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Historical Society putting treasures on the Web

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

As they get ready for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, history buffs will have a new online trove of documents and photos to pore over. The Pennsylvania Historical Society is digitizing some of its collection and making it available onl the Web.

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The Pennsylvania Historical Society has about 21 million items in its collection. Artifacts include photographs, personal diaries, war correspondence, maps, and geological surveys. However it has nowhere near enough resources to scan each one.

This is a watercolor of Camp Brigthwood on Rhode Island.

John Rutter Brooke and his 3rd US Infantry, circa 1889, part of the Sioux Campaign that became the Wounded Knee Massacre.

Archivists have to be choosey, and due to the sesquicentennial of the Civil War in 20-11, they are starting there – hand-picking items that hint at the rest of the collection. Archivist Kathleen Miller recently went through the papers of Andrew Atkinson Humphreys, who not only was a major general in the Civil War, but also a geologist and fought in the Seminole Native American war.

There are a lot of papers about the Seminole War and about surveying the Mississippi River, so I want to make sure those things are covered, even though the Civil War is the focus of the project. And I try to make sure there is some content on each page – so they are not looking at a letter, just, Dear Mom, Hi. How are you?

This is a watercolor of Camp Brigthwood on Rhode Island.

This is a watercolor of Camp Brigthwood on Rhode Island.

The project is meant to encourage more people to use the collection. Administrators at the Historical Society say about half of their visitors are amateur genealogists looking up their family tree.


  • Robert J Rittenhouse says:

    The article is well written and apparently accurate. I just wanted to correct your reference to the institution. It is ” the Historical Society of Pennsylvania” not the “Pennsylvania Historical Society”.

    Robert J Rittenhouse


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