Civil War Washington Collaborative Research Grant Narrative

Submitted to the National Endowment for the Humanities, for the grant period July 2010–June 2013

Substance and context

The development of Washington, DC, during the Civil War is pivotal in American history. When the Compensated Emancipation Act went into effect on April 16, 1862, Washington became the first emancipated city—and the country's largest and most important magnet for freed and runaway slaves. From that moment forward, the city would lead the nation in the sometimes torturous route from slavery to freedom and from an entrenched system of legal inequality to a new commitment to equality for all.

Our work on slavery, race, and emancipation in Washington, DC, is crucial to our larger long-term study of the city in this time of crisis. We are already studying Civil War Washington from a medical perspective (the number of hospitals jumped from three to nearly one hundred making it a city of hospitals), from a military perspective (the city was the prized objective of Southern military strategy and in response the Union army made it the most fortified city in the world), and in fact from numerous other perspectives as well. We believe, however, that the history of slavery and emancipation is of particular national importance.

The Civil War fundamentally transformed Washington. The city changed physically, with prodigious construction of fortifications, government buildings, hospitals, transportation routes, residences, and new urban services. The city also changed symbolically, as it forged a new identity as the capital of a nation reunified around expanded and redefined values of freedom and equality. The changing city profoundly influenced the people who encountered it. Thousands were drawn into and away from the city, and into new and unaccustomed roles. During the course of the War, Washington tripled in population, from 63,000 residents to over 200,000. Thousands of bureaucrats, actors, authors, doctors, nurses, and laborers were drawn to the capital by a sense of duty, opportunity, desperation, or adventure. Forty thousand fugitive slaves, known as "contrabands," fled to the nation's capital; more than ten thousand of these men, women, and children resided in camps run by the government and charitable organizations, and many worked on military projects. Symbolized by Washington's First Regiment, many became free soldiers, entrusted with guarding fortifications and engaging in combat. At the same time, women mobilized and participated in record numbers as volunteers organizing aid societies and nursing the wounded. Union armies, composed of volunteers and draftees from across the North, moved continually through the city and its hospitals, up to 140,000 at a time. The routine of life in the city was frequently interrupted by military drills and the fear or rumor of imminent Confederate attacks. From the First Battle of Bull Run, Confederate armies continually threatened Washington as part of General Robert E. Lee's strategy of "taking the war to the enemy." Lee's summer offensives of 1862 and 1863, which culminated in the turning point battles at Antietam and Gettysburg, were primarily designed to threaten Washington, to embolden Southern sympathizers in the North, and to challenge the Lincoln administration's authority. At President Lincoln's order, a 37-mile ring of defensive forts and batteries emerged, giving Washington the dubious distinction of being the most heavily fortified city on earth.

Civil War Washington (CWW) is a collaborative digital humanities research project that presents new ways to visualize and interpret the capital's complex changes through an interconnected set of texts, databases, interactive maps, and analytical essays. The creation of CWW draws on humanities scholars from several disciplines and on emerging computer science technologies such as geospatial mapping, data extraction, and adaptive interface design. Documentary material—from census entries, diaries, notebooks, photographs, drawings, correspondence, journalism, books and other holographic, visual and printed materials—provides the core of the searchable data. The data that populates the maps will be linked to images of and texts about buildings, sites, and events; structures and transportation lines will be keyed to the dates of their installation and, where appropriate, their closing. Moreover, and to the extent that we can, we plan to map information about the city's water supply and drainage patterns, both of which seriously affected the health of its population during the war, when the encampment of hundreds of thousands of soldiers turned the Potomac into a virtual cesspool, spreading diseases that killed thousands of residents, including Lincoln's son Willie. These massive changes in natural landscape and physical infrastructure, we hypothesize, affected how Euro-Americans and African-Americans experienced life in the city during the war and the concurrent transition from slavery to emancipation. During this crucial period of transformation, the government, private reformers, and former slaves established the pattern of "contraband camps" and refugee neighborhoods that later evolved into budding African American communities, many of which endure to this day. Users will be able to gain a sense of the city at particular moments in time and locate related documents—including newspaper accounts, letters, speeches, reminiscences, and other texts—that illuminate individuals' experiences of Washington's transformation as a physical and symbolic space.

Washington is an indispensable lens through which to view Civil War America. We anticipate that the resources and interpretations of CWW will be widely useful to scholars, teachers, students, and the general public. By providing data and tools, the project will allow users of various levels of sophistication to construct new arguments about the impact of war on the nation's physical, cultural, social, and moral development. Except in rare cases when we are restricted by another party, we are making the underlying data freely available, and we are always at pains to construct our work in forms that will be adaptable to future technologies. One of the key ways in which our project differs from print scholarship is that we will not merely provide our conclusions but will also provide our users with direct access to the data on which our conclusions are based.

During the tenure of the grant, our work will focus on the role of the national capital in African Americans' winding road toward freedom and equal rights. Most histories of the movement toward emancipation have pursued a top-down approach by focusing on Lincoln's leadership, which culminated in the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865. Our research joins a growing number of studies that pursue a bottom-up approach by examining the "self-emancipation" efforts of fugitive slaves and African American abolitionists, usually through case studies of specific localities. With the outbreak of war, black abolitionists, including Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs, congregated in Washington and joined local efforts to promote emancipation as a war aim, lobby the president and Congress, and provide relief for displaced African Americans. Washington, DC, is an ideal locale to conduct an analysis of self-emancipation, re-examine the impact and efficacy of presidential and congressional leadership within the movement, and facilitate a community study of the social and political relationships that advanced and resulted from emancipation in the midst of the Civil War.

Washington was a bellwether in hosting many of the first contraband camps and freedmen's villages in the nation. The city attracted more fugitive slaves than any other locality in the country and saw the broadest spectrum of former slaves. Congress freed Washington's 3,300 slaves in April 1862, eight months before Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. Fugitive slaves from Confederate states, primarily Virginia, continually streamed into the city. Fugitives from loyal states, notably Maryland, also arrived, and this resulting mixture of complicated legal statuses required the city's residents and government, Congress, and Lincoln himself to ponder and debate the range of possibilities for freeing slaves and incorporating them into American society, first, as "contrabands," second, as soldiers, and third, as citizens. In short, Washington, DC, emerged as the nation's most important—and most watched—"experiment in freedom" during the Civil War.

Our work therefore shifts the focus from nationwide policies toward a community-based analysis of emancipation while charting the development of presidential and congressional strategies for freeing slaves within the specific, practical context in which they originally emerged.(*) Using manuscript census data, we will create a database of African Americans living in Washington in 1860 and 1870. This database will serve our interpretive purposes: it will allow us and our users to map and analyze the locations and demographic character of African American communities before, during, and after the Civil War. Through queries to the database, users will be able to test hypotheses and reach conclusions of their own. We will collect and provide access to a wide range of records charting the influx of fugitive slaves into the nation's capital, the response of local authorities and the federal government, and the gradual development of a system of contraband camps and freedom villages, which included schools, hospitals, and churches, established under the auspices of government, the military, and private relief and benevolent societies. (Briefly, the first fugitive slaves were considered criminals and were lodged in Washington's city jail, nicknamed the "slave pen." As they grew in number, they were transferred to the Old Capitol Prison, across the street from the Capitol. Here, they were housed with accused Confederate spies, some of them in the same boardinghouse that Abraham Lincoln had occupied as a Congressman in 1847-49. After Lincoln personally intervened to "decriminalize" these fugitive slaves, they were transferred to a row of townhouses next door.) The increasingly crowded conditions bred an outbreak of smallpox, so in 1863 Washington established the first true "contraband camp," Camp Barker, which soon numbered five thousand fugitives and set the pattern for the many "freedom villages" that followed. Later, the seizure of Robert E. Lee's estate on the Virginia side of the Potomac resulted in the creation of the Arlington Freedom Village that flourished during the war and persisted, alongside Arlington National Cemetery, until 1890. In short, every transition from slavery to freedom that the nation contemplated and implemented found practical expression in Washington. The capital city often led the way, and national leaders, both white and black, viewed Washington's experience as a crucial proving ground for the eventual establishment of emancipation on a national scale.

Despite the conspicuous centrality of Washington as a testing ground for emancipation, we believe that this important dimension of Civil War history—and indeed the nation's history—has received too little scholarly analysis and popular attention. The two most comprehensive accounts of wartime Washington—Margaret Leech's Pulitzer Prize-winning Reveille in Washington (1941) and Ernest Furgurson's Freedom Rising (2004)—both privilege the story of military mobilization, political maneuvering, and morale building over scholarly analysis of the capital's crucial role in the emancipation movement and the war's impact on the city's long-term development. At the same time, several excellent studies have provided essential economic and demographic portraits of the city's emerging African American communities during this period. Two indispensable explorations are Constance McLaughlin Green's The Secret City: A History of Race Relations in the Nation's Capital (1967) and Elizabeth Clark-Lewis, ed., First Freed: Washington, DC, in the Emancipation Era (2002). These important studies, however, do not attempt a comprehensive analysis and portrait of the sweeping transformation of the capital, including the centrality of war and emancipation in shaping the city's fundamental character and the importance of these wartime experiences in shaping the debate over slavery and freedom on a national scale. A greater number of more popular books break out the city's African American history for specialized analysis, usually in isolation from the main currents of political, military, social, and cultural developments. Jesse J. Holland's Black Men Built the Capitol: Discovering African-American History in and around Washington, DC (2007) and Sandra Fitzpatrick and Maria R. Goodwin's The Guide to Black Washington: Places and Events of History and Cultural Significance in the Nation's Capital (1990) are outstanding examples. Our interdisciplinary project will present a more comprehensive and detailed analysis of the fundamental role of war and emancipation in reshaping the social and cultural fabric of Washington which, in turn, contributed crucial encouragement and insights to the movement to embrace freedom as an essential war aim on a national scale. We are aware of the burgeoning interest in fugitive slaves and "contraband camps" as a research focus as the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War approaches, including a national database of records of servitude and emancipation undertaken by the National Archives (we anticipate that this project, in development, will lack both the contextualization and depth we will provide for the focused area of Washington, DC). We are also familiar with work underway by Professor Chandra Manning of Georgetown University ("Contraband Camps, Freepeople's Relocation, and Wartime and Postwar Northern Racial Attitudes") and Professor Amy Murrell Taylor of SUNY-Albany. Our project will complement and enhance this expanding research agenda through our ability to construct a comprehensive database documenting wartime developments within a single urban setting, indeed the most important setting for emancipation efforts and community building anywhere in the nation.

The project will also contribute substantially to the emerging historical debate over the ethical and humanitarian character of the Civil War. A growing school of historical commentators, joined most recently by the historian and Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust, has begun approaching the impact of the Civil War from the perspective of ethics, sacrifice, and patriotism. Catalyzed in part by current controversies over how best to balance legitimate national interests with the lives and liberties of American citizens, this scholarly movement is re-examining the moral choices of a host of actors—including supporters and critics of the War in both the Union and the Confederacy—and how those choices reflected and revised prevailing cultural ideals and national priorities during the nineteenth century. This robust debate over the moral and ethical origins, conduct, and legacy of the Civil War is producing a new body of studies that illuminate the spiritual fiber and religious fabric of American life during this extraordinary period of national crisis. Important studies include Harry S. Stout's Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War (2006), Mark S. Schantz's Awaiting the Heavenly Country: The Civil War and America's Culture of Death (2008), and Mark A. Noll's The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (2006). Our project will advance, refine, and inform this compelling new intellectual approach to the Civil War. By drawing upon the experiences of the capital and its people, Civil War Washington will facilitate fruitful new inquiries into the ways the War altered and took lives, challenged Americans' conceptions of patriotism, sacrifice, duty, compassion, race and citizenship, and, overall, changed the city and the nation forever.

History and duration of the project

Starting in 2006, the team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) began by building the databases crucial to interpretation and mapping of the city. We focused first on the physical and institutional contours of change: hospitals, fortifications, and theaters, all of which increased dramatically during and because of the War, as well as churches, significant government buildings, contraband camps, police stations, post offices, tram lines, railroad lines and stations, taverns, hotels, and other identifiable businesses (including bawdy houses). In contemporary directories, African American churches were distinctly identified, and so provide a focal point for identifying areas of the city where African Americans built some of their own institutions. From the start, the city had racial contours, and our project literally allows us to place slaves and freed people on the map in the spaces in which they lived, worked, worshiped and acted before and after the Emancipation Proclamation.

The duration of this grant covers one defined phase in the early development of this long-term project. During this phase we will bring to maturity one section treating slavery and emancipation in war-time Washington, as described in the work plan below. We are focusing in the first two years of the grant on the ongoing digitization of archival and rare printed materials that pertain directly to race, slavery, and emancipation in the city. We will compile information from census records to advance analysis of the local community that was also the national capital and experimental locus. In the final year of the grant, we will develop interpretive essays (described more fully in the work plan). Part of the digitization effort involves populating the database with information about people and locations that appear in the documents we process. During the grant period, we will incorporate into our project information from the census, city directories, and the Taxbooks and General Assessment book (1864) for Washington City (NARA, Record Group 351), so as to allow for rich demographic analysis via maps, charts, and other means. This will enable us (and our users) to discover links and construct networks between individuals, groups, documents, images, places, and moments during the War. With a Collaborative Research grant from NEH, and using a geospatial lens not previously available, Civil War Washington will collect, present, and analyze data about the impact of both slavery and emancipation on a particular community, the national capital.

To date, the project has been funded through two internal grants from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and continues to operate because of the generosity of UNL's Center for Digital Research in the Humanities (CDRH) in providing space, funding, equipment, and staff support. This project will continue beyond the grant period thanks to the ongoing commitment of CDRH, research funds provided by Kenneth Price's endowed professorship, internal grants provided by a variety of sources including the UCARE (Undergraduate Creative Activity and Research Experience) program at UNL, and future external grant funding, if available. As the project becomes more prominent, we will also seek private donations to help support future work.


One of the strengths of the project is the varied disciplinary expertise of the faculty, staff, and consultants. Fields represented include American history, history of medicine, American literature, library and archival sciences, geography, public health, surgery, and computer science.

The co-principal investigators are: Kenneth J. Winkle, Thomas C. Sorensen Professor of American History at UNL; Susan C. Lawrence, Associate Professor of History at UNL; and Kenneth M. Price, Hillegass University Professor of American literature at UNL. Winkle will devote extensive time to this project during the 2010-2011 academic year (when he will be on a research leave) and in the subsequent two years. Lawrence and Price are each committed to spending as much time as necessary to achieve the goals of the project.

Kenneth J. Winkle, project co-director, is the Thomas C. Sorensen Professor of American History and Chair of the History Department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He has published three prize-winning books in the fields of nineteenth-century US political, social, cultural, and military history: The Politics of Community: Migration and Politics in Antebellum Ohio (Cambridge University Press, 1989), The Young Eagle: The Rise of Abraham Lincoln (Taylor Publishers/ Rowman and Littlefield, 2001), and with Steven E. Woodworth, The Oxford Atlas of the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2004).

Susan C. Lawrence, project associate director, is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She specializes in the history of medicine, and has recently completed a three-article series on the history of medicine in Iowa from 1850 to 1950, published in the Annals of Iowa. She also works on the intersections of history and research ethics, most recently with her article "Access Anxiety: HIPAA and Historical Research," in the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences. Her current book project is an analysis of the ways that human subjects' research regulations and privacy concerns about materials transitioning from physical archives to the web are affecting historical research.

Kenneth M. Price, project co-director, is Hillegass University Professor of American literature at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is editor of Walt Whitman: The Contemporary Reviews (Cambridge University Press, 1996); and author of Whitman and Tradition: The Poet in His Century (Yale University Press, 1990) and To Walt Whitman, America (University of North Carolina Press, 2004). He recently co-authored with Ed Folsom Re-Scripting Walt Whitman: An Introduction to His Life and Work (Blackwell Publishing, 2005). With Ed Folsom, Price co-edits the Walt Whitman Archive, a prize-winning digital resource.

Other members of the project team at UNL are: Katherine Walter, Brett Barney, Stacey Berry, Karin Dalziel, Keith Nickum and various graduate and undergraduate students. All of these individuals are associated with the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities and with the Walt Whitman Archive, both of which Price co-directs. The Walt Whitman Archive is currently working on projects relating to Whitman's Civil War writings. As those projects progress, we expect them to inform our ongoing work. (See the appendices for more information about the staff of CWW.)

An advisory board has been created for this and future phases of the project. This board includes Yvonne Carignan, head of the library at the Historical Society of Washington, DC; Matt Cohen, Professor of English at the University of Texas-Austin; Ed Folsom, Carver Professor of English at the University of Iowa; Ted Genoways, Editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Virginia; Margaret Humphreys, Professor in the History of Medicine and Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, Duke University; Kendall Reed, Dean and Professor of Surgery, Osteopathic Medicine, Des Moines University; Jeffrey S. Reznick, Honorary Research Fellow, Department of Modern History, University of Birmingham, UK, visiting scientist and former senior curator of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Maryland; Stephen Scott, UNL Computer Science and Engineering; Leen-kiat Soh, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; and Daniel Stowell, Director and Editor of The Papers of Abraham Lincoln.

NEH funds will be used to hire a postdoctoral research associate who will be responsible for identifying and securing access to appropriate sources for digitization, correspondence relating to image permissions, advanced metadata encoding and transcription, SPSS or other types of analysis of data sets and texts, and supervising student employees working on more basic aspects of digitization. Other key tasks will include analysis of census data, organizing and archiving digital objects, and research assistance related to the interpretive essays. The individual will also work with a graduate student trained in GIS on the development of additional layers to the interactive map.

The Center for Digital Research in the Humanities will provide space for the postdoctoral research associate and will work with the Center for Advanced Land Management Information Technologies at UNL to identify an appropriate GIS student for the project.


The lead researchers bring three modes of analysis to bear on the broader question of cultural change: literary history's close reading of key texts, medical history's study of science and the body in social context, and demographic history's focus on aggregate numbers. Our concentration on Washington, DC, fosters insights that none of us would perceive without cross-disciplinary contributions; in this sense, we offer a model for research that is interdisciplinary in its results, while allowing the scholars involved to work primarily in their fields of individual expertise. More importantly, all of the lead investigators are expanding their respective disciplines by drawing on the new interpretive possibilities arising from digitized searchable texts, from data sets containing thousands of details about individuals, and from the mapping of that data. The behind-the-scenes work of historical scholarship, from finding primary sources to collecting data, now is part of the project's results when made accessible to users.

Winkle, a quantitative historian, has expertise in using statistical data from census materials to delineate the politics and social networks of communities. We anticipate that his interpretive essay on the role of the Civil War in the transformation of African American communities in Washington between 1860 and 1870 will be a model of the potential for digital scholarship to allow users to investigate the author's claims with their own review of key primary sources and, more importantly, live data sets and interactive maps.

Price brings expertise as a Whitman scholar to bear on a significant new accumulation of data that promises to [contribute new knowledge to Whitman studies and to historical understanding of the role of clerks in DC during and after the war].(**) Whitman's work as a scribe in a variety of government offices (Army Paymaster's office; Bureau of Indian Affairs; Attorney General's office) has been all but ignored by biographers and other commentators. Previous scholarship had suggested that only a few documents Whitman drafted for others in his role as a clerk survive. Price has recently located, however, more than 2,000 documents in Whitman's hand from his work in the Attorney General's office alone. Whitman copied documents detailing routine administrative matters (e.g., appointments of officials, salary payments, and book orders) as well as policy letters regarding civil rights, voting, war crimes, treason, and, after the war, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. These documents are not Whitman-authored letters, but they are Whitman-assisted letters, and they most certainly passed through his mind and his finger tips. In altered form, the issues Whitman treated as a clerk reappear in his creative work, including his crucial meditation on democracy, "Democratic Vistas."

Lawrence, a historian of medicine, will write an essay on the health of the city and the health of citizens, drawing on the collected CWW resources to illuminate the health challenges facing Washington's newly emancipated population. Sickness and suffering permeated the capital, due to overcrowding and the breakdown in sanitation and also to the massive influx of sick and wounded soldiers into the hospitals established there. The war's humanitarian crisis was far from abstract for Washington's inhabitants. This essay will contribute to the scholarly literature on how Americans understood the health of places, as humans transformed their landscapes with urban environments, and the relationships between health and citizenship.

Our project also depends upon, and contributes to, the emerging methods of digital scholarship. As a project sponsored by the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, we follow international standards for metadata. Data collection will occur on three interdependent fronts: the collection and digitization of primary source images and texts; the digitization and georeferencing of maps along with the locating and plotting of relevant places discovered in the primary sources; and the documentation of dates, people, places, and events in relation to the documents and maps. Texts will be encoded in XML format according to Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) guidelines (P5), to ensure a high level of interoperability with internal and external collections. With respect to imaging, we follow best practices recommended by the Digital Library Federation in the creation of high resolution TIFF images for preservation and JPEG or JPEG2000 derivatives for efficient distribution. Digitized texts will be run through Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, such as OmniPage Pro or ABBYY FineReader and presented as searchable text and images. (For selected texts deemed to have especially high value, we will hand correct the OCR to create searchable texts of the highest level of accuracy.) Geographic raster data will be stored in GeoTIFF format, a widely supported standard for georeferenced imagery. Vector data will be extracted from the period maps and source documents and will originate in ESRI Shapefile format but will also be automatically converted to Geography Markup Language (GML) format for interoperability and preservation. Metadata will be created and maintained for each GIS file generated, in accordance with the FGDC's Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata, Vers. 2. For quality control, these metadata files will be validated against the FGDC Metadata DTD (v. 3.0.2), which is compatible with recent ISO requirements for Geographic Information—Metadata (ISO 19115:2003).

The data model that has been developed to record information about, and interrelationships between, people, places and events has been implemented with SQL and is designed specifically to store the project information in a convenient way for data input and integration with the GIS server through a Web application. For preservation, this data will be exported to XML in an automated fashion, and we will develop an accurate XML representation of the data using a combination of existing standards. This database will contain normalized fields for people, places, and events. Dates will be recorded in conformance to ISO 8601.

A basic organization of content has been developed and is available at The information architecture will be elaborated upon and fully developed as data is collected and processed for public access. The Web site will be constructed according to W3C recommendations for XHTML and CSS and will follow standards for accessibility outlined by Section 508 Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

During the grant period, much of the project's focus will be on developing an interface for the visualization of the collected data underlying the interpretive essays. To visualize the geographic and temporal layers, we will develop a Web application to draw upon the GIS content. The prototype interactive map provides an example of integration of the SQL database, the GIS database, and primary source files (TEI and images). The development of the Web application, including server-side programming, front-end programming and interface design, will be thoroughly documented in a Web-accessible form. Procedures for quality control, testing, and documentation will be established at the outset and performed by project staff, members of the CDRH, and the advisory board.

A multiple-level search function will be created using Solr, a search engine based on the Lucene Java search library and run in Tomcat. A variety of searching options will be available to the user, including full text searching and more sophisticated queries that exploit the SQL and XML data structures.

Hardware and software

The Civil War Washington maps will reside on the CDRH's main Web server, which is a ProLiant BL35p (HP Blade) with Dual 2.41 GHz AMD Opteron Processor 280. For digital imaging of primary source material, the Center has two micro-format scanners, six flatbed scanners, a Zeutschel open-book scanner, and several digital SLR cameras (suitable for imaging in situations where scanning is not possible).

Maps will be created using ESRI products, including ArcCatalog for managing GIS object metadata. Digitization software will include the latest versions of OmniPage Pro optical character recognition software, Adobe Photoshop for image processing and oXygen XML Editor for document encoding and validation. Server-side software will be open source whenever possible. MySQL and PHP will be used for database programming. The project Web site will be hosted through Apache HTTP Server. The Saxon XSLT processor will be used to transform XML documents into HTML for Web display. CDRH will use ESRI's ArcGIS Server for the maps.

Final product and dissemination

The Civil War Washington Web site ( will be freely available to the public, and will be the primary vehicle for delivering content to our audiences: scholarly researchers; primary, secondary, and college-level teachers and students; and the general public. The site in its current form provides access to preliminary essays about the project and a map showcasing a sample of the material that has already been collected and processed. The completed Web site will include four components:

  • Interpretations: Analytical essays will treat key aspects of Civil War Washington, including slavery, emancipation, contraband camps, and freedom villages.
  • Maps: The main interactive map will allow researchers and students to layer material from the chronology database onto period maps.
  • Data: In the course of developing our research, numerous geographic and primary text datasets will be created. We plan to make these files accessible to researchers who wish to integrate them into their own research projects. We will make GIS data sets available in shapefile and KML formats.
  • Texts and Images: Users will be able to browse and search original source materials and database content.

The site will also employ a feedback system that encourages users to report individual findings and to provide comments about the resource.

Broad access to the project data will be ensured in several ways. An original MARC collection-level record will be created for OCLC to ensure that users can find the site through WorldCat, an international bibliographic database. The record will also be added to the UNL Libraries' online catalog at, with a link directly to the project Web site. Civil War Washington will be included under "Thematic Research" on the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities Web site at and will be fully accessible by Web crawlers. Significant project milestones will be posted to the Center's RSS feed.

Civil War Washington will be of interest both for its content and for its use of technology. Two presentations focusing on the project were made at the Modern Language Association in December 2008, and Kenneth Price has spoken about the relationship between this project and his editing of Walt Whitman's Civil War Writings at the University of Wuerzburg in Germany and at the London Seminar in Digital Text and Scholarship (co-sponsored by the Institute of English Studies and the Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London). We will propose a presentation at the American Historical Association conference and at other appropriate conferences, such as Digital Humanities, the Organization of American Historians, and the Coalition for Networked Information. An announcement about the site will be sent to the American Association for the History of Medicine Newsletter and an advertisement will be placed in Perspectives, a publication of the American Historical Association. Information will be sent to H-NET and other humanities lists about the project.

Information about the development of the project will be posted on the Web site with discussion of the underlying technologies. The project will provide free, online access to digital materials produced with grant funds. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln will issue a press release when the site is available for use.

In addition to electronic presentation of our documentation and analysis, we also expect to produce a book of essays in order to reach that portion of the audience not inclined to use digital resources. [A university press] has expressed interest in publishing our book and supports our commitment to making all of our material freely available on the web also.


The Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, a joint initiative of the UNL Libraries and the College of Arts & Sciences, is supported through Programs of Excellence monies totaling $2.8 million from 2004-2013 and ongoing annual state funds of an estimated $500,000 in reallocated positions and operations monies. The Center maintains about 2000 square feet of prime space in the UNL Libraries. The University of Nebraska administration has made the Center a priority program and has approved the creation of an endowment for the Center.

Project results for Civil War Washington will be maintained on servers at UNL purchased or leased by the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities. In addition, data is backed up on redundant servers and on tapes that are stored off site in Omaha, Nebraska in secure storage warehouses managed by Iron Mountain, Inc. At all times, there are three copies of data—the data on the Library's storage-area network, the backup tapes, and data and images stored on a redundant server. The CDRH is committed to this project over the long-term and has plans in place to migrate data as necessary. The technological underpinnings of the site utilize international standards and best practices so as to enable this migration. Sustainability is a priority for the Center, and it regularly undertakes projects that have potential for long-term development and thorough exploration of humanities issues.

Work Plan

We propose a three-year plan of work from June 1, 2010 to May 31, 2013. Because our project will draw upon the expertise of various project team members and because the materials exist in a variety of forms—some easily accessible, others requiring specialized knowledge and skills to extract, interpret, and/or deliver—work will proceed on a number of fronts simultaneously. Immediately following the prose description of our work plan is a chronological summary of major activities to be accomplished.

During the first year, we will continue to locate and gather texts, images, and data relating to slavery and emancipation in Washington. We will process these materials into a database and make connections to maps, focusing specific attention on items directly connected to slavery and emancipation in the capital. A major area of effort will be transferring data from the 1860 and 1870 census schedules into web-friendly databases, along with extracting relevant information from property and tax records, with the ability to link data results to city wards. We will also proceed with gathering and mapping data about the water and drainage for the city, in order to correlate problems with the physical infrastructure and reports about disease outbreaks and deaths in the contraband camps and freedom village. We will continue work on extracting information about African American soldiers who served in Washington, or had any stay in a Washington hospital, that was documented in the Civil War pension records. These records have already been compiled into a data set by the Center for Population Economics (Pension records for Colored Soldiers). This effort will give us material about a subset of African American soldiers to use for comparison purposes with other data and textual materials. Existing digitized texts of key primary sources in the public domain will be imported into our site and prepared as searchable PDFs. As part of the process, the database and interactive maps will be continually enriched.

First year activities will also include hiring a postdoctoral research associate to perform research and project management, a GIS student to develop map visualizations of project data, and other student employees (funded through internal resources) to perform duties such as scanning, creating OCR text from digital images, and encoding of documents.

During the second year, we will finish gathering digital images of manuscripts and printed materials related to slavery and emancipation in Civil War Washington; continue to transcribe, encode, and annotate these; and further build the internal database and the interactive maps through relational data.

At the end of the second year and into the third year, the project co-directors will begin developing interpretive essays based on the data that has been collected, processed and mapped. These essays will be published on the CWW site, with interactive links to the related data and source material. Publication of a version of the essays in book form will also be undertaken. [For a work plan outlined in six-month increments, contact project staff.]

* The workplan and tasks outlined in this narrative have shifted slightly in light of the importance of our work on the petitions filed in response to the Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862. The petitions provide crucial documentation for studying race, slavery, and emancipation in the District during the Civil War, so we have focused efforts on these documents as well as on developing a robust technical infrastructure. This work establishes an important foundation for the other goals outlined in the narrative. [back]

** Text in brackets has been revised slightly from the original narrative submitted to NEH. For a description of the changes, contact project staff. [back]