In Special Collections and University Archives, we often have the opportunity to work with students, faculty members, and other UMW departments on interesting projects. Sometimes, we also get to collaborate with organizations outside the University. One of our recent collaborative projects brought together individuals from all of these different groups, and resulted in two wonderful public-facing digital history and archives websites. Over the course of the Spring 2016 semester, we worked with students in HIST428, Adventures in Digital History, taught by Dr. Jeffrey McClurken, and staff from the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park to facilitate the digitization of Civil War materials from the Park’s archival collections.
The students worked in two groups to digitize items from the Park’s collections and create digital projects featuring the items and related interpretive content. The first group focused on a series of letters and documents written by Montgomery Slaughter, the wartime Mayor of Fredericksburg, and George Murray, a Union soldier who fought in the Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.
As the students wrote, “Slaughter’s letters provide a look into how the city fared during the War, while Murray’s provide insight into the daily life of a soldier. Although Slaughter and Murray never met, they represent both the Confederate and Union sides of the conflict who’s experiences converged in the Battle of Fredericksburg in December of 1862.” The digitized documents written by both individuals, as well as exhibits, a timeline, and a video, can be found at the finished Slaughter-Murray Papers website.
The second group of students worked with a collection of seven diaries kept by Private Stephen Gordon of the 15th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry Unit. The diaries include accounts of Gordon’s daily activities between 1861 and 1866, and provide a unique view of the life of a soldier during the Civil War.
The full collection of digitized and transcribed diaries can be found at the completed Gordon Diaries website, along with exhibits about Stephen Gordon’s life, the battle of Fredericksburg, and a timeline covering the main events of the Civil War in connection with the soldier’s life.
These projects turned out wonderfully, due to the hard work of the students enrolled in the Adventures in Digital History course. To complete the websites, the students had to master many new tasks, including archival digitization, transcription, metadata creation, website construction, and more. They also made use of new tools like Photoshop, Omeka, and timeline and mapping programs from Northwestern University’s Knight Lab. The finished results show the high level of skill and dedication of our UMW students, and will contribute greatly to the scholarship of Fredericksburg during the Civil War.