A review of Civic War & Reconstruction Governors of Mississippi, a digital documentary edition of governors' papers, directed by Susannah J. Ural
Civil War & Reconstruction Governors of Mississippi
Susannah J. Ural, University of Southern Mississippi
A full list of the project team and partners is available on the site.
Samantha Blickhan, Adler Planetarium
Susannah J. Ural and Lindsey R. Peterson
People in the U.S. from all backgrounds contacted their governors during the 19th century on wide-ranging topics. As a result, governors' papers offer insights from individuals who often do not appear in published historical sources, and their writings touch on nearly every major issue of the age. The Civil War & Reconstruction Governors of Mississippi (CWRGM) is a digital documentary edition that engages scholars, teachers, students, and the public with the historical lessons of one of the most revolutionary periods in U.S. history. Inspired by the Civil War Governors of Kentucky project, CWRGM launched in 2019 and designed their coverage to include Reconstruction to access experiences of the formerly enslaved. Grounded in over 20,000 documents from administrations that span the secession crisis through the early Jim Crow South (1859 through 1882), CWRGM is uncovering voices that often remain buried in vast archival collections. This project is a partnership between the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH), the Mississippi Digital Library (MDL), and the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) History program.
CWRGM director Susannah J. Ural oversees the entire project and provides historical expertise as a scholar for the research team. She works closely in this effort with senior assistant editor Lindsey Peterson. MDAH is responsible for the digitization and verification process. MDAH transfers TIFF files to MDL assistant director Elizabeth La Beaud, who, with MDL staff, converts the digital files to JPEG format and matches, names, and folders the files with their metadata. That metadata is drafted and verified by a team of student researchers led by digital archivist Austin Justice. Visitors can learn more about this experienced team here and here.
Digitized document files with metadata are transferred to FromthePage (FTP), an online transcription platform where the documents are transcribed by public volunteers while a team of graduate and undergraduate students overseen by and including Peterson and Ural conduct two-stage verification of all transcriptions. That team also adds subject tags to the documents to spotlight and connect people, places, military units, occupations, organizations and businesses, vital statistics, and "social identifiers" found throughout the collection. This system creates an immediate and growing index and improves discoverability throughout the edition, especially for those less often "heard" in traditional sources: the enslaved, free and freed people of color, widows, veterans (especially enlisted men), and the impoverished. Viewers can learn more about CWRGM tagging features here and about the project methodology. All project protocols are also online.
CWRGM's Omeka-S based site was designed by digital developer Anneliese Dehner. Launched in June 2021, CWRGM offers a variety of methods to explore its growing digital collection, including "Explore the Collection," "Browse the Archive," and advanced search functions. Lesson plans, podcasts, workshops, and a forthcoming blog engage non-expert and expert audiences with the collection, while a special issue focused on Reconstruction-era documents scheduled with Civil War History in 2026 grounds the collection in the scholarly community.
CWRGM plans to complete its edition, including annotations, by 2030. This work is made possible by the generous advice of fellow editors, digital developers, and CWRGM's editorial board, as well as generous funding from multiple sources including the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Historical Publications & Records Commission (National Archives).
In the 19th century, writing to one’s governor was an opportunity to voice concern, ask questions, and share opinions. Letters like these can be found in state archives, and it is this type of collection that the Civil War & Reconstruction Governors of Mississippi (CWRGM) project aims to highlight by providing a “digital documentary project” to engage broad audiences with “over 20,000 documents that span the period from the secession crisis through the early Jim Crow South.”1
The goal of CWRGM is to digitize, transcribe, annotate, and make publicly available letters written to Mississippi governors from 1859 to 1882. The website features high-quality scans of these letters, alongside annotated transcriptions and metadata. Carefully-selected document tags provide users with the unique opportunity to explore networks of people, events, and places, as well as military units, occupations, and “social identifiers” that allow for discoverability of lesser-known voices such as enslaved and formerly enslaved people, widows, Native Americans, homeless persons, and immigrants.
The Omeka-S site is straightforward to use, and users can jump right in via keyword search or explore the collection through thematic groupings provided by the aforementioned document tags. A “How to Get Started” page offers clear instructions for accessing the documents. Additional site resources include educational materials and a media section, featuring a project blog offering deeper dives into the letters’ content, a YouTube channel, and a podcast. It is clear that the team has spent considerable time ensuring that this resource is accessible to a variety of audiences, including those approaching the material outside a traditional educational setting.
The process of making the documents available is ongoing (the team plans to complete the process by 2030), and the editorial standards are extremely well-documented. Site visitors are encouraged to “Get Involved” and help transcribe documents on FromThePage.2 The CWRGM team has provided robust resources for transcribers including a quick guide to getting started, a protocol document sharing preferred transcribing conventions, and a video tutorial.
If any critique is to be found with this impressive resource, it is in the acknowledgement of volunteer labor, which I was unable to find within the records themselves. While the opportunity to transcribe documents and instructions on how to do so are clearly marked, there is no mention of how a person should expect to be acknowledged for their contribution. It is because of the rigor this team has brought to the rest of their documentation of policies and protocols that I was surprised not to see reference to acknowledgement within the volunteer-facing resources, or any mention of volunteer contributions within the transcription metadata.
Explicit acknowledgement of volunteer participation in resources like CWRGM not only helps to ensure that reference to volunteer efforts persists after the volunteer-facing portion of the project has ended, but can ultimately help to raise the standing of volunteer-generated data in terms of trustworthiness and reliability. A resource as high in quality as the Civil War & Reconstruction Governors of Mississippi is a testament to the power of public collaboration, and sets an exemplary standard for transparent methods. Any association of this project with volunteer effort would only serve to move forward the public’s trust in the quality of volunteer-generated, collaboratively-produced data.
Susannah J. Ural and Lindsey R. Peterson
CWRGM appreciates this review. On the question of crediting volunteers, we agree that this is very important for the reasons outlined above, but we need to offer a correction on this point. Volunteers, who are only involved in drafting transcriptions (not review), receive credit on every document under the metadata tab (see contributors). There is one exception to this policy. In rare instances when a document must be re-uploaded due to technical issues, the contributor field data may be lost. The reviewer is correct in noting that we should add this policy to our protocols, which we have done.