Transcription Freeze Begins on May 15

April 16th, 2018

The PWD and Scripto teams at RRCHNM are making great progress in our efforts to upgrade and re-design the website and user’s experience.

Jim Safely is tackling the major work involved in managing the migration as well as redeveloping the Scripto transcription tool for Omeka S that will be integrated into the new Papers of the War Department digital edition.

To inform the redesign and user experience, Alyssa Fahringer and Megan Brett surveyed current PWD transcribers and Scripto + Omeka users. Jim Safely and Kim Nguyen are incorporating that feedback into Scripto’s data model, combining technical and user experience requirements for administrative editorial actions, and for the public space for transcription.

Feedback from PWD transcribers is also informing Nguyen as she leads the team through the web design process that will result in a new look for the website come in late 2018, or early 2019.

To allow for this work to progress and for the migration to occur without any data loss, we must temporarily close the transcription portal, so that we can review and import the existing transcriptions.

We will stop accepting registrations for new transcribers, and we will remove the means for existing transcribers to log in and work on documents on May 15, 2018. If you have any partially-transcribed documents that you wish to finish, please do so by May 14.

We understand this may present an inconvenience to some of you, but this is a necessary step for us to take as we progress with these major project improvements.  The website itself, including all of the documents, and any completed and approved transcriptions, will remain available and accessible throughout this time.

We plan to re-launch the new Papers of the War Department website and digital edition in late 2018 or early 2019.

Stay tuned for more updates as the team works together on the PWD improvements through the summer and fall.

New Grants to Support PWD

December 18th, 2017

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) received two grants in 2017 that will ensure the long-term stability and accessibility of the Papers of the War Department (PWD).

The first comes from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) as one of five digital extension grants to migrate PWD to Omeka S that will offer efficient upgrade of the infrastructure and will provide a path for long-term preservation and access, while also allowing the team to redesign the user interface. This will enable greater use and discoverability of these early federal documents. Once fully migrated to Omeka S, the project’s existing metadata, which includes the names of thousands of individuals and geographic places referenced in correspondence, will be connected across the semantic web as linked open data.

The second grant, awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities Office of Digital Humanities (NEH-ODH), funds an upgrade to Scripto, the transcription tool used by the PWD and many other community transcription projects. The new Scripto will be available as a module for Omeka S. Both projects will fund the creation of new documentation, lesson plans, and best practices that will increase the accessibility of sources within PWD and put the technology used to build the project within reach of cultural heritage organizations in managing their own community transcription projects.

We are extremely grateful to ACLS and NEH-ODH for these opportunities to extend and sustain access to these important documents from the early American republic. Sheila Brennan, RRCHNM’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, is leading both grants and is working together with a talented team. Jim Safley, PWD’s original web architect, leads the migration and Scripto development process; Kim Nguyen, RRCHNM’s lead web designer, is redesigning the PWD public-facing website as well as the user experience for the Scripto module; PWD’s Editor-in-Chief Christopher Hamner is working with Sheila Brennan to develop educational resources for upper-level high school and undergraduate students and teachers; Alyssa Fahringer is PWD’s Project Manager and an Assistant Editor who is coordinating the work on both grants, and is working together with Digital History Associate, Megan Brett on audience research, user testing, and outreach.

Since June, the team has made significant progress on assessing and preparing for the migration and in researching the needs of our uses. This fall, we surveyed current users of Scripto and our valued community of PWD transcribers about their experiences with the current website and its workflows. We will post a summary of the feedback we received early in the new year.

We are excited for these opportunities to continue to improve and enhance the PWD, and will be posting periodic updates on our progress here on the PWD blog.

In Memory of Lt. Col. Ronald J. Martin, USMC, Retired

July 29th, 2016

On July 14, 2016, the Rosenzweig Center lost Ronald J. Martin, a longtime and valuable member of our team, to his struggle with cancer. Ron came to the Center in 2008 to serve join the team of scholars editing the Papers of the War Department, 1784-1800, and was integral to our work with the National Park Service on the history of the War of 1812. He was an enthusiastic partner in our work to share early American history with the public, and we mourn his passing.

Serving as PWD’s only full time  staff person, Ron began as an assistant editor, but soon he moved into the role of Associate Editor. From that position, he worked with the assistant editors to complete the basic description (author, recipient, and date) of the full collection, more than 18,000 of the total 42,800 documents. Then, in 2010 he and the staff turned their attention to offering a more full description of a key subset of the collection. During the next three years, Ron shepherded the process of creating enhanced description, including people, places, and items mentioned and a general description of the document, for more than 27,000 items. Ron alone completed the description for more than 5,000 documents annually. In the end, the team exceed their description goals by 3,000 documents. As a result of this work, researchers, students, teachers, and members of the interested public have vastly improved access to the inner-workings of the early national federal government, to day-to-day correspondence on issues related to Native Americans, active military, veterans, and their families.

Beginning in 2010, Ron started to share his unparalleled knowledge of the PWD collections with the public through a series of blog posts. In the end, these short pieces covered the range of historical issues and events contained with in the collections. Ron wrote biographical sketches of key individuals, including Andrew Pickens, William Blount, Tobias Lear, and George Izard. He offered explanations for different kinds of documents, outlined important events in early national military history, and provided insight into the development of the Navy. Once RRCHNM began work on community sourcing the transcription of the Papers in March 2011, Ron carefully selected a set of documents that would be interesting candidates for public work. These documents included letters from Judith Sargent Murray, the Jay Treaty, materials on the beginning of the Quasi War, and orders for supplies related to muskets being manufactured by Eli Whitney—each one fascinating in its own way, and all reflective of different elements of the early national experience.

Upon the completion of the description for PWD, in 2013, Ron turned his attention to the War of 1812. Working with Christopher Hamner and Spencer Roberts, he created a significant amount of the historical content on the National Park Service’s website dedicated to the war’s bicentennial. The team for the 1812 work decided on content strategy that was more suited to the digital engagement habits of contemporary users, that stressed the cultural and social context of the war along with the more traditional materials on major military events, and that highlighted both contingency and diversity. Rather than presenting a series of longer essays that focus on key themes, the team developed 70 modules that users could explore by following their own interests and questions. “Voices” modules began with a quotation from a specific individual to offer users many human experiences and perspectives. “Moments” modules focused on a specific event to give users a sense of the key milestones of the conflict.”Perspectives” modules targeted the experiences of and impacts on the many diverse communities touched by the war. This approach allowed the team to present the history of the War of 1812 in new way while working within the constraints of the National Park Service’s technological infrastructure.

It was while he was finishing up his work on the War of 1812 that Ron fell ill. We at the Center have missed his kindness and generosity over the past year and a half, and we are deeply saddened at his death. Ron was so much more than a good historian—a Marine, a husband, a father, a champion hockey and football player—but, we knew him best through his hard work and his dedication to early American history. Given that commitment, Ron’s family has requested that memorial donations be made to RRCHNM. We will use those contributions to sustain our digital collections, including the Papers of the War Department project.

Celebrate the Five Year Anniversary of Community Transcription!

March 17th, 2016

March 17, 2016

For Immediate Release: Celebrate the Five Year Anniversary of Community Transcription with the Papers of the War Department

Celebrate the five year anniversary of community sourced transcription with the Papers of the War Department 1784-1800 ( An ongoing innovative documentary editing project, the Papers of the War Department is comprised of 0ver 42,000 digitized manuscript documents made freely accessible on the web by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) ( In 2011, RRCHNM embarked on the effort to engage the larger community of citizen historians in the process of transcribing these important documents. By transcribing the digitized manuscripts, users contribute to the collection’s usability and searchability. March 17, 2016 marks five years since the launch of the community transcription project  Papers of the War Department and we are delighted at its success thus far.

After a devastating fire at the United States War Office in 1800, what has been considered the “national archive” of its time was thought lost. The collection was reassembled from scattered fragments found in over 200 diverse repositories before being transferred to the RRCHNM in 2006. These documents are invaluable sources of information on militia and army matters in the Early Republic. The War Department was responsible for frontier diplomacy, Indian affairs, veteran affairs as well as being a considerable commercial goods consumer.

Since inviting members of the community to assist with the transcription effort in 2011, the Papers of the War Department has amassed 2,538 registered users. These users come from varying backgrounds including genealogists, public historians, students and educators from all levels of educational institutions, and members of Native American tribes. With the help from these community transcribers, the Papers of the War Department now has over 1,500 documents transcribed, totaling 6,279 pages. Without the hard work and dedication of our community transcribers, the Papers of the War Department would not have been as successful. We are ecstatic with the contributions the project has received over these first five years and look forward to seeing its continued growth.

The Papers of the War Department was made possible through funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

About the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media

Since 1994, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) <> at George Mason University <> has used digital media and computer technology to democratize history—to incorporate multiple voices, reach diverse audiences, and encourage popular participation in presenting and preserving the past. The Center itself is a democratic, collaborative space where over fifty scholars, technologists, and researchers work together to advance the state of the art. RRCHNM uses digital media and technology to preserve and present history online, transform scholarship across the humanities, and advance historical education and understanding. Each year RRCHNM’s many project websites receive over 20 million visitors, and over a million people rely on its digital tools to teach, learn, and conduct research. Their work has been recognized with major awards and grants from the American Historical Association, National Humanities Center, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Council on Public History, U.S. Department of Education, Library of Congress, Institute of Museum and Library Services, American Council of Learned Societies, and the Mellon, Sloan, Hewlett, Rockefeller, Gould, Delmas, and Kellogg foundations.

PWD featured in Chronicle Article

September 5th, 2012

This week the hard work of the PWD editors and volunteer transcribers was featured in an article entitled “Historians Ask the Public to Help Organize the Past,” in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Reporter Marc Parry offered the story of the archive’s original reconstruction, its innovative online-first format, and our use of community transcription. The piece includes interviews with Editor-in-Chief Christopher Hamner, archive originator Ted Crackel, and the director of the Scripto community transcription tool project Sharon Leon.

Volunteer to be a Transcription Associate

March 17th, 2011

We are pleased to announce the launch of community transcription with the Papers of the War Department.  Beginning today, interested volunteers can register to begin transcribing any of the materials in this groundbreaking digital archive.

With major funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Office of Digital Humanities and the National Archives’ National Historical Publications and Records Commission, PWD is pioneering a new phase in digital documentary editing with an alpha implementation of Scripto, CHNM’s open source tool for crowdsourcing documentary transcription, by allowing users to transcribe historical documents and contribute them to a digital archive of correspondence, speeches, accounting logs, and other documents from early American history.

Building on the models of other crowdsourcing projects like Wikipedia and Flickr Commons, PWD will benefit from the various enthusiastic communities of volunteer transcribers. Volunteers—who may include historians doing scholarly research, students and teachings, genealogists, and other interested members of the general public—will have the opportunity to transcribe any of the over 45,000 documents in the digital archive.  In doing so, they will make that text available to the search engine, improving the ability of users to locate the materials they need.  Additionally, as users select documents to transcribe the editors at the PWD project will gain significant insights into the areas of the collection that are of most interest to the wider user community.

Please join us in this new venture in public history!

PWD featured in NY Times article about crowdsourcing transcription

January 3rd, 2011

The Papers of the War Department project was featured in a recent article in the New York Times about efforts to crowdsource documentary transcription. At the end of January 2011, PWD will implement the Scripto transcription tool, allowing users to contribution transcriptions of the 55,000 documents in the PWD archive. With funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities, Scripto will provide editors of digital documentary collections with a way to harness the power of the public to build a base of transcription text that will improve document findability and ease of use.  Scripto is a PHP-based, free and open source plugin, that will connect to common content management systems.

If you are interested in participating in the project as a volunteer transcriber, please email Sharon Leon.

Welcome to the PWD blog

August 23rd, 2010

We’re pleased to introduce the Papers of the War Department blog, a forum that provides space to share information about the archive, its documents, and the history of the United States War Office in the late-eighteenth century. In coming weeks, we will introduce more categories to the blog, highlight particularly interesting documents and figures, and offer some tips to better utilize the search engine and the collection.