Founders Online: Looking Forward, with your help


Tomorrow marks the first birthday of the online tool, Founders Online –

This resource contains over 150,000 transcribed letters and other writings of six Founders of the nation – George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin. The transcribed documents are all in one place, fully searchable, and freely available to all. The NHPRC was extremely fortunate to be given the chance to put the funding and the Founders Online team together, and we hope everyone reaps the benefits of this unique resource.

We have a lot to celebrate after one year. Almost 450,000 unique visitors have used the site since its launch, with a current average of about 1500 daily users. Organizations have begun to recognize the website with distinguished awards and associated accolades. We have seen the site used as a primary resource tool in classrooms, including its use as a teaching tool for a massive open online course (MOOC) on The Age of Jefferson. And we’ve witnessed important, unexpected results. For example, some private holders of previously unknown or undiscovered original documents have shared this new information with us and with the teams of editors who continue work on transcriptions and annotation.

But I need your help with figuring out what’s next for Founders Online. While we are celebrating the first year of this new resource, we also want to improve its usefulness. Here are a few things that you can help with in going forward:

We want a tool that is dynamic. Although we continue to add documents from a handful of editorial teams working on the Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin papers projects, is this sufficient in terms of the necessary growth of Founders Online? Should it strive to be more comprehensive? Will the results meet researcher needs? In other words, should the coverage expand beyond these seminal figures and if yes, in what way(s)?

Is there value in linking transcriptions with original documents/digital images? Documents from the National Archives (NARA) make up about 13% of the Founders Online content. That seems like a great opportunity to link NARA catalogs, digital images and other tools to Founders Online. In this way researchers can see the documents, or images of the documents, and transcribed versions of them, complete with annotations. How can we make this happen? I have similar questions about large caches of other digitized documents maintained at other places – the Library of Congress, for example. Assuming this is worthwhile to do, how can we link Founders Online to the individual documents held there?

What’s the best way to make Founders Online better known, especially with educators and students? The usage numbers for its first year are respectable, but there are many opportunities to better connect this resource with educators (high school through college) as well as the general public.  What are they? I have a few projects lined up to address this challenge – a short “how to” video in the works, a curriculum development project underway with a humanities center – but there must be additional activities I should be planning for as we begin year two of Founders Online.

It’s likely that there are other things I should be thinking about as well for Founders Online, and I invite you to share your thoughts and help us enhance this tool during the coming year.  Thanks!

One thought on “Founders Online: Looking Forward, with your help

  1. Thank you. I’m an independent historian researching the coming of the American Revolution and have found Founders On-line to be an excellent resource for finding source material. The search engine is simple to use, but robust. I would encourage you to expand the collection to include lesser know leaders, like Arthur Lee and John Dickerson. It would also be good if there could be a hyper-link to cross referenced materials in the footnotes. And, of course, images of original documents would be great. Thanks again.

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