About The Digital Journals Project

The project consisted of digitizing approximately 2,400 8-1/2 x 11 word-processed pages, comprising the complete transcription of American social reformer Frances Willard's 50-volume, handwritten journals dating from 1855-1896. The Frances Willard Historical Association (FWHA) in Evanston, IL, holds the original journals and the transcriptions, but these are currently available only to on-site visitors during the Frances Willard Memorial Library & Archives' limited open hours. The digitized transcriptions, freely full-text searchable on the Frances Willard Digital Journals web site, now provide unprecedented access to Willard's remarkable journals by scholars of women's history, education, social reform, rhetoric, and the American progressive era, as well as to younger researchers learning to use primary sources.

Because Willard's journals were unavailable to earlier scholars of Willard and the WCTU, they provide a uniquely untapped resource for current researchers. And the digitized journals add to the substantial body of Willard and WCTU primary-source material—books, web sites, microfilm—that is already available through other institutions either online or through Inter-Library Loan.

The project to digitize the journal transcriptions proceeded in seven stages (some concurrent):
  • preparation;
  • scan/OCR the transcription;
  • proofread the digitized transcription;
  • digital development:
  • construction of a database,
  • application of metadata and building of interfaces for users and administrators);
  • providing access to the public through a link on the FWHA website;
  • announceand publicize the finished project.
Technical specs
  • Scan the transcribed pages and apply OCR (Optical Character Recognition).
  • Build a database (SQL Server 2008) to maintain the records and metadata for each transcribed document. The database fields will include entry date and the content of each page, as well as the architecture to incorporate searching by subject, a function which the FWHA may choose to develop later.
  • Build an application to load each document's content programmatically into the database, for full-text searching.
  • Build two user interfaces (portals) for the online project—a public interface and an administrative interface. These applications (built in VB.NET and linked to the SQL database) will be accessible via any web browser.

  • User Web Portal. The main product from this project will be a web portal through which users can search for and view the transcribed journal entries. HistoryIT will host the database and portal, which will be accessed through a link on the FWHA web site. HistoryIT will incorporate Search Engine Optimization (SEO), enabling users to easily locate the site through a standard web search.
  • Administrative Portal. Administrators will have access to a secure portal through which they can manage information about the electronic text. For example, administrators may choose to associate documents with keywords. They may also edit the electronic texts of the documents.

  • Host and manage the digital web application, as well as the database of digital records.
Personnel :
  • Project Manager:
  • Janet Olson, volunteer archivist at the Willard Archives since 2007, has been the Assistant University Archivist at Northwestern University since 1998. She has an M.A. in American History from Loyola University Chicago, with an ongoing research interest in 19th century social reform.
  • Technology Consultant:
  • Kristen Gwinn-Becker founded HistoryIT, LLC, in 2008. She has a Ph.D. in Twentieth Century and Women's History from The George Washington University. Her first book, Emily Greene Balch: The Long Road to Internationalism (University of Illinois Press), was published in 2010.
Features and functions to be added as time and funding permit :
  • Timeline of Willard's life
  • Digitized pages of the original handwritten journal
  • Additional bibliography
  • Subject tagging

This project was made possible by a SNAP grant from the Illinois State Historical Records Advisory Board. Funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission(NHPRC), ISHRAB offers a limited number ofsmall (under $5000) re-grants to repositoriesthat demonstrate financial and programmaticneed, and that show commitment to producingprojects that preserve and provide access tohistorical records in Illinois.
In addition, many thanks are owed to

  • The Frances Willard Historical Association for endorsing the grant and providing the financial matching funds
  • Carolyn DeSwarte Gifford, for permission to digitize the transcriptions, and for her ongoing support and advice
  • The volunteer proofreaders who provided the in-kind match, and worked so diligently to ensure the accuracy of the digitized transcription, including: Rachel Bohlmann, Jeffrey Buchbinder, Alice Burton, Carolyn DeSwarte Gifford, Kara Johnson, Jacqueline Roman, and Kara Zelasko.
  • Many others who worked to make Willard's journals accessible to a world-wide audience.
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