History and Art History
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

ACLS Digital Extension Grant to Migrate Papers of the War Department

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media and the Department of History and Art History are excited to announce that the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) awarded Sheila Brennan and RRCHNM one of five digital extension grants to migrate the Papers of the War Department 1784-1800, (PWD) an online documentary edition comprising nearly 43,000 digital documents, to Omeka S to revitalize and stabilize this legacy digital humanities project. The migration will allow for an efficient upgrade of the infrastructure and will provide a path for long-term preservation and access, while also allowing the team to redesign the user interface thus enabling greater use and discoverability of these early federal documents.

On November 8, 1800, fire destroyed the US War Department office and the records held within. For over 200 years, the records of one of the first federal agencies, representing much of the early government’s work, were unavailable for research and learning. The papers do not merely record military matters, but also how the Department handled Native American affairs, veterans’ pensions, and procurement from merchants across the nation. The War Office was the nation’s largest single consumer of fabric, clothing, shoes, food, medicine, building materials, and weapons of all kinds.  Ted Crackel and staff at East Stroudsburg University led a decade-long effort to digitize and unite copies of nearly 43,000 lost documents,  and then transferred those assets to RRCHNM in 2006. The Papers of the War Department (PWD) website presents digitized copies and richly-described metadata of the papers, together with community-contributed transcriptions.

Once fully migrated to Omeka S, the project’s existing metadata, which includes the names of thousands of individuals and geographic places referenced in correspondence, will be connected across the semantic web as linked open data. Jim Safely, PWD’s original web architect, will lead the migration process, and Kim Nguyen, RRCHNM’s Lead Web Designer, will redesign the PWD user experience.

PWD’s Editor-in-Chief, Christopher Hamner will work with Brennan to develop four learning modules for use in upper-level high school and introductory undergraduate courses. Enhanced documentation and outreach combined with a new system will make the Papers of the War Department more intuitive and inviting as it expands the project’s user base of scholars, students and teachers, history enthusiasts, and genealogists, and researchers of all levels.

We are extremely grateful to ACLS for this opportunity to extend and sustain access to these important documents from the early American republic.

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