The Diaries of John Quincy Adams Digital Project

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Neal Millikan

    The Adams Papers - Massachusetts Historical Society

Work text
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John Quincy Adams (JQA, 1767–1848) was one of America’s great statesmen. The oldest son of John and Abigail Adams of Quincy, Massachusetts, his public service career spanned six decades and included roles as diplomat, secretary of state, president, and congressman. For more than 68 years, JQA kept a diary of his public and private experiences. Begun in 1779, the diary grew to over 15,000 pages by the time the final entries were penned before his death in 1848. The resulting 51 diary volumes comprise the longest continuous record of any American of the time and provide an unparalleled resource for students, scholars, and all lovers of history. The value of JQA's diary lies beyond the study of one important individual. It can help inform broader historical discussions, such as gender, race, and scientific progress. This digital project is making the diary truly accessible for the first time by presenting a verified and searchable transcription of each date’s entry.
The project has been informed by the theories and practices of the documentary editing community. The purpose of documentary editing is not just to make historical primary source material available, but to facilitate engagement with the text by providing context and topical access through the editorial apparatus of annotations, an introduction, and an index. This project serves to address that overarching purpose but within a new approach. Instead of annotations and an index, it will incorporate an innovative context for usability via personal name and topical identifiers to facilitate deeper use by a broader audience. We are using a defined subset of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) tagging language to encode our transcriptions, which are in XML files.
Given the fact that JQA’s diary spans 68 years, work on this project has been divided into five chronological periods: early (November 1779 – December 1788), diplomatic (January 1789 – August 1817), secretary of state (September 1817 – February 1825), presidential (March 1825 – December 1829), and congressional (January 1830 – February 1848). The project is being undertaken by a combination of institutional staff, interns (graduate students, undergraduates, and high schoolers), and volunteers. This presentation will discuss the challenges and benefits of utilizing such a varied workforce on a digital humanities project.
Enhanced access to the project will include keyword and personal name search ability, along with topical search features based on themes in middle and high school history curricula. The unique needs of this community were identified through consultation with educators in an effort to understand how to make the diaries more useful to this particular audience. From these discussions we learned that while online transcriptions address the accessibility issue for students who have difficulty reading handwritten documents, keyword searching alone cannot adequately reveal the full, rich content of these materials.
Throughout his life, JQA interacted with thousands of individuals. A names list is regularly updated with an individual’s name, birth and death dates, date first mentioned in the diary, brief biography, and a unique identifier. This list will allow our web developer to build a search tool to enable users to search for individuals, even when they have not been elucidated by JQA in the text. For example, if JQA mentions “father and mother,” the analysis provided by a staff member allows the names to be encoded with the identifiers adams-john and adams-abigail.
To facilitate topical searches of the diary, project staff consulted with educators to identify approximately 100 themes related to American history. These form the basis of the subject analysis where a staff member assigns the relevant topical headings for each diary entry. For example, in a particular date entry, topical access could be added for Industrialization, Native Americans, Science and Technology, and Slave Trade—topics of particular interest to students and teachers and utilized in history courses—even though JQA may not have written any of those specific words in his diary. Once this search tool is created, we envision a browse list of subject headings that will enable more complex and informed discoverability on historical topics than a keyword search alone could provide.
The project currently has two websites. The original site, produced in 2006, provides images of the diary manuscript pages that are date searchable. The new website, launched in 2017, provides transcriptions along with short and long versions headnotes for chronological periods of the diary. In the future, we will combine the content from these two websites to allow for display of the manuscript page images alongside the transcriptions.

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Conference Info

In review

ADHO - 2019

Hosted at Utrecht University

Utrecht, Netherlands

July 9, 2019 - July 12, 2019

436 works by 1162 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (14)

Organizers: ADHO