Explore the Collection
When the Civil War & Reconstruction Governors of Mississippi project (CWRGM) is complete, there will be over 20,000 digitized documents that contain over 50,000 pages of text from the state’s governors’ papers presented online, fully transcribed and annotated with detailed metadata. That is an incredible amount of information for users to explore. Considering this challenge, the CWRGM team developed a methodology to help experts and non-experts alike to successfully navigate this vast collection while learning more about the era.
That effort began in the summer of 2020 when CWRGM director Susannah Ural met with CWRGM assistant editors Stephanie Seal Walters and Lindsey Peterson, as well as graduate researcher Lucas Somers, to study discoverability methods of other digital documentary editions and apply these to the CWRGM collection. The team developed a system that utilized subject tagging features in "From The Page," the transcription service used by CWRGM, to create early annotations that would not simply highlight places, people, and events, but help users to "hear" from the diverse populations who make this collection so valuable.
These efforts, led by Ural and Peterson as the work continued, developed a subject tagging system that dramatically enhances discoverability of documents in the CWRGM collection. This process helps users find documents they seek and others of which they may not be aware. This is accomplished in two key ways. First, subject tags streamline the search process, using a uniform term — such as "disease and illness" — to help researchers find diseases they may not have considered in their keyword searches or that are called by names they might not recognize (like "affliction of the heart"). Subject tags also educate non-specialist users on inappropriate language that appears in direct translations of nineteenth-century records. For example, when the term "colored" appears in a document, it is transcribed verbatim, but by hovering over the hyperlinked word, the subject tag "African Americans" appears. This helps users who are unaware of nineteenth-century terminology, and educates non-experts, such as students, who may not know the appropriate modern word to incorporate into their writing outside of direct quotes. This process also connects that document to any other transcribed and annotated document in the collection relating to African-American experiences.
CWRGM subject tags organize the collection into eight categories:
- Events (latitude & longitude noted when known)
- Military Units
- Organizations and Businesses (latitude & longitude noted when known)
- Places (latitude & longitude noted for future mapping features)
- Social Identifiers
- Vital Statistics
By clicking on any of these categories under "Explore the Collection," subject tags appear in alphabetical order to encourage further investigation. When users explore a specific document, subject terms from the text appear in bubbles next to the digitized record, allowing users to click on a topic — perhaps a town, a person, a regiment, or a hospital — addressed in that document that connects them to any related document in the digitized collection.
Most of those categories are self-explanatory; they help users with diverse research interests understand how the collection might be of use to them. But CWRGM created the category "social identifiers" to spotlight the experiences of individuals whose voices are less commonly heard in historical accounts including the enslaved, free and freed people of color, widows, veterans (especially enlisted men), and impoverished individuals.
Whenever possible, tags align with Library of Congress (LC) authorities, the LC Name Authority File (LCNAF), or LC Subject Headings. Some of that terminology is dated, which can be frustrating, and we've updated this where possible. Also note that terms only appear on our website if they appear in transcribed and tagged documents, but as more documents become available the list of subject terms that materialize here will grow.
Keep in mind that subject tags do not nest into one another (though we’re hoping to develop that option). Users interested in Ladies Military Aid Societies, for example, will find documents pertaining to that subject under the "Ladies Military Aid Society" link on the Organizations and Businesses section. These users will also be interested in Ladies Military Aid Societies specified by town — for example, Ladies Military Aid Society (Clinton, Miss.) — also listed on that page. That will ensure that you see all documents related to Ladies Military Aid Societies in general, as well as broken down to the county level. Similarly, if you want to find documents related to the 16th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, go to "Military Units" under "Explore the Collection" and go click on "C" because those were Confederate States of America units (as designated by the LC). Scroll down to "Mississippi Infantry Regiment, 16th." and you’ll find any document relating to the regiment in general, or documents broken down by specific companies of that regiment.
Our team has carefully considered when and how we tag terminology in the documents we transcribe, and users can learn more about our Tagging Protocols under "About" and then "Editorial Process." While you may expect us to tag terms like "women" or "woman," we do not for several reasons. First, all subject tags are connected to language that appears directly in the document. Whenever possible, we tag a person's name or use a term in the document to add that name when known. This helps us make the experiences of women as a group and individuals more discoverable. Furthermore, we work to avoid tagging terms like "woman" because we do not want to assume subjects' gender identities whenever possible. If this is a search option users very much want to explore, they have the option to search for "woman" or "women" in the search bar or through Advanced Searches.
This system is not perfect, but our use of LC authorities keeps CWRGM tags in line with field standards, enhances searchability within our collection, and allows for future cross-platform analysis with other Digital Documentary Editions.
CWRGM assistant editor Lindsey Peterson led the team's subject tagging efforts in the 2020-2021 academic year. She and Ural met regularly to improve methodologies, update protocols, and refine how they trained the researchers who create and verify all transcriptions and subject tags. This is an ongoing process, but it is our hope that CWRGM subject tagging methodologies will dramatically enhance the discoverability and accessibility of the collection.