SCWH Cross-Post: So, You Want to Create a Digital Project

CWG-K XMLHave you found a hidden gem of a collection that you want to share with the world? Thinking of creative ways to actively engage your students in the work of history? Want to attract students to your department and develop diverse career skills for history majors?

If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions, a digital project might be in your future. But how exactly do you do start?

From the earliest conceptual stages through our Early Access web development, Civil War Governors has learned quite a bit about designing and launching a digital history project—sometimes the hard way.

Read some distilled tips from project director Patrick Lewis at the Society of Civil War Historians blog.

NHPRC Support

The Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition and the Kentucky Historical Society are proud to announce that Civil War Governors was awarded $62,400 in the May 2016 cycle of National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC) funding.

This is the second grant Civil War Governors has recieved from NHPRC. The first grant supported the digital publication of Early Access, an Omeka interface that will host 10,000 Civil War-era documents. This site will allow users to access 10,000 digital document images and transcriptions, and sample the rich content that Civil War Governors will deliver. Civil War Governors true impact on scholarship, however, will be in annotation. To the extent possible given the restrictions and biases of the historical record, Civil War Governors will identify, research, and link together every person, place, and organization found in its documents. This web of tens—perhaps 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. The network of identified and annotated people, places, businesses, government agencies, and military units, will come as close as possible to a historical reconstruction of mid-nineteenth century society as it was lived and experienced in wartime Kentucky.

This second grant will support that next phase of work: publishing an annotation interface of 1,500 fully edited and linked documents. This important step to the full Digital Documentary Edition of a projected 40,000 documents will help reconstruct the lost lives and voices of tens of thousands of Kentuckians who interacted with the office of the governor during the war years. The diverse and largely unknown lives of the people captured in the Civil War Governors documents—generals and politicians, prostitutes and plantation mistresses, free African American professionals and “contraband” refugees—as well as the social, economic, political, and geographic networks they allow us to visualize and understand, are what Civil War Governors hopes to capture and deliver to the public.

This will be an important test of the Civil War Governors vision of a digital research environment within which a user can encounter the past multi-dimensionally through the documents and the powerful annotation network that links the documents together. In this document-driven historical ecosystem, users can explore intuitively—moving seamlessly through seemingly disparate historical themes, events, and topics; breaking into the plane of social and geographic space to understand the deep patterns that underlay the issues raised in a text or set of texts. Through it, Civil War Governors will understand how project staff must balance all phases of editing work as well as how a variety of users will navigate the research platform. Early Access shows the public a tantalizing sample of Civil War Governors content, but the next phase will demonstrate how Civil War Governors will shape the ways researchers, students, and teachers will explore the past in the future.

Civil War Governors at Keele

In a previous post, Patrick Lewis discussed the exciting opportunity to bring the work of CWG-K to the David Bruce Centre Colloquium held at Keele University in England. This video is the web version of his presentation. Watch it for a preview of the powerful social networks that CWG-K will be able to generate and analyze!

Civil War Governors Going to England

keele logoPatrick Lewis will take the Civil War Governors of Kentucky (CWG-K) across the Atlantic to the David Bruce Centre for American Studies at Keele University in Staffordshire, England. On October 30, 2015, he will present with leading scholars from the United States, Canada, and the U.K. at the Bruce Centre’s colloquium on the Civil War and Slavery. He was interviewed by the Insider, the KHS staff magazine.

For updates on the trip, follow Patrick @KyPLewis and #CWGK

Q: What makes this opportunity at Keele special?
A: A couple of things. First, it allows KHS to demonstrate what our staff already knows; we are doing world class work here and our emphasis on digital dissemination of our collections, our resources and our scholarship means that Kentucky history will be front and center as students, teachers and researchers across the world write the next generation of history and use Kentucky lessons to address worldwide challenges.

But this isn’t just about KHS making connections to international institutions. This colloquium highlights how the quality of KHS programs feeds off of and mutually benefits each other. The event is being organized by two-time KHS Scholarly Research Fellow Laura Sandy. A few years ago, Laura came to do work on so-called “slave stealing” abolitionists in the antebellum era. We at CWG-K knew that our project would have wonderful material for her to extend that study into the war years, but we weren’t far enough along to let her access anything.

When Laura came back this summer, that had changed. She spent weeks combing through our nearly 12,000 transcribed documents and took home a massive haul of primary sources for herself, her graduate students, and her classroom. Laura was putting together the program for the colloquium while she was in Kentucky and insisted that we come to share CWG-K with American historians working in the U.K.

This opportunity to show the power of CWG-K to an international audience would never have been possible if KHS hadn’t built a relationship with Laura through the fellowship program. Our quality work across the organization helps us build a reputation for excellence, launch new programs and find new constituents in unexpected places.

Q: Why is a project like Civil War Governors important for international scholars?
A: Access. Laura knows firsthand how difficult it can be to find research travel funds. The financial barrier to conducting original research is huge for domestic scholars, but it is unbelievable for those across an ocean. CWG-K will break down those barriers by providing free digital access to documents from archives in Kentucky and across the United States. For the people at this colloquium, CWG-K is a lifeline for teaching and research material that will sustain American history programs in the U.K.

But this question of access is just as important here in Kentucky as it is in England. For students and teachers in rural counties who can’t afford to travel or purchase historical database subscriptions, CWG-K provides them free access to world class content that fits their curricular needs and is set in their home towns.

Access is why CWG-K is such a great KHS project. It gives back to our Kentucky communities while it simultaneously faces outward and shows the best of the Commonwealth to the world.

Q: So, with CWG-K going online soon, why do scholars like Laura even need to come to KHS anymore?
A: Simple, for every question that CWG-K will help researchers answer, it will raise many more. CWG-K couldn’t be a better advertisement for doing historical work in Kentucky and on Kentucky topics. Say a student uses CWG-K to write a short seminar paper; as they look to expand that germ of an idea into a thesis or dissertation, they seek out KHS collections and apply for KHS fellowships to broaden their source base and confirm the initial findings they made using our database. They find more resources in our online catalog and digital collections, make a list of relevant artifacts in the object catalog, tap KHS staff connections to find related content in Lexington and Louisville, spin off a chapter for publication in the Register, and serve as panelists for a public symposium we host.

CWG-K will be yet another access point that establishes relationships between KHS and history professionals. And KHS has an excellent habit of developing those relationships into really productive partnerships that touch on every part of KHS and benefit all of our constituent groups.