By 2017, the writings of Union General Oliver Otis Howard, Class of 1850, will only be a click away.
Last Wednesday, the College announced that it had received a $150,000 grant from The National Historical Publications and Records Commission to digitize the Howard collection. According to Richard Lindemann, director of special collections and archives, the process will take three years and will include the scanning of over 150 pages of material, ranging from the 1850s to the 1910s.
The Howard collection is the most frequently accessed collection at the College. Lindemann said approximately 70 people, from Bowdoin and from other institutions, use the Howard collection each year.
Howard is most widely known as the Commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, a Reconstruction-era federal agency dedicated to aiding the newly freed slaves of the South. Professor of History Patrick Rael is a scholar of Civil War history and often teaches seminars where his students require the collection for their research.
“Outside of Washington D.C., this is the biggest source of information on how the Freedmen’s Bureau worked,” said Rael.
Prior to his tenure at the Freedmen’s Bureau, Howard was a career soldier; after leaving Bowdoin, he went on to West Point and continued working in a military capacity up through the war. After the Freedmen’s Bureau was disbanded in 1874, he returned to military life. In 1877, he became infamous for leading a group of Army soldiers to hunt down the Nez Perce Indians, who were planning to escape the reservation system by fleeing to Canada.
“It gained a lot of notoriety. In the time this was on all the front pages. Everyone was keeping track of this campaign,” said Rael. “It was one of the most notable episodes in the Indian wars after the Civil War.”
The collection includes portions of Howard’s correspondence from family members, as well as the soldiers and freedmen he kept in touch with during and after the War.
“Some of the letters have illustrations in them. Howard was fond, particularly in writing to his children, of drawing little camp scenes to give them a sense of what Papa was up to in the field,” said Lindemann.
Though mostly letters, the collection also includes scrapbooks Howard filled with the small tokens from his travels. According to Lindemann, scrapbooking was “a common way at that time of having a sense of who you are and where you’ve been.”
Lindemann noted that the Howard collection will serve as a “pilot project” for a new method of digitization. The project will build off of previously created online finding aids, which will help limit the amount of new information necessary to store and access the catalogue.
“All we’re doing is scanning and converting the TIFFs into PDFs then attaching the PDFs to the finding aid,” he said.
This scanning will take over 40 hours of student labor each week, as well as full-time project supervision. Much of the grant will go towards paying these workers.