With the assistance of Zachary Sinkiewicz, an Aresty Research Assistant, and several of my Rutgers colleagues, I am working on a digital edition of a small manuscript collection held in Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives: The Peter Still Papers (1850-1875).

Peter Still's Memo Book, in which he recorded the amounts raised to purchase the freedom of his family.

Peter Still’s Memo Book, in which he recorded the amounts raised to purchase the freedom of members of his family.

These manuscript letters and notebooks chronicle the efforts of Peter Still, a former slave, to purchase the freedom of his wife and family. Still was born free to parents in Indian Mills, New Jersey, and was kidnapped and sold into slavery. After forty years of enslavement, he was able to secure enough money to buy his own freedom, and subsequently begin the search for Lavinia (Vina), his wife, as well as his mother, brothers, and sisters, located throughout the Eastern United States.

The Still Papers comprise 57 manuscript letters and notebooks. The digitized images of these texts are already published in RUcore, the Rutgers digital repository. However, the RUcore records lack full text transcriptions, meaning that researchers need to download PDF images and read the handwritten letters one by one in order to gain an understanding of their contents. Transcriptions are an important first step towards making this collection more accessible and searchable to scholars.

In a next step, we will use the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) standard for encoding machine-readable texts to create TEI XML for each of the letters and notebooks. TEI tagging of the manuscripts will support, among other things, the generation of HTML-formatted text for web display, the automated extraction of place names, dates, and persons, while also making the structured data available to scholars to reuse in text or data mining projects, or in whatever ways they see fit.