NHPRC Signs Agreement for Online Access to Founding Fathers Papers

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) has signed a cooperative agreement with the University of Virginia and its Virginia Foundation for the Humanities to provide pre-publication access to 68,000 historical papers of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington that have not yet been published in authoritative documentary editions.

The agreement provides up to $2.5 million for the project.

Documents Compass, a program of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, affiliated with the University of Virginia, is carrying out this three-year project. Documents Compass, a program specializing in documentary editing in the electronic age, will update and improve existing transcriptions of the papers of the Founders of the Nation and make them available online through a new website. This work builds on its successful 2009 pilot project, funded through an NHPRC grant, which put online 5,000 unpublished documents from the Papers of James Madison and the Papers of John Adams.

This project expedites availability of the unpublished papers, giving scholars and the general public access to these primary source materials before they appear in the official print editions produced by six separate documentary editing projects. As new authoritative volumes are published in future, the final transcriptions with explanatory notes will replace the pre-publication transcriptions. “This is a remarkable opportunity to make available to the public these very important historical documents in a timely and easily accessible manner,” says Rob Vaughan, president of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

Providing access to the unpublished transcriptions is the second stage of the Founders Online Initiative undertaken by NHPRC in 2010. The first stage, currently underway, is being carried out by the University of Virginia Press to provide free online access to over 120,000 historical documents included in the published documentary editions for these key figures of the U.S. founding era. Users will be able to access both the published, annotated documents and the unpublished transcriptions through the Founders Online website.