Primary Sources Are Going Online

29 11 2010


Library and Archives Canada Building, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario

Library and Archives Canada recently completed the digitization of the papers of Sir John A. Macdonald.

Macdonald in 1883. Image from LAC. Mikan: 3218716


"Come Into My Office" Image of the Office of Sir John A. Macdonald

Previously, scholars wishing to look at the correspondence of Macdonald had to look a microfilms of the originals. There is now a database online that allows you to download images of the correspondence in PDF format.

The search engine for the Macdonald correspondence looks like this:

I have pasted an image of an actual document in the Macdonald correspondence below. In this case, it is a rare letter that Laurier sent to Macdonald.

Laurier to Macdonald, 7 February 1884

LAC’s wonderful decision to put the Macdonald papers online is part of a growing trend to digitize primary sources and place them online. The Library of Congress has put Abraham Lincoln’s Papers online. See here.

The wonderful thing about the LoC’s Lincoln Papers search engine is that you can view both images of the primary sources as well as plain text transcriptions of each item of correspondence. For instance, I found this letter from a private citizen in Canada to Lincoln dated 25 Feb 1863.

Here is the transcription of the letter, which was completed the folks at the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.

P. Tertius Kempson to Abraham Lincoln, Wednesday, February 25, 1863 (Support and autograph request from Canada; endorsed by Elbridge G. Spaulding)

From P. Tertius Kempson to Abraham Lincoln, February 25, 1863

Fort Erie C. W.

Feby 25th 1863.

Honoured Sir,

Englishmen and Canadians are charged that their sympathies have been with the Southern Rebellion and Slavery and my cheeks flush with shame for my countrymen, when I own that this has been too much the case– Thank God, there are numerous glorious exceptions and as a proof of this I take the liberty of sending you a Copy of a Speech delivered recently by the foremost man in Canada and I am happy in being able to assure you that it contains the sentiments and views of thousands of Canadians and millions of British Subjects;

Yes! honoured Sir, you have our earnest and most constant prayers that you may entirely succeed in ridding the Great and Glorious Union of the foul Canker worm of Slavery.

I had the honour and happiness of a personal introduction to you when you passed through Buffalo; May I ask you to enable me to perpetuate the remembrance of yourself and the honour I then enjoyed by giving me a line or two in autograph that I may be able to leave to my children & my childrens children, as a heir loom in remembrance of the great apostle of Liberty of the 19th Century–

By confering upon me this small favor, I shall ever be yours most respectfully & gratefully

P. Tertius Kempson

Another wonderful recent initiative is the Transcribe Bentham project, which seeks to transcribe the papers of Jeremy Bentham, the great philosopher. In this case, the transcription is being done by crowdsourcing. Image of all of the correspondence in the Bentham collection was placed online on a website that allow interested members of the public to try their hands at transcribing the documents. The results are monitored by trained archivists and paleographers to maintain quality control.

Transcribe Bentham Project

Special Event: the Twitter Archives and the Library of Congress

20 05 2010

Beth Dulabahn, Director of Integration Management in the Office of Strategic Initiatives at the Library of Congress, will talk tomorrow about the donation of the Twitter archive to the Library. For more, see here.