To “Serve this Long Term at Home”: Robert Buffum, Mental Illness, and the Prison Trap

CWGK Project Director Patrick Lewis writes a new piece in Nursing Clio about troubled Civil War veteran Robert Buffum.

[I]f some veterans can never escape the battlefield, Robert Buffum could never leave his cell. He spent more time behind bars of one sort or the other than he did as a free man after leaving the army. … The man continually reached out for help. And even when his society tried to do right by him, those treatments had the unintentional effect of moving him from one subconscious nightmare to another, lived one.

What does his experience in asylums and prisons mean for contemporary American veterans? Visit Nursing Clio for the full story and check out the CWGK reader and discussion packet, “Where I Now Stand” to bring the conversation to your classroom or community group.

An Alternative History of Sally J. Chinn

Cross-posted from the KHS Chronicle.

The Civil War Governors of Kentucky project is deep into annotation, the phase of the project where each of the people, organizations, places and geographical features mentioned in every CWGK document is tagged, researched and linked together in a vast social network. I’ve written elsewhere about what that will look like from a research and technical perspective. Today, I want to focus on the research finds and unexpected questions that this work brings.

This week, I was working on this document, a letter from some Hartford, Kentucky, bankers, looking to have one of their own named a notary public in December 1860. Routine state business. Then I started researching cashier John C. Morton.

Not surprisingly, given the way small-town businesses work then and now, he is the older brother of the Alonzo L. Morton who has recently taken a job in the circuit court office. The two young professionals lived together with their father, Isaac Morton, when the census man came to town. Except he wouldn’t be living with his parents for long. On June 30, 1860, John C. Morton had travelled east to Frankfort to marry Sally J. Chinn, the daughter of prosperous farmer, Franklin Chinn. Everyone called her Jennie.

Jennie Chinn Morton c1910, KHS Collections, 1917.1

Now, the name Jennie Chinn Morton carries a certain connotation at KHS. She was the secretary-treasurer and later regent of the revived KHS of the late 19th century, the first editor of the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society and the driving force behind the establishment of this organization in permanent state offices in Frankfort, first in the capitol annex and later in the Old State Capitol itself. She shaped publications, research and collections. Jennie Chinn Morton was the Kentucky Historical Society.

This is not to hero worship. I have issues with her interpretation of the past and whose Kentucky stories she valued. I question the history she wrote and why she wrote it. But, her legacy as an institution builder is a model for any public history administrator. The Kentucky Historical Society has grown and evolved since Morton, but without her, the seed would never have been planted.

So, could this 21-year-old newlywed be that Jennie Chinn Morton? A quick search through our digital collections confirmed that it was. The finding aid to an 1893 diary, mentions that she was “Soon widowed after her marriage to John C. Morton of Hartford, Kentucky in 1860” after which she “turned her time and attention to literary pursuits.” Did she ever.

I still haven’t puzzled what happened to John Morton. Did he die of some summer disease right after their marriage? Did he rush off to enlist in one of the contending armies in 1861? Whatever the case, his death allowed one of Kentucky’s most influential femmes sole in 19th and early 20th century Kentucky to pursue work that was meaningful to her.

I wonder what would have happened if he had lived?

CWGK Reviewed in Journal of American History

Mississippi State University Associate Professor of History Anne E. Marshall reviewed CWGK in the September 2017 issue of the Journal of American History. The JAH has taken a leading role in the promotion of digital scholarship by commissioning and publishing reviews of digital history resources. Some highlights from Marshall’s review include:

The CWGK is a rich and versatile project, well conceived and well executed. The site is meant to be useful to a vast array of viewers, it has the imprimatur and standards of the latest academic approaches to the Civil War. … This project provides an impressive model of what state historical agencies are capable of producing with the dedication of enough human and financial resources.

Read the full review online here.

CWGK Annotation Preview at DH2017

CWGK’s development partners at Brumfield Labs have been working on a series of NHPRC grants to develop MashBill, CWGK’s annotation management system. Through the work of NHPRC-funded Graduate Research Associates, CWGK has annotated approximately 1,200 documents to date, identifying over 8,000 unique people, places, organizations, and geographical features.

At the Digital Humanities 2017 conference in Montreal, Brumfield Labs presented a paper co-authored by CWGK staff, “Beyond Coocurrence: Network Visualization in the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.”

Read a full recap of the presentation here, complete with fascinating visualizations of CWGK annotation data drawn from MashBill. The recap was named an Editors’ Choice story by Digital Humanities Now in August 2017.

CWGK on Think Humanities Podcast

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.

CWGK Receives NEH Grant

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.

Related Links
NEH Announcement
Civil War Governors of Kentucky

“But I don’t Regret My Service to My Country”: The Trials of Lt. Robert Buffum

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.

Read more about this compelling and relevant story of military service, alcohol and opioid addiction, and mental health on the KHS Blog.

CWGK Symposium Storify Recap

Follow the discussions from the June 2017 CWGK symposium as they evolved in real time!

CWGK Graduate Research Associate Hannah O’Daniel created this Storify recap of the sessions in the Old State Capitol. More recap coverage is coming soon, and the papers will appear in an upcoming issue of the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society!

Annotating CWGK Documents with MashBill

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.

MashBill suggests known entities, but if the entity in question has not yet been added to the database, the annotator moves to the entity creation screen.

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.

New CWGK Document Brings KHS Staff Together

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!