We have just purchased permanent access to the American Founding Era Collection, which we trialled back in December and January. If you’ll forgive me for re-using old material, I thought it would be helpful therefore to re-post one of the earliest posts on this blog, which goes into detail about what the collection contains and how to navigate it.
The American Founding Era Collection contains digital versions of the published papers of several major figures of the time. The collections it contains are as follows:
- The Adams Papers
- The Papers of Thomas Jefferson
- The Dolley Madison Digital Edition
- The Papers of James Madison
- The Papers of George Washington
- The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution
- The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (coming soon!)
With the exception of the Dolley Madison papers, these are digital editions of the print versions, which have been being published in large, ongoing series for many years. We do have these print volumes at the VHL (which you can locate by searching SOLO), but the digital versions offer a variety of ways to access the papers and are of course fully searchable – no need to go hunting through indexes or worry you might miss a reference along the way, which for such enormous publications is a huge help.
Note on the Adams Papers: The Founding Era Collection only contains these papers from the founding-generation of the Adams family, and so the bulk of the papers available date from the 18th century.
Note on the Dolley Madison Digital Edition: This is the first ever complete edition of all Dolley Madison’s correspondence. This collection was ‘born digital’, and is currently complete up to 1837. It is included in and can be accessed via the Founding Era Collection, but also has a separate platform, the one on which it was originally built, which also includes annotations that aren’t accessible from the Founding Era platform. There are links across to the standalone platform from each document in the Founding Era Collection so that these annotations can be found easily.
Note on the Papers of Alexander Hamilton: This collection was not available when we initially trialled the resource, but we have decided to add it to our purchase. We will gain access to these papers when they become available later this summer.
How to use the database
As well as the full-text search, the browsing options are very powerful. You can browse collections individually or the whole lot at once, and have a choice of doing so by chronology (date of document) or by contents (order of the documents in the published volumes). There are also browsable indexes available to the Adams, Jefferson, and Washington Papers.
Once you have started browsing any of the contents, chronology, indexes or your search results, there is a navigation compass to take you forward and back through the different levels and documents. It looks a bit like part of the background (at least, I didn’t realise what it was at first!), so in case it’s not just me that overlooked it, I thought it was worth pointing out. The platform’s own guide describes how the compass works as follows:
The navigation compass can be used to move between different places in the current view. The up and down arrows are used to move up and down within the hierarchy. For example, starting at the top of the contents view and repeatedly clicking the down arrow takes you from the publication to a series to a volume and so on down to individual documents. For the chronology view, doing the same thing takes you from decade to year to month to day to documents within that day. The left and right arrows are used to navigate between adjacent items at the same hierarchical level. Thus, if you are in the level corresponding to volumes of a publication, then clicking the left or right arrow takes you to the preceding or following volume, respectively. Again, if you are at the months level of the chronological hierarchy, then clicking the left or right arrows takes you to the preceding or following month.
It took me a bit of getting used to, but once you’ve got your head round the structure of the collection, it is an easy way to move from one part to another. Next to it you always see where you are in the hierarchy.
The documents themselves are transcribed, not page images, and contain links to notes, explanatory references and other documents where relevant. You can print documents, but there are no options for exporting/saving records other than to make a note of the durable URL given in the citation box at the bottom of each document. This box is a useful addition though, giving you guidance on how to cite the document in bibliographies, which can often be tricky to know how to do for online resources.
The collections are still being added to, as the print publication projects are still ongoing. There is also a complementary project, Founders Early Access, which is freely available online as well as accessible within the main site. The Early Access collection contains documents that are in the process of being prepared for both print and online publication. Once the documents are added to the main collection, they disappear from the Early Access site. The link for the Early Access collection is: http://rotunda.upress.virginia.edu/founders/FOEA.html and you can keep up with updates to it at http://rotunda.upress.virginia.edu/founders/FOEA-history.html. It might also be worth pointing out that the University of Virginia is working with the National Archives to make some of the Founders’ papers freely available online from 2012.
The American Founding Era Collection is accessible via OxLIP+. If you are away from Oxford, you can get into the database as long as you sign in via SOLO/OxLIP+ first with your University single sign-on.