History and Art History
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

NEH Awards Grant for Mapping Early Elections to Mason Historians

Lampi notebook
A page from Philip Lampi's notebook cataloging early American elections.

The National Endowment for the Humanities, Division of Preservation and Access, announced on Wednesday, March 23, 2016, that it had awarded a three-year grant of $200,000 to support a new project to be housed at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. Mapping Early American Elections will offer enhanced access to the early American election returns that are currently contained in the New Nation Votes database. The project will create new interactive maps of selected local, state, and national elections from 1788 to 1825 as well as produce materials that will allow individual researchers to generate their own maps.

The New Nation Votes dataset is the only comprehensive record of elections in existence for the early American republic. Scattered in newspapers, state archives, and local repositories around the country, the elections returns have been painstakingly gathered over the past forty-five years by Philip J. Lampi of the American Antiquarian Society. A succession of NEH grants over the past decade has allowed the AAS, in conjunction with Tufts University, to create an online database containing the results for over 23,600 local, state, and national elections. In these elections, over 44,000 candidates participated in contests for offices ranging from town council, to county coroner, to state assembly, to US Congress, to presidential elector.

The next phase of the project entails moving the raw data into a format that will make the election returns more accessible to broader audiences. The project will be led by Sheila Brennan, Director of Strategic Initiatives at RRCHNM and principal investigator on the grant, Lincoln Mullen, an assistant professor and co-PI on the grant, and Professor Rosemarie Zagarri, the project's lead historian. The project will produce a series of interactive maps for selected congressional, gubernatorial, and state legislative elections. Explanatory essays will describe the historical context in which the maps should be understood. The team will also prepare the entire election dataset for translation into a mapping program and provide online tutorials that teach users—including journalists, teachers, and researchers--how to map the data for particular elections for themselves.

Early American elections offer a window into the formative era of American politics. The era from the time of the federal Constitutional Convention to the election of John Quincy Adams witnessed the emergence of the perennial questions of American political life: Who could vote, and at what rates would they turn out at the polls? Which parties and candidates would they support? How did various states and different regions vote in the same election? Maps provide the most vivid, visually appealing, and immediate answers to such questions.

The Mapping Early American Elections project will enable ordinary citizens as well as academic researchers to ask their own questions about past elections. By allowing users to trace the evolution of American democracy, the project hopes to encourage Americans to become more actively engaged in current-day elections in their hometowns, counties, and the nation.

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