Levenger Press: What is the Papers of Abraham Lincoln Project?
It's a long-term documentary editing project to locate, image, transcribe, annotate
and publish all documents written by Abraham Lincoln or to him.
LP: it appears to be one of the most ambitious archival projects now being undertaken.
Is that correct?
We expect to find perhaps as many as 200,000 documents within our project's scope.
We've located more than 7,500 documents in 400 repositories and private collections.
There are more than 22,000 at the Library of Congress, and tens of thousands at
the National Archives. In addition there are hundreds, if not thousands, more in
newspapers and other printed sources.
LP: What will readers
and scholars of Lincoln have access to that they don't have now?
will have access to all of Lincoln's writings as well as corresondence sent to him.
Though The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln was a monumental achievement
when it was published in 1953, it contained only documents written by Abraham
Lincoln, about 8,000 in all. The Papers of Abraham Lincoln will add incoming correspondence,
documents discovered since the publication of the Collected Works, and
"routine" documents that Collected Works excluded. By including the letters
to Lincoln, readers and scholars can better understand the brief endorsements that
Lincoln wrote on them.
LP: What's the advantage
of having these collected digitally?
will be able to search the texts of the documents. Each transcription will be encoded
to permit sophisticated searches of the documents as well. Annotation will provide
identification of people, places and events so that readers can understand the context
of each document.
LP: Will there be
a fee for people to access these?
The Papers of Abraham Lincoln will be freely available to a worldwide audience through
LP: How did you
come to be involved in the Project?
DS: I joined
the project in 1996 when it was the Lincoln Legal Papers. The Lincoln Legal Papers
began in 1985 to locate all documents related to Abraham Lincoln's quarter-century
legal career. We published a comprehensive electronic edition in 2000, The Law Practice
of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, on three DVD-ROMs. In
early 2008, we published a selective print edition, The Papers of Abraham Lincoln:
Legal Documents and Cases, in four volumes. These two publications complete
the Lincoln Legal Papers.
When I became director of
the Lincoln Legal Papers in 2000, I oversaw its expansion into the Papers of Abraham
Lincoln. The Legal Papers became Series I. Series II is the Illinois Papers, Lincoln's
personal and political correspondence up to his inauguration as president in March
1861. Series III is the Presidential Papers, documents written by and to him during
LP: One of the challenges
of finding original Lincoln material is that, unlike with Winston Churchill, there
appears to be no central archive that acts as sole repository. Why has Lincoln material
been allowed to be so scattered?
are two major repositories of Lincoln documents - the National Archives, which
contains the records of the federal government during his presidency, and the Library
of Congress, which contains his personal papers kept by his son Robert Todd Lincoln
and donated to the library in 1923.
Many of the documents that
are scattered in repositories and private collections were never part of a central
archive - ;letters Lincoln sent to correspondents, commissions and appointments
signed by Lincoln, retained copies of letters sent to Lincoln. So, while there are
two central repositories of Lincoln documents, other documents were dispersed in
Lincoln's lifetime and have not been collected into a single repository.
One of the goals of the
Papers of Abraham Lincoln is to create a virtual archive that brings together documents
from all of these diverse locations, so that they can be studied together.
LP: Where is most
of the material housed?
Library of Congress holds the largest single collection of Lincoln documents,
some 20,000 documents, as well as more than 2,000 additional documents in related
collections. The National Archives houses tens of thousands of documents, but they
are scattered among millions of pages of records from the federal government in
the 1860s. Many record groups at the National Archives cover large chronological
periods, but the documents may be arranged alphabetically or in some other fashion
that requires our researchers to examine a large number of documents to isolate
those within the project's scope.
LP: You're knocking
on a lot of doors, virtually and otherwise, looking for original material. Can you
describe one such scenario?
of my favorites is the discovery on eBay of a new document written by Lincoln. The
document was a brief letter of recommendation written by Lincoln on behalf of George
W. Rives in December 1849. Lincoln suspected that Rives had opposed him earlier
that year when Lincoln tried to get Zachary Taylor to appoint him as Commissioner
of the General Land Office. Lincoln wrote to Rives of his suspicions but enclosed
a letter of recommendation that Lincoln told Rives he could use if he saw fit. Lincoln's
letter to Rives had been known for a long time and is in the collection of the Rosenbach
Museum and Library in Philadelphia. The letter of recommendation, presumed lost,
turned up in an attic in Rhode Island. The discoverer offered it for sale on eBay.
I tried to contact the seller
but was unsuccessful before the sale. On a whim, I sent a message to the buyer explaining
that we would be interested in scanning the document. To my surprise, the buyer
responded to my message and, after a brief correspondence, sent images of the document
made to our project specifications. The buyer lives in Seattle.
So, after 150 years of separation,
the two letters were reunited virtually by the Papers of Abraham Lincoln. One letter
is in Philadelphia, and the other is in Seattle (via Rhode Island). Now they can
be read and studied together.
LP: What about private
collectors - is anonymity an issue?
rely on private collectors to contact our project, and nearly one hundred have done
so. Others may simply not know about our project, while a few are fearful that if
their documents are well known, they will somehow be less valuable. In fact, validation
by our project ensures the value of these privately-held documents. Because Lincoln
documents have historically been among the most valuable manuscripts, forgers have
been at work for more than a century. Our project staff can distinguish forgeries
from legitimate documents, thus certifying the authenticity of privately held documents.
LP: When will the
project be completed?
hope to complete the search phase of the project by 2015. In the meantime, we are
making initial transcriptions of many of the documents. How much longer it takes
to transcribe and annotate all of the documents will depend in large measure on
how many total documents we find at the National Archives.
LP: And when it's
completed, what's next?
DS: I hope
to retire and travel with my wife - without a scanner.