NARA Issues “Founding Fathers” Report to Congress

On Tuesday, May 6, 2008, Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein submitted a report, entitled The Founders Online, to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. This report is the National Archives response to concerns raised by the Committees that the complete papers of America’s Founding Fathers are not available online. The Founders Online is a plan for providing online access, within a reasonable timeframe, to researchers, students and the general public.

The National Archives received suggestions from the editors of the papers of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington, university publishers, and others in crafting a blueprint for providing access to the already completed print editions and the raw materials for the editions to come. The plan is designed to make available on-line work in progress with the already complete editions, accompanied by transcriptions of the papers yet to be published. To hasten the transition process, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission plans to invest $250,000 as a demonstration pilot project.

The plan outlines three basic steps toward completion:

  • Digitizing the existing 217 volumes and publishing the Papers on a single website to allow for research and inquiry across America’s Founding Era collections;
  • Transcribing and otherwise preparing for publishing on the web the remaining papers (approximately 90,000 documents) and replacing these raw materials with authoritative annotated versions as these are completed; and
  • Creating an independent oversight process to ensure that rigorous performance goals are established and met by the parties carrying out all aspects of the work.

To take advantage of existing online publication efforts of completed volumes and to accelerate the online publication of unfinished volumes, NARA proposes to engage a sole service provider to undertake transcription and document encoding for all Founding Father papers that have not yet been edited. This would prepare these documents for access on the Web.

NARA plans to issue a competitive request for proposals, as a test of concept, in 2008 to undertake work that will help put the unpublished papers in a usable format for online publication services, such as Rotunda.