After a year of phone calls, travel and surveys of original Civil War materials, the digital-documentation project at Southeast Missouri State University's Kent Library is now prepared to begin its final phase.
The project, titled "Confluence and Crossroads: The Civil War in the American Heartland," has gathered more than 1,600 individual documents, photographs and artifacts from the period that are relevant to the history of the conflict in 23 Southeast Missouri counties and five in Southern Illinois. With a second installment of funding worth more than $73,000 from a grant administered by the Missouri State Library, digitizing and cataloging the historic items can now proceed.
"Ours was the second-largest digital-imaging grant given by the state library in this cycle of funding," said Dr. Lisa Speer, project director. "Total funding for the project has amounted to over $153,000."
The goal of the project is for Kent Library to develop extensive digital archives of area Civil War materials to be made available for viewing on the Internet. It also seeks to include only materials that are unique to the contributing counties.
Project members scoured counties in Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois to inventory and photograph authentic war-related items.
"There was a lot of inventory that had to be done and also the adapting of the project to meet changing needs," Speer said. "Things got bigger and better."
The process called for not only countless phone calls to area collectors but also a lot of legwork. Ellen Ryan, project manager, and A.J. Medlock, a graduate student research assistant, traveled to area museums, historical societies, libraries and archives. As the project got bigger, it sometimes involved trips out of the area.
"I've gone as far as Des Moines, Iowa, to look for materials," Ryan said. That trip came with a pleasant surprise. "I located a map drawn upon a canvas that included the counties we are focusing on. That's going to go on the website."
Other institutions, such as Southern Illinois University, have shared with the project documents and photographs that have already been digitized. But usually attempts to obtain the materials needed for the project haven't been so easy.
"There were always challenges," Ryan said. "Sometimes it involved documents being not so authentic. Other times it was working within the confines of a budget. And traveling wasn't always easy."
The project is expected to be completed by July 15, with the History Department at Southeast expected to provide the necessary background for each item displayed on the website. But materials will possibly be featured on the website earlier as they become ready, which will "generate momentum and excitement," Speer said. While expected to be enjoyed by researchers, the website will also contain K-12 lesson plans for use by area teachers and students.
Anyone interested in contributing to the project can contact Ryan at 651-2750.
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