The People’s Contest is praised for innovation

October 13, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In its Sept. 2014 issue, the “Journal of American History” — the flagship journal of all scholars of American History in the world — gave high praise to "The People’s Contest" website at Penn State. 

“The People’s Contest: A Civil War Era Digital Archive” is a collaborative project of Penn State’s University Libraries and the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center. The project promotes research into the lived experience of Pennsylvanians between 1851 and 1874, and its website features a unique bibliographic database of hidden collections from historical societies throughout the state, digitized manuscripts, and contextual essays.

Reviewer Adam W. Dean wrote, “ 'The People's Contest' presents an innovative model for the future of digital history, combining an archive, a gateway to primary source collections and a journal. Its mission is delightfully focused: the Web site authors seek to help scholars understand the Pennsylvania home front during the American Civil War. As the authors rightly note, most Civil War–era historians have focused on the Confederate home front, neglecting the rich political, racial, ethnic and gender clashes that characterized Pennsylvanians' experiences during the war.”

According to William Blair, director of the Richards Center and research professor of U.S. history,  a unique aspect of the project lies not only in the partnership with the University Libraries but also with many county historical societies across Pennsylvania. Field workers led by project manager Sabra Statham of University Libraries and assisted by Matthew Isham, managing director of the Richards Center, combed the state to identify hidden treasures that tell Pennsylvania’s story during the Civil War era. While the library has digitized select collections from this survey, the project also has generated a catalogue that directs historians and the public to letters, diaries, ledger books and other primary materials in these various repositories organized according to such categories as gender, family, politics and dissent.

“Pennsylvania,” Blair noted, “along with Ohio and New York, sent the most men to the battlefields. These states also provided the most significant support of the cause through furnishing weapons and other war material.” Yet, he added, Pennsylvania was also a highly contested state before, during and after the war, belying the overly simplistic image of the North as a unified region.

Tim Pyatt, the Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair and head of The Eberly Family Special Collections Library, said, “ 'The People’s Contest' allows us to share the University’s rich and unique Civil War manuscript and photograph collections in the context of other important Pennsylvania Civil War collections. We are delighted that we be a partner in this important project.”

Other project partners in this collaborative project include the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Senator John Heinz History Center, in association with the Smithsonian Institution.

For more information or accessibility and physical access accommodations, please call University Libraries public relations and marketing office at  814-863-4240.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 14, 2014