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150 years after Lincoln assassination, massive online archive in the works

Lucas Mearian | April 13, 2015
The documents range from official to personal, even a letter about that famous beard to an 11-year-old girl


Editors note: This story has been updated to clarify the archive's current status and the role of Iron Mountain.

As the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination approaches, a massive digital archive is in the works that will be home to more than 100,000 documents related to the Civil War-era commander-in-chief.

The Papers of Abraham Lincoln is a project of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and it is co-sponsored by the Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of Illinois Springfield and the Abraham Lincoln Association. The project is dedicated to identifying, imaging, transcribing, annotating, and publishing all documents written by or to Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime. Lincoln was assassinated in Ford' Theater in Washington, D.C.  on April 14, 1865.

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Creative Commons Lic.. President Lincoln with Gen. George B. McClellan and group of officers at Antietam, Md.

To date, the the project has collected 99,525 documents, of which more than 67,000 have been stored on about 40TB of storage on servers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The archive is expected to grow by another 50% over the next five years, and storage vendor Iron Mountain will eventually take over the data storage requirements when the archive is completed.

Stacy Pratt McDermott, assistant director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, said  the university is now allowing public access to the digitalized documents through a temporary website that offers few features. When the project is completed in two to four years, a more sophisticated site will offer acedemic researchers and history buffs in-depth search features.

"We have much editorial work to complete before launching our project website," she said.

The Papers consist of three types:

  • Series I: Legal Papers, which cover Lincoln's time practicing law from 1836 to 1861; The collection encompasses the surviving record of his quarter-century career in the federal, state and county court systems.
  • Series II: Illinois Papers, which encompass Lincoln's non-legal life from his birth in February 1809 through March 3, 1861, the day before his inauguration. The papers include personal and political correspondence, political speeches, and all other non-legal materials
  • Series III: Presidential Papers, which include a massive documentary record of an active president engaged in leading a nation during wartime.

For example, the day before his assassination, Lincoln sent an aide to deliver a message with a simple note attached to make sure it arrived promptly: The note stated: "Let this man enter with this note. A. Lincoln April 14, 1865."

The archive also contains images of some of the most historically significant documents penned by Lincoln, such as one of the five original copies of the Gettysburg Address.


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