documents to your home town or family tree?
Read our new feature in Kentucky Ancestors Online, the KHS digital magazine devoted to Kentucky families, locations, stories, resources, and migration.
Project Director Patrick Lewis examines the historical roots of a local legend from Trigg County.
The Civil War Governors of Kentucky staff is wrapping up the grant year for both of our major federal grants, from the NEH and the NHPRC. This is a good time to reflect back on what we have accomplished.
- Designing and launching Early Access
- Providing users access to over 10,000 documents from five central Kentucky repositories
- Publicizing these Early Access resources and the types of research the project can support on this blog
- Summarizing our development experience with Omeka in a detailed report aimed at fellow digital editors who are interested in the platform
And we are now poised to enter a new grant year. What will Civil War Governors be doing between now and next October?
- Annotating and networking the people, organizations, places, and geographical features in 1,500 documents using a custom tool, MashBill
- Working with eight superb early-career historians to populate our annotation network
- Publishing a new exhibit “Networking Caroline” that previews the coming annotation network using eleven documents from a familiar story to Civil War Governors readers
Civil War Governors is also going live in 2017, hosting a major scholarly conference in Frankfort and presenting at professional organizations and community groups across Kentucky.