A documentary project led by a University of Southern Mississippi history professor that is digitizing more than 20,000 letters written to Mississippi governors during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods has launched its first 2,000 documents online. The project, which is a feature of USM's Dale Center for the Study of War & Society, is also seeking volunteers for assistance with transcription of original documents.
The Civil War & Reconstruction Governors of Mississippi project is housing these papers at CWRGM.org. Each document is accompanied by detailed metadata, transcriptions, and early annotations provided through subject tagging features that enhance discoverability in the collection. The project is organized and led by USM history professor Susannah Ural, who has received more than $500,000 in private and federal grant funding for the project. The CWRGM project has also employed and provided highly marketable training to over a dozen USM students.
“We created CWRGM for diverse audiences, which is a challenging but important goal,” Ural said. “Our users come from secondary classrooms and genealogical societies, from universities and the interested public. We invite and welcome feedback, which will strengthen the project, and we hope visitors of our website find CWRGM informative and useful, as well as inspiring — though what will be found will not always inspire hope. Often history does the opposite. But it is through an honest exploration of the past that we can build a better informed and more hopeful future.”
Regardless of race, class, or gender, 19th century Americans contacted their governors about every concern imaginable. That makes these collections an invaluable resource for "hearing" from individuals whose voices are often missing in traditional sources, as well as from those who wielded significant power during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. The collection also allows users to watch as that power shifted hands, repeatedly, during these revolutionary times, offering users the opportunity to study and better understand how some of our most fundamental rights can be protected, stolen, or abused.
Those who are interested in volunteering can learn how easy this is under the "Get Involved" tab at the project website CWRGM.org. The only skills needed are the ability to read cursive and an eye for detail, and this work can be done anywhere with internet access. Additionally, Ural was featured at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History “History is Lunch” event on July 21, where she demonstrated how to transcribe for interested volunteers.
CWRGM is grounded in a cross-domain partnership that makes its work possible. First, archivists update or draft calendars and digitize and verify all documents according to field standard. They then send the digital document files to a team of digital librarians, who store the images and write and review metadata for each document in the CWRGM collection before it is placed online. Finally, researchers write and review all transcriptions and annotations for the documents, including students and worldwide volunteers.
CWRGM sponsors include the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission of the National Archives, and the Watson-Brown Foundation, as well as support from USM, including the Office of the Vice President for Research, the College of Arts & Sciences, the School of Humanities, and the Dale Center for the Study of War & Society. Support also came from our project partners: the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the Mississippi Digital Library, and the research team based in the USM History program.