Bowdoin Wins NHPRC Grant to Digitize Howard Collection

Bowdoin Wins NHPRC Grant to Digitize Howard Collection
March 11, 2014 by Abby McBride.

Bowdoin continues to be a magnet for illustrious awards, with several major grants totaling more than $1.6 million awarded to faculty and programs at the College in recent months.

Christmas letter written by Howard to his son, Guy, in 1861.

Christmas letter written by Howard to his son, Guy, in 1861

Bowdoin received a grant award of $150,000 from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission’s “Digitizing Historical Records” program to support a three-year project to digitize the college’s Oliver Otis Howard Papers.

Based in Bowdoin’s George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, the project will reproduce the entire contents of the O.O. Howard Papers (which occupy more than sixty linear feet of shelf space) for online viewing and downloading. The 150,000 high-quality scanned pages will be freely available world-wide.

Howard was a Maine native who graduated in the Bowdoin class of 1850 and went on to become a Union general, awarded a Medal of Honor for his service in the war. His later activities included becoming head of the Freedman’s Bureau and superintendent of West Point, participating in Indian wars in the western United States, and serving for many years on Bowdoin’s Board of Trustees. Over the course of his life, Howard exchanged letters with more than 14,000 people, including notables involved in social reformation, the military, politics, law, religion, education, literature, journalism, and the arts. The luminaries with whom he corresponded included Henry Ward Beecher, Andrew Carnegie, Dorothea Dix, Frederick Douglass, James A. Garfield, Sojourner Truth, and Theodore Roosevelt.

O. O. Howard's 1854 commission as an officer, signed by then-Secretary of State Jefferson Davis

O. O. Howard’s 1854 commission as an officer, signed by then-Secretary of State Jefferson Davis

Howard’s trove of letters, scrapbooks, speeches, diaries, and photographs attracts researchers in a wide range of disciplines. The documents not only provide insight into the events of Howard’s varied career, but also reflect his personal life as a member of a distinguished Maine family, his active social involvement, and his progressive ideas on topics such as African-American welfare and education for disadvantaged populations.

For reasons such as these, the Howard papers are already Bowdoin’s most in-demand collection. But thanks to the digitization project, ”we think the collection will become even more heavily used,” said Richard Lindemann, director of the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives. “Digitization makes more people come to see the originals, to inspect them more carefully,” he said. “It actually increases traffic to the original collection.”

Obtaining large-scale funding was critical for the success of this labor-intensive project, which requires many hours of scanning images (a task that will be performed by students) and an important element of quality control, as well as specialized equipment. Bowdoin’s proposal to the NHPRC demonstrated a cost-effective digitization plan, which included the innovative technique of integrating the newly digitized material with the Howard collection’s electronic finding aid – an existing resource that provides descriptive and organizational information about the collection. “Rather than creating metadata, we’re applying metadata that’s already been created,” Lindemann said, noting that this time-saving method provides a model for future digitization projects. Electronic finding aids are not only ubiquitous within Bowdoin’s collections but also commonplace at other institutions.

Lindemann noted that the digitization project dovetails with the College’s active interest in exploring the digital humanities. “The digitized archive will be an opportunity for students and faculty to interrogate the collection in ways that they haven’t been able to before,” Lindemann said.

News and updates for the digitization project are viewable on the project website.

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William Dean Howells on Frederick Douglass [The North American Review, August 1901, Vol. 173, No. 537. p. 284]

howells_picDouglass was essentially militant; he was a fighter from ‘way back, from the hour when he conceived the notion that if the slave would always fight the man who attempted to whip him, there would be no whipping, and he did fight his master upon this theory, and beat him; his war with slavery was to the death. Yet he laid himself open to the blame of certain abolitionists because he would not go all lengths with them, and he refused to take part in the attempt of John Brown, whom he loved with his whole heart. He kept amidst the tumult of his emotion the judicial mind, and he did not lose his head in the stormy career of the agitator.

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DCist: Norton Wants To Establish Commission To Honor Frederick Douglass


AP Photo/Carolyn Klaster


While many will celebrate Valentine’s Day on Friday, perhaps by getting married, let’s not forget that it’s also the birthday of Frederick Douglass—the legendary Civil War-era statesman and social reformer.

To mark the occasion, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced a bill yesterday calling for the establishment of a Bicentennial Commission to find ways the federal government can honor his life during the 200th anniversary of his birth in 2018. The commission would explore different ways to do this, including the “issuance of a Frederick Douglass bicentennial postage stamp, the convening of a joint session of Congress for ceremonies and activities relating to Frederick Douglass, a rededication of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, and the acquisition and preservation of artifacts associated with Frederick Douglass,” Norton said in her statement for the Congressional Record.

“Douglass dedicated his life to achieving justice for all Americans,” Norton also said. “He lived in the District of Columbia for 23 of his 57 years as a free man and was deeply committed to obtaining equal congressional voting and self-government rights for District of Columbia residents.” Douglass’ Anacostia home, Cedar Hill, is a National Historic Site, and a statue of Douglass from D.C. was finally moved to the U.S. Capitol this summer.

Contact the author of this article or email with further questions, comments or tips.
By Matt Cohen in  on Feb 12, 2014 11:22 AM

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Frederick Douglass gives lecture for “benefit of a home for friendless women and girls” [Evening Star, 23 April, 1878, p. 4]

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

Marshal Frederick Douglass delivered an address last evening at the opening of the national bazaar at the Kindergarten hall for benefit of a home for friendless women and girls.


“Condensed Locals,” Evening Star, 23 April, 1878, p. 4

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cover of “East of the River,” April 2002 [Photo by Eugene Dewitt Kinlow]

East of the River _ cover April 2002


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Celebrate Frederick Douglass’s 196th Birthday! Free walking tour & book signing Saturday, February 8, 1pm

FDNHS _ 196th birthdayThe Frederick Douglass National Historic Site will be observing Frederick Douglass’s 196th birthday on Saturday, February 8. Our site and other places around Anacostia will host special events throughout the day. Special events focus on Frederick Douglass’s lighthearted side, exploring how he and other Washingtonians enjoyed their leisure time during the Victorian Era.

All events are FREE and open to the public.

10:00 am – Opening ceremony, live music, public speaking performances by winners of the 2013 Frederick Douglass Oratorical Contest, keynote address by Ray Langston from the Frederick Douglass Museum and Cultural Center in Highland Beach, Maryland. Location: Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Place SE.

1:00 pm – Historical walking tour of Frederick Douglass’s Anacostia. Led by John Muller, author of Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia. Limit 25 participants; tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis. Location: Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, 1411 W Street SE.

1:00 pm – Lecture by Tony Thomas about African-American baseball in the District of Columbia. Location: Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum, 1901 Fort Place SE.

1:00 pm – Viewing of 20-minute film To Build Strong Children. A descendant of Frederick Douglass and schoolchildren in the Bronx discuss modern-day human trafficking. Location: Anacostia Arts Center, 1231 Good Hope Road SE.

1:00 – 4:00 pm – Play board games, such as chess and checkers, like Frederick Douglass. Location: Uniontown Bar and Grill, 2200 Martin Luther King Jr Avenue.

1:30 pm – Viewing of 1-hour and 40-minute film Fly by Light. A group of DC teenagers participate in a peace education program by traveling to West Virginia where they spend time in nature and confront past cycles of abuse, violence, and neglect. Location: Anacostia Arts Center, 1231 Good Hope Road SE.

2:00 pm – United States Park Police will lead a short work-out session and help develop fitness plans. Dress in gym clothes. Location: Anacostia Neighborhood Library, 1800 Good Hope Road SE.

2:30 pm – Bright Star Theater presents a 50-minute play about the life of Frederick Douglass. Location: Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Place SE.

3:00 pm – Historical dancing troupe performs Victorian-era steps. Feel free to watch or, better yet, join the fun and try out a couple steps! Location: Anacostia Arts Center, 1231 Good Hope Road SE.

3:00 pm – John Muller, author of Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C., will read from his book and sign copies. Location: Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, 1411 W Street SE.

4:00 pm – Bright Star Theater presents a 50-minute play about the life of Frederick Douglass. Location: Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Place SE.

4:00 – 7:00 pm – Evening reception with live jazz music by The Bitter Dose Combo, mingling, board games, and cash bar. Location: Anacostia Arts Center, 1231 Good Hope Road SE.

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Lewis H. Douglass profiled in William Wells Brown’s 1874, “The Rising Son: Or, The Antecedents and Advancement of the Colored Race”

Courtesy of National Park Service

Courtesy of National Park Service


The senior editor of the “New National Era” is the eldest son of Frederick Douglass, and inherits a large share of the father’s abilities. He was born in Massachusetts, has a liberal education, is a practical printer, received excellent training in the office of “The North Star,” at Rochester, New York, and is well calculated to conduct a newspaper. Mr. Douglass distinguished himself at the attack on Fort Wagner, where the lamented Colonel Robert G. Shaw fell. His being the first to ascend the defences surrounding the fort, and his exclamation of “Come, boys, we’ll fight for God and Governor Andrew,” was a the time commented upon by the press of Europe as well as of our own country.

Mr. Douglass is an active, energetic man, deeply alive to every interest of his race, uncompromising in his adherence to principle, and is a valuable citizen in any community. He has held several important positions in Washington, where his influence is great. He is a good writer, well informed, and interesting in conversation. In asserting his rights against the pr0scriptive combinations of the printers of Washington, Mr. Douglass was more than a match or his would-be superiors. As a citizen, he is highly respected, and is regarded as one of the leading men of the district. He is of medium size, a little darker in complexion than his father, has a manly walk, gentlemanly in his manners, intellectual countenance, and reliable in his business dealings. His paper, the “New National Era,” is well conducted, and should received the patronage of our people throughout the country.


Brown, William Wells. The Rising Son: Or, The Antecedents and Advancement of the Colored Race. A.G. Brown & Company, 1874, p. 543 – 544.

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