Civil War archives provide access to the northern home front

One hundred sixty years ago, 10 years before the start of the Civil War, Pennsylvanians played a pivotal role in resisting the Fugitive Slave Act, entering a national debate over slavery’s future in the republic. A new project, "The People's Contest: a Civil War Era Digital Archiving Project" at online, aims to advance scholarship on the experiences of ordinary northerners during a period of extraordinary conflict, a lesser understood aspect of the Civil War era. The website chronicles Pennsylvania's history from 1851, marked by the bloody Christiana fugitive slave riot, to 1874, when the state adopted a new constitution after the Civil War.

"The People’s Contest" is a joint effort of the Penn State University Libraries and the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center. Coinciding with commemorations of the Civil War sesquicentennial, the site provides a resource center for all of the project's primary sources. It includes a searchable database of Civil-War era collections located throughout Pennsylvania, most of which are held by smaller historical societies without online catalogs. The database allows researchers to search by keyword, location name, and genre and gives collection location and contact information, bringing previously hidden collections to the attention of researchers and scholars.

"The People's Contest" has received grant funding from the Institute for Museum of Library Services and is also based on partnerships with the Senator John Heinz History Center, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Through the collaboration of the Richards Center and the Libraries, "The People’s Contest" houses digital collections and links to other Civil War sites and collections held by Penn State at online. This latter site includes a roster of nonreporting drafted men and deserters (containing entries for 38,000 Pennsylvania soldiers), Pennsylvania regimental histories, Civil War newspapers, books, journals, biographies and diaries, and other open-access collections.


Serving scholarship and providing access to a wealth of online resources, Penn State University Libraries' full array of digital collections can be viewed at online.


For more information on digitized collections, contact Patricia Hswe at 814-867-3702 or

Last Updated June 28, 2011