The University of Virginia and the University will be digitizing the papers of President Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879, director of the Princeton University Press Peter Dougherty said.
The digitization process began Oct. 1, according to a press release.
The documents are Wilson’s most significant papers as determined by a variety of scholars at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Virginia, University of Virginia Press Director Mark Saunders said.
Princeton University Press already published the printed editions of Wilson’s papers between 1966 and 1994. The documents were published in 69 volumes with a five-part index.
Saunders noted that the library has been accumulating Woodrow Wilson’s papers for years, but the family of Arthur Link, the original editor of the print edition, has been instrumental in bringing this digital project to fruition.
The library originally approached the Princeton University Press and then UVA became involved because of their digital publishing platform, Saunders said. “We got together pretty quickly and understood among the three of us what the benefits of the partnership were,” he explained.
Representatives of the library declined to comment.
Dougherty explained that Princeton University Press viewed the project as a good opportunity, primarily because of Wilson’s historical importance.
“We liked the idea and had great faith in the ability of the University of Virginia press to publish an excellent digital edition, and so we decided to go ahead with it,” Dougherty said.
Saunders explained that though only about 10 percent of Wilson’s papers were published in print editions, the number still amounted to more than 38,000 documents. Now, he said, more than 400,000 documents will be made available online.
He noted that there will likely be a good number of papers not worth digitizing, but that there are a significant number of papers whose digital availability would benefit scholars.
Saunders said the digitization process will include two phases. During phase 1, he said, the 69 print volumes will be digitized and published throughout an approximately two-year window. He noted that the group has almost finished fundraising forPhase 1.
Phase 2 will entail the collection and digitization of the documents that were not part of the print edition. Phase 2 is much more open-ended regarding a time limit, so it is unclear when it will be completed, he said.
“There are all sorts of challenges to accomplishing a high-quality digital documentary edition,” Saunders said.
Saunders added that after collecting the physical documents, scholars still must transcribe and annotate them because most readers will need to understand the context of the documents. Following that, the documents will need to undergo the actual publishing and digitization process, which is thorough and extensive.
“There are a lot of steps along the way, and those are challenges in and of themselves,” he said.
The digital collections will be accessible to institutional subscribers such as the University, Saunders said. He added that students, faculty and staff at subscribing institutions will have full access to the digital documents.
He explained that perhaps the most exciting thing about the digital collections is the opportunity to place a historical figure such as Wilson in conversation with other pivotal historical and political figures in United States history.
“I think that’s actually the great value of the digital collection, that Woodrow Wilson can talk across the years with someone like Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln or Lyndon Johnson, and they can discuss, if you will, issues like race or presidential power, things that are still in the newspaper today,” Saunders said.
He noted that the UVA press had previously published the papers of President George Washington, but Washington’s papers continue to be discovered.
“If you can still discover Washington’s papers 225 years on, then the chances that there are important Wilson papers out there in private collections in people’s attics, drawers, et cetera is pretty high,” Saunders said.