Natalie Smith “Think Humanities” Interview

NHPRC-funded Editorial Assistant Natalie Smith’s time with CWGK drew to a close with the end of the grant year in 2018. Before then, though, Smith sat down for an interview with the “Think Humanities” podcast produced by the Kentucky Humanities Council.

Listen below to hear Smith discuss the compelling and revealing human stories that CWGK highlights and to hear her enthusiasm for the work of public humanities in the Commonwealth today. Thank you, Natalie!

2019 Graduate Research Associates

Overview: The Kentucky Historical Society seeks two Graduate Research Associates (GRAs) familiar with 19th century United States history to write short informational entries for the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWGK). GRAs will receive a stipend of $5,000 each and can work remotely from their home institutions.

Each GRA will annotate 150 assigned documents. Each GRA must be a graduate student in at least the second year of a M.A. program in history or a related humanities discipline. These positions are funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), a branch of the National Archives. This continues a successful two-year program that has involved 10 GRAs

CWGK is an annotated, searchable, and freely-accessible online edition of documents associated with the chief executives of the commonwealth, 1860-1865. Yet CWGK is not solely about the five governors; it is about reconstructing the lost lives and voices of tens of thousands of Kentuckians who interacted with the office of the governor during the war years. CWGK will identify, research, and link together every person, place, and organization found in its documents. This web of hundreds of thousands of networked nodes will dramatically expand the number of actors in Kentucky and U.S. history, show scholars new patterns and hidden relationships, and recognize the humanity and agency of historically marginalized people. To see the project’s work to date, visit discovery.civilwargovernors.org.

Scope of Work: Each GRA will be responsible for researching and writing short entries on named persons, places, organizations, and geographical features in 150 documents. Each document contains an average of fifteen such entities. This work will be completed and submitted to CWGK for fact-checking before December 1, 2019.

Research and writing will proceed according to project guidelines concerning research sources and methods, editorial information desired, and adherence to house style. This will ensure 1) that due diligence is done to the research of each entity and 2) that information is recorded for each item in uniform ways which are easy to encode and search.

All research for the entries must be based in primary or credible secondary sources, and each GRA is expected to keep a virtual research file with notes and digital images of documents related to each entry. These will be examined regularly by the CWGK team as they fact check the GRA output and turned over to CWGK at the completion of the work. CWGK will fact-check all entries for research quality and adherence to house style. CWGK projects an average rate of one document annotated per two hours of work. Each GRA may expect their workload to be similar to adding on another class for the semester. They should expect to complete an average of 4 to 5 documents per week, though this may vary.

Each GRA will work remotely. Interaction with the documents and the writing of annotations will take place in a web-based annotation tool developed for CWGK, which can be dialed into from any location. CWGK will make use of online research databases to make its work efficient and uniform. Other archival sources may be of value but are not required by the research guidelines. Securing access to the paid databases required by CWGK (Ancestry.com, Fold3.com, and ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Louisville Courier Journal) is the responsibility of the GRA. If regular institutional access to these databases is not available to the GRA through a university or library, it is the responsibility of the GRA to purchase and use a subscription to these databases. KHS will not reimburse the GRA for any travel, copying, or other expenses incurred in CWGK research.

In order to maintain quality and consistency as well as to foster a collegial and collaborative work culture, CWGK will conduct weekly virtual “office hours” via Google Hangouts, during which GRAs are required to dial in, ask questions of staff, share expertise and research methods, and make connections with their peers. Virtual attendance at these office hours is mandatory, and multiple sessions may be offered to accommodate schedules.

The Kentucky Historical Society will hold copyright for all annotation research as work for hire.

Evaluation Criteria: A proposal should consist of at least a narrative statement of professional ability in the form of a cover letter, a CV, and two letters of recommendation. Additional supplementary materials that demonstrate capacity in the evaluation factors may also be included.

Proposal materials should be submitted to Patrick Lewis at patrick.lewis@ky.gov by no later than February 4, 2019. Any questions about the GRA program may be directed to Lewis as well.

The Kentucky Historical Society will evaluate the proposals based on the following factors:

Research Experience (70 points): Describe your familiarity with research in 19th century U.S. history. Describe some projects you have undertaken. What sources have you used? Have you been published? Have you interpreted historical research in forms other than a scholarly peer-reviewed publication? Discuss how a digital archival experience differs from your traditional archival experience.

Project Experience (30 points): Describe any work you have done in the editing of historical documents. Discuss how a project such as CWGK maintains balance between thorough research and production schedules. Have you worked on other collaborative projects in the field of history or otherwise? Describe the importance of time management and deadlines in your work. Describe your understanding of and/or experience with the Digital Humanities. From what you know of the CWGK project, how does it fit with current trends in the field? What do you hope to gain from working on the CWGK project?

From #MondayMystery to #TuesdayTranscription

It is always unsatisfying when transcribing a document to not be able to determine a word, phrase, or name. In July, I was working on a document when I came across a name that I could not decipher. After showing the name to the CWGK team, we were all stumped. So, what now? Do we just let this person fall back into the depths of history? I was disgruntled by our defeat.

After a discussion of what to do, we found our solution: social media. I am not a native Kentuckian (though some of my co-workers are), but I thought, who better to look at these signatures than people with ties to the Commonwealth? Who knows–maybe a signature could be a long-lost family member.

Social media users, such as those on Facebook and Twitter, put on their thinking caps and came to our rescue. Every Monday the Kentucky Historical Society post an image of a signature from one of the CWGK documents using the hashtag #MysteryMonday and ask our social media followers to help us decipher the name. In our first week one we discovered the name with ease, and I began to hope this process would open up more doors— I wasn’t wrong.

On August 13, 2018, we posted a signature that I NEVER thought would be determined. In less than one hour, the Kenton County Public Library swooped in and named our mystery person. Who knew success would taste this sweet? Well, I got a little too excited, because over the next three weeks, CWGK and social media were left without resolution. This, as it turned out, would be our longest streak without a name.

But wait! On September 10, one of our Facebook followers ended up identifying a signature that we had already deemed unrecognizable. Not only did Mr. Bigwood give us the name in the 1860 census record (this is where we check the names; every signature has to be corroborated by a primary source), but he gave us historical context. He stated that “This is old Germanic script. You can tell because of the distinctive ‘H’ which looks like it has been tilted on its side (the third letter), and the distinctive ‘a’ which immediately follows it. The signature reads “Johannes Dolle.” His insight has helped our researchers to look at names a bit differently in the transcribing stage.

Over the course of the last six months, with the help of social media, CWGK has discovered 16 out of the 23 names published online. Not too shabby!

As we approach the New Year, we are making some changes! First, we will be replacing the #MondayMystery to #TuesdayTranscription. We do this to keep true to the type of work the CWGK team conducts. And we wanted to have a hashtag (#) that would be unique to our postings. We look forward to starting 2019 with a clear perspective. Take a minute and click through our map to look at the locations where we traveled together on Mondays during 2018.

Don’t forget to follow The Kentucky Historical Society on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with #TuesdayTranscription and other CWGK projects.

CWGK Annotates 1,000 Documents

CWGK editorial staff recently annotated their 1,000th document. They have identified and written short biographies of each person who appears in 1,000 of the more than 10,000 documents that make up CWGK. Although their work continues, they are sharing their thoughts at this milestone in three blogs published by KHS. Read excerpts below, and follow the entire series through the links.

Natalie Smith, “Uncovering Untold Stories of Civil War-era Kentuckians
Editing documents in the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWGK) often means I’m diving headfirst into the grittier aspects of the Civil War. Crime, poverty, starvation and guerrilla attacks only scratch the surface of what Kentuckians endured during this chaotic period in our country’s history.

Emily Moses, “Staff Member Gains Insight from CWGK
Every day that I work on The Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWGK) I am in awe of how this digital collection provides insight into the lives of 19th century Kentuckians. I am not a Kentuckian, nor by training am I a Civil War historian; I am a southern historian.

Patrick Lewis, “Annotation Requires Writing for People and Machines
Our biographies work. They build upon one another to create hundreds of thousands of discrete records of historical events large and small. Each treated equally. The world we capture in our biographies can be set into motion; viewed from the perspective of a town, of a day, of people who journey together on a specific steamboat. The number of these stories that we encode, both mundane and the world-changing, are almost limitless. The scale of this data is so great that we can’t yet fully imagine how we are going to use it. Has the historian who will build the system that starts and stops this network in time or peeks into the totality of a community on a critical month or day been born yet?

CWGK in The Federalist

What expectations did people have of local, state, and federal governments? Who were the faces of governance in their communities? How did they conceive of justice and equity? How did they understand the interaction of branches and levels of government, and how did they play governing institutions off of one another to secure the outcomes they desired?

In the Fall 2018 issue of The Federalist, the newsletter of the Society for History in the Federal Government, CWGK Project Director Patrick Lewis reflected on the important and relevant questions that the project has raised — both in the materials that it has found, published, and annotated and also in the process of managing a program within state government.

From using social networking to discover local power brokers operating outside the formal channels of power to appreciating the inability of antebellum institutions to cope with the overwhelming crisis that secession and Civil War brought to Kentucky society, CWGK provides a new research path forward for historians. How did people understand their government before the war and, when the conflict came to their doorstep, what expectations did they have for government intervention and assistance?

I have developed a profound empathy for both the plaintive citizens bringing horrifying tales of death, crime, sexual violence, destitution, and starvation as well as for the representatives of government at all levels who are chronically unable to muster sufficient resources to address the systemic problems they saw. It is easy to see the
Civil War as a crisis of elected government—at a legislative,
gubernatorial, Congressional, and especially Presidential level—but I have come to appreciate the war as it drug down an underprepared and underpowered civil service under the weight of modern, total war. The antebellum systems buckled underneath the crisis. That book is far more complicated to write than a conventional political history and far less marketable than a new battle history. That book about the slow collapse of governmental systems under unforeseen external stress might also b far more relevant to a moment when the national coffers have been drained by years of military conflict and faith in the capacity of electoral politics to address the day-to-day issues facing the citizenry is critically low.

Access a PDF of the full article here, or read the full issue at The Federalist.

CWGK Welcomes Graduate Research Associate Lucas Somers

With funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the Civil War Governors of Kentucky (CWGK) recruited two Graduate Research Associates (GRAs) from premier history programs across the United States to help annotate 300 documents in 2018.

The GRAs underscore a core principle of CWGK and KHS, that how the work of history gets done is as important as the fact that it gets done. The GRA positions allow CWGK to nurture research skills in emerging scholars as well as exposing them to digital project startup and management, collaborative work as a member of a research team, the establishment and maintenance of project policies, and the production of historical knowledge in diverse forms for audiences beyond academia. Working as a GRA on the CWGK project not only builds these students’ digital humanities skills portfolios, it makes them better scholarly researchers by encouraging them to flip their engagement with the archive and to think seriously about how research collection are built and curated as well as how they are used by audiences beyond academic researchers like themselves.

Joining Brianna Kirk of the University of Virginia as 2018 GRA will be Lucas Somers of the University of Southern Mississippi

Lucas Somers
University of Southern Mississippi

Somers is a history Ph.D. student at the University of Southern Mississippi studying the era of the American Civil War and Reconstruction under Dr. Susannah J. Ural. He received a B.A. and M.A. in History from Western Kentucky University where he served as a Graduate Research Assistant for the Institute for Civil War Studies and completed a master’s thesis in which he explored the reported dreams and visions of Abraham Lincoln. While at USM, Somers has worked as a graduate researcher for the Beauvoir Veteran Project and is working toward the Graduate Certificate in Public History. Somers aims to write a dissertation which will examine ways communities in the South dealt with the trauma and suffering of the Civil War.

CWGK Welcomes Graduate Research Associates—Scott Ackerman and Brianna Kirk

Once again, with funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the Civil War Governors of Kentucky (CWGK) recruited two Graduate Research Associates (GRAs) from premier history programs across the United States to help annotate 300 documents in 2018.

The GRAs underscore a core principle of CWGK and KHS, that how the work of history gets done is as important as the fact that it gets done. The GRA positions allow CWGK to nurture research skills in emerging scholars as well as exposing them to digital project startup and management, collaborative work as a member of a research team, the establishment and maintenance of project policies, and the production of historical knowledge in diverse forms for audiences beyond academia. Working as a GRA on the CWGK project not only builds these students’ digital humanities skills portfolios, it makes them better scholarly researchers by encouraging them to flip their engagement with the archive and to think seriously about how research collection are built and curated as well as how they are used by audiences beyond academic researchers like themselves.

The 2018 GRA class is as follows:

Scott Ackerman
City University of New York

Ackerman is a Ph.D. candidate at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. His dissertation, entitled “Men Whose Hearts Are In The Work’: The Union Army and the Implementation of Federal Emancipation Policy, 1862-1865,” examines the links between military emancipation and the broader antislavery agenda of the Republican Party. He holds an MA in American History from George Mason University and a BA in history from Dickinson College. A practicing museum professional and public historian, he has previously worked for President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, D.C., and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. He currently serves as a Writing Across the Curriculum Fellow at Bronx Community College.

Brianna Kirk
University of Virginia

Kirk is a history Ph.D. student at the University of Virginia studying the Civil War and Reconstruction under Dr. Elizabeth Varon. A 2015 graduate of Gettysburg College, her research interests focus on the immediate post-war period and Civil War memory. After graduating from Gettysburg, Kirk entered the public history world and worked at the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia, as the Lead Historical Interpreter and Visitor Engagement Supervisor. While there, she spoke on various topics related to Civil War history and memory, and even learned how to fire a rifled musket and a cannon. Now back in the academic world, Kirk is currently writing her master’s thesis on the Norfolk Race Riot that occurred in Norfolk, Virginia, in April 1866.

Using CWGK Annotations

The Civil War Governors of Kentucky (CWGK) team is happy to announce the launch of the new, annotated CWGK website! The updated and expanded site publishes for the first time 350 fully annotated documents and combines the previously launched Omeka platform with the power and versatility of our annotation tool—Mashbill—to produce complex social networking visualizations for each entity (person, organization, place, and geographical feature). The CWGK team worked with Brumfield Labs and Dazhi Jiao to complete this latest digital publishing platform.

Let’s explore the entity page of Governor James Fisher Robinson. You can see Robinson’s social network and a visualization of this network—for example, his connection to G. F. Cook (circled in black).

And looking at the entity page for G. F. Cook, we see his connection to Governor Robinson.

The legend on the left depicts the different types of entities you will see in the visualization and the different types of relationships that link them together.

Back to Robinson’s entity page, there are many more important pieces of information. First, you can see the full biographical entry for Robinson and the citation for the sources consulted in writing his biography.

Below the visualization are a series of tabs that will give you access to additional information and tools about each entity. There are four tabs: Metadata, Citation, Documents, and Download.

The metadata tab will give you access to the entities birth date, death date, gender, race, and entity type.

The citation tab will give the full entity citation for the convenience of the researcher.

The documents tab will give you a list of EVERY document that this particular entity is linked to throughout the CWGK website. The list is quite long for Robinson.

The download tab will allow you to download the XML code for that particular entity.

This is just the beginning of publishing fully annotated documents and visualizations on the CWGK website. Eventually, tens of thousands more documents and hundreds of thousands more entities will be published. Updates to the site will appear continually as the editing process continues and each document is completed.

So stay tuned and visit often!

CWGK Annotation is Live!

2017 wraps up with a triumph for CWGK. The project published its first 350 annotated documents, with each of the people, organizations, places, and geographical features mentioned in the documents linked in the text. The basics of CWGK’s document viewer interface look the same, with the addition of the links to the annotated entities highlighted as they appear in the transcription.

When a user clicks on an highlighted name, they will navigate to the entity’s page. Whatever CWGK researchers have found about the individual will be written in a short biographical statement, with a full citation just below it. Most strikingly, for people and organizations, the user will see a social network visualization drawn from the relationships found in CWGK documents. These can range from the simple:

to the spectacular:

These annotated documents aren’t the only new edition to the CWGK site. The project has also updated over 1,600 transcriptions, delivering users the most reliable representation of the text possible.

Stay tuned for more, too. CWGK’s new system allows for rolling publication as new transcriptions and annotations are approved. From this time forward, CWGK will be an ever expanding and interconnecting network of primary and secondary material that allows new and deeper access to the lives of everyday people caught in the middle of the country’s greatest conflict.

A great deal of this editorial work was funded by a grant from the Scholarly Editions and Translations program of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Development of the annotation and visualization systems were funded by two grants from the Publishing Historical Records in Documentary Editions program of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

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?