Publication Date

December 8, 2009



Founders Early AccessOne of the best ways to learn about democracy is to study documents from America’s Founding Fathers. Last year, Congress encouraged the National Archives to create an online forum that would make these documents more accessible to the public and historians alike. Working with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities’ Documents Compass, “a nonprofit organization designed to assist in the digital production of historical documentary editions,” the National Archives recently released their newest project, Founders Early Access, through the Rotunda (the University of Virginia Press’ site for the publication of original digital scholarship). The project began this year with the help of a competitice grant awarded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the grant-making arm of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)*. Founders Early Access features “digital editions of the papers of many of the major figures of the early republic are presented in a fully searchable and interoperable online environment.”

Delve into the site’s ever-expanding digital collection of unpublished documents from key players that laid the foundation for American democracy. Users can peruse resources thematically linked to individual historical figures and search for chronologically organized documents.

The following collections of previously published volumes are currently available for license* (quoted directly from the Rotunda American Founding Era); however, be sure to check back frequently as the site will continue adding similar digital collections from James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson, John Marshall, and John Jay.

The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution
Edited by John P. Kaminski, Gaspare J. Saladino, Richard Leffler, Charles H. Schoenleber and Margaret A. Hogan

This landmark work in historical and legal scholarship draws upon thousands of sources to trace the Constitution’s progress through each of the thirteen states’ conventions. The digital edition allows users to search the complete contents by date, title, author, recipient, or state affiliation and preserves the copious annotations and thorough indexing of the print edition.

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition
Barbara B. Oberg and J. Jefferson Looney, Editors

Crucial to our nation’s history as author of the Declaration of Independence and third president, Thomas Jefferson was also a major figure in the Enlightenment, representing for Europeans the embodiment of the early 19th-century American mind. Since 1950, his writings have been compiled in the ongoing project The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Rotunda’s digital edition brings together all 33 volumes published through 2006 into one searchable online resource. This content will be joined soon by the first four volumes of the Retirement Series sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which documents the time between Jefferson’s return to private life and his death in 1826. This XML edition includes all the illustrations and bibliographical content of the print edition, with the added convenience of linked cross-references and indexes.

The Adams Papers Digital Edition
C. James Taylor, Editor in Chief

The definitive record of the nation’s first great political family, The Adams Papers Digital Edition comprises John Adams’s complete diaries, selected legal papers, and the ongoing series of family correspondence and state papers. This XML edition presents in a searchable online environment all 30 volumes of the Adams Papers from the founding generation published through 2006. The contents are fully annotated, feature linked cross-references, and may be accessed by date, series, author, or recipient, as well as through a master index (coming shortly). Future volumes will appear in installments.

The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition
Theodore J. Crackel, Editor in Chief

All 55 volumes of the celebrated print edition published through 2007, encompassing five series and the complete diaries, are now available in one XML-based publication. Users may search on full text and by date, author, and recipient. The exceptional indexing of the print volumes is combined here into a single master index, and all internal document cross-references are linked. The content may be navigated by series, date, or index entry.

The Dolley Madison Digital Edition
Edited by Holly C. Shulman

Containing over 900 letters, with nearly 2,000 additional letters to follow in periodic updates, this XML-based archive allows users to perform simple or advanced searches by period, correspondent, or topic. The letters may also be accessed directly through a sortable list or read in chronological order. Proper names link to a glossary that identifies over 1,000 people, providing a unique biographical view on the elites of the early Republic.

* Added after initial posting for clarification purposes.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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