Founders Online Launches

The University of Virginia Press announces this week the launch of Founders Online, a website offering free access to the papers of six of the most important figures from America’s founding era—George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin. The site will make nearly 120,000 documents freely accessible to the public. Developed by the Press’s electronic imprint, Rotunda, Founders Online will be officially launched at a ceremony at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. on June 13. University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan will offer remarks on this unique collaboration between the Archives and the University.

Starting in 2011, Rotunda staff began developing the Founders Online platform under a cooperative agreement with the National Archives of the United States’ grant-making arm, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The content is derived from two sources: our Rotunda American Founding Era collection, based on published letterpress editions, and transcriptions of thousands of documents being made available on a “pre-press” basis thanks to the Early Access program undertaken by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities’ Documents Compass program.

Founders Online will include thousands of documents, replicating the contents of 242 volumes of the published print editions. As each new print volume is completed, it will be added to the database. All of the “Early Access” materials—an additional 55,000 unpublished and in-process documents—will be posted online over the next three years. Students and researchers will be able to view transcribed, unpublished letters as they are being researched and annotated by the documentary project editors and staff. Together, some 175,000 documents are projected to be on the Founders Online site.

“UVa Press is honored to be working with the NHPRC on Founders Online,” said Mark H. Saunders, Interim Director of the University of Virginia Press. “This resource brings together the papers of six major founders in a user-friendly website that gives Americans and people around the world a first-hand account of the historic conversation that formed our democracy and allowed our country to thrive.”

“This resource will be of immense value for the public to understand both the world and intentions of the nation’s founders,” said Kathleen Williams, Executive Director of the NHPRC. “Founders Online provides a bold economic, educational, and technical model that will yield important lessons as we plan for future online publication of historical materials.”

Founders Online represents the cumulative work of hundreds of historians, editors, publishers, and (more recently) computer programmers over the decades since the first modern documentary editions began with the publication in 1950 of the first volume of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson by Princeton University Press.

We wish especially to acknowledge the current and former UVAP staff members and collaborators who have made Founders Online possible. Thanks to former Rotunda staffers John Carlson and Mary Ann Lugo, who oversaw much of the digitization and XML conversion, under the guidance of editorial and technical manager David Sewell; Rotunda senior programmers Shannon Shiflett and Tim Finney, who developed the original delivery platform used in our Rotunda Founding Era collection; Rotunda editorial and technical specialist Markus Flatscher, who oversaw the bulk of our digital conversion and handled the XSLT conversion of files received from the Jefferson Retirement Series into our own XML format; editorial assistant Virginia (Annie) Kinniburgh for proofreading and formatting; former UVA Press director Penny Kaiserlian and current interim director Mark Saunders, who handled the negotiations for our collaborative agreement with the NHPRC; and The Ivy Group of Charlottesville, for initial design requirements, user surveys, mockups, and prototypes—the look and feel of Founders Online owes much to their work. All of the XML data analysis and conversion and MarkLogic XQuery/XSLT programming for the new Founders Online platform have been done by David Sewell and Tim Finney.

We could not have completed our digital editions without assistance from the Founding Fathers projects: Jeff Looney, Susan Spengler, and Lisa Francavilla of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson—Retirement Series; Mary Jo Kline, who served as the editorial consultant for our work with the Papers of Alexander Hamilton; Ted Crackel (retired) and Jennifer Stertzer at the Papers of George Washington; Sara Sikes and her staff at the Adams Papers; Martha King at the Papers of Thomas Jefferson; John Stagg and David Mattern of the Madison Papers; and Alysia Cain of the Franklin Papers and her graduate assistant, Michael Hattem.

Finally, we recognize the invaluable assistance of our third-party vendors and the creators of software that we use: HCL America for their XML conversion; MarkLogic, which produces the native XML database platform that delivers Founders Online; and IBM Global Business Services, partnering with SOASTA, performed state-of-the-art load testing on the completed FO platform. Our work with large and complex XML datasets would be much more difficult without the excellent software provided by SyncRO Soft, the creators of oXygenXML and Michael Kay, creator of Saxon.

A video about the making of Founders Online may be viewed below or through this link.