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Federal Grant Supports Crowdsourcing Project to Decode Civil War Telegrams

Ledger books containing almost 16,000 Civil War telegrams between Abraham Lincoln, members of his Cabinet, and officers of the Union Army. A crowdsourcing project will help transcribe and decode the messages.

One hundred and fifty years after its conclusion, the American Civil War continues to be a subject of compelling interest to historians and the general public. A new project getting under way at The Huntington will draw on that public fascination to engage experts and amateurs in a unique collaboration that promises to provide fresh insights into a much-studied conflict.

 

Thanks to a two-year federal grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, The Huntington will launch a crowdsourcing project in the spring of 2016 to transcribe and decipher a collection of 15,922 Civil War telegrams between Abraham Lincoln, his Cabinet, and officers of the Union Army. About one-third of the messages were written in code. This extraordinarily rare collection, acquired by The Huntington in 2012, is a near-complete archive of the papers of Thomas T. Eckert, the head of the military telegraph office of the War Department under Lincoln. The archive was thought to have been destroyed after the war and includes crucial correspondence that has never been published. Among the materials are 35 manuscript ledger books of telegrams sent and received by the War Department and more than 100 communiques from Lincoln himself. Also included are top secret cipher books revealing the complex coding system used to encrypt and decipher messages. The Confederate Army never cracked the Union Army’s code.

 

Thomas T. Eckert, head of the military telegraph office of the War Department under Lincoln.

The Huntington is partnering on the project with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, North Carolina State University’s Digital History and Pedagogy Project, and Zooniverse, the largest online platform for collaborative volunteer research.

 

As science has extended its workforce with “citizen scientists” who collect data for scientific research, so humanities scholars are now engaging “citizen archivists.” Through crowdsourcing, The Huntington will be able to transcribe and decipher these Civil War telegrams with greater efficiency and accuracy than could be done by limited staff, expediting the process of providing open access to these important historical documents.

 

 

National Historical Publications & Records CommissionThis project is funded in part by a generous grant from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.

About The Huntington

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution established in 1919 by Henry E. and Arabella Huntington. Henry Huntington, a key figure in the...

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