Project Overview

The 19th-Century Concord Digital Archive (CDA) is a long-term digital project that gathers cultural records of Concord, Massachusetts in an interactive digital archive, useful to a multidisciplinary group of scholars.

Concord is an important location for renewed scholarly attention as it helped to define the critical framework of American literature and history. In Lawrence Buell’s description of “the cult of the New England village” (305) he argues that such towns functioned “as a social model and as literary and mythic images—thanks partly to the New England influence, in each case—throughout much of America as a whole” (Lawrence Buell, New England Literary Culture: From Revolution through Renaissance. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986. 305.). Buell’s view of the extension of New England, social, cultural and historical, is replicated in much of the scholarly approach to American literary history, and has only recently been challenged by scholarly work.

The Concord Digital Archive invites the scholar to utilize a broad set of digital documents to reconsider how the town and its writers are situated within broader scholarly conversations. A host of important American writers have ties to the city, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and Bronson Alcott. These authors interacted with groups less frequently recorded in textual documents of the time period: free African-Americans, Irish immigrants, the poor, and the criminal class. The interaction between these groups appears, upon inspection of the documents projected to be included in the archive, far more complex than that represented by current scholarship.

Further, scholarly work has begun to place 19th-century Concord writers within an international context, but that context often focuses on the traditional canonical authors rather than expanding the base of our study. Initial work with archive materials shows that one way that Concord looked outward was in reaction to the growing numbers of Irish-Catholic immigrants that relocated to the town in the mid 19th century. By digitizing a broad range of materials that represent the diverse peoples associated with literary production the archive allows scholars to rethink the way in which we conceptualize individual work associated with Concord, to redefine our assumptions about literary and historical representation, and to reconsider the very foundation of our disciplinary studies.

The CDA has received over $40,000 of grant support from the NEH and other funding sources. In addition, the project has a legal partnership with the Concord Free Public Library, Concord, Massachusetts, to enable expansion of primary source materials. The William Munroe Special Collections of the Concord Free Public Library is the primary archive of Concord history, life, landscape, literature and people from 1635-present, and as such is a major repository and interpretive agency. The project utilizes standard editorial practices and the blended use of databases and TEI/XML markup of texts, the defacto international standard for encoding texts in the humanities.

Current work includes digitization of the Concord Town Reports, 1834-1863, literary and historical texts related to the dedication of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, various historical maps, and the U.S. Census Records from 1830-1860. We are developing an interface that allows scholars to locate editorially marked references of people and places within archive texts and, in turn, spacially locate the materials in an interactive map of contemporary Concord, a community submissions application with editorial vetting and addition transcription, editing and markup of texts.