Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Kent Library archives received grants to digitize Civil War

Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Dr. Lisa Speers browses through a book from the Civil War Collection. Photo by Nathan Hamilton

Missouri was a border state and key location during the American Civil War, and soon documents from that time period in Missouri will be available online.

A collaborative project started by Special Collections and Archives in Kent Library called "Confluence and Crossroads: The Civil War in the American Heartland," is underway. The goal of the project is to collect and digitize documents from the Civil War era and eventually have them available online in a digital library. The project has gathered over 1,600 individual documents from the era.

Staff from Special Collections and Archives are working with members of the Department of Regional History, the Center for Regional History at Southeast Missouri State University, the Special Collections Research Center at SIU Carbondale and employees of the Cape Girardeau County Archive Center in Jackson, Mo.

Project manager Ellen Ryan said that the project is scheduled to be completed by July 15, 2013, since that is the last date of its funding. Ryan hopes that the project will be completed sooner than that.

"Our goal is to have everything completed by late spring, June at the latest," Ryan said.

Ryan said that those involved with the project are focusing on the history of 28 counties. Of these counties, 23 are in southeast Missouri and five are in southern Illinois.

Ryan has been tracking down the proper documents for this project along with graduate student and research assistant A.J. Medlock. The two have been going to different institutions, including universities and libraries, that have indicated a willingness to provide the project with relevant documents, such as maps and photographs.

Project Manager Ellen Ryan looks over a map from the Civil War Collection. Photo by Kelsey Barksdale

Ryan said it is important to obtain primary source documents, which are the original versions of documents.

"There are always problems, but there hasn't been anything too difficult to handle," Ryan said. "One problem was explaining what a primary source document was. Sometimes we would call people who said they had primary source documents, only to drive down there and find that they had photocopies."

Once they have found a document worthy of a place in the collection, it is scanned and uploaded to the digital library. Images of the original documents will be viewable on the Special Collections website, as well as through Missouri Digital Heritage. Documents are also transcribed for easier reading.

Of course, a project of large scope needs funding. Dr. Lisa Speer, an associate professor at Southeast and head of Special Collections and Archives, is the project director. Speer described the role of Kent Library staff in the project as being "responsible for financial oversight."

The Library Services and Technology Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, allows for federal grants for libraries. Special Collections and Archives applied for a grant for the project in November 2010 and received $68,721 in June 2011 for phase one of the project, which lasted from June 3, 2011, to July 16, 2012. The state of Missouri awarded additional funding during phase one, bringing the total funding to $80,148.

In June 2012, the Missouri State Library gave $73,139 to Special Collections and Archives for phase two of the project. According to Speer, it was the second largest digital imaging grant award given by the state library in this cycle of funding.