Washington Papers Project Is Celebrating its 50th Anniversary – for 3 Hours Only

This 1801 letter written by Thomas Jefferson, describing a visit with Martha Washington at Mount Vernon, will be on display on Friday.

The Washington Papers project, located in the University of Virginia’s Alderman Library, on Friday will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its launch.

“No one did more to create and sustain the United States through great perils than did George Washington,” said Alan Taylor, UVA history professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author. “Fortunately, he left a full and revealing record of our national origins. 

“And with equal good fortune, the editors of those papers have set a remarkable standard for care and insight in illuminating this remarkable person and his legacy for our republic.”

Lynn Price, an assistant editor working on the Martha Washington and Family Papers, said the project began with the promise of creating a wide-ranging edition of George Washington’s papers, which at the time meant publishing those papers written by him as well as to him. The Washington Papers project aims to complete a landmark comprehensive edition of its collection within the next 10 years.

“With our work spanning over 50 years, we have had the opportunity to reevaluate what ‘comprehensive’ means and pull in additional perspectives that create a more balanced understanding of the lives and era of George and Martha Washington and their family,” Price said.

Since its establishment under the joint auspices of the University and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union, The Washington Papers project has broadened its scope to include materials focused on Washington’s financial activities; the papers of his wife, Martha Washington; and his family.

The collection features 135,000 documents and draws more than 2,000 digital edition visits a month. As part of its anniversary celebration, the editing team also has published a “50 Years of Editing” blog series which features posts on historical events such as the 1780 plot to kidnap George Washington.

On Friday, the Washington Papers will celebrate its 50th anniversary with two events: an open house in its editorial offices and an exhibition of Washington-related materials and original manuscripts. Free and open to the public, both events will be held from 9 a.m. to noon at two library locations.

To visit The Washington Papers’ offices, visitors should go to the east wing of the fifth floor of UVA’s Alderman Library. Editors will answer questions about their work on the papers from George Washington’s years in the Revolutionary War and as the first U.S. president. They also will talk about documentary editing – the practice of collecting, transcribing and annotating historical documents.

The exhibition, developed through a partnership with UVA’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, will be held in the Byrd-Morris Room on the third floor of the Small Library.

Items on display will include:

  • A 1755 letter written by George Washington to Col. Gov. Robert Dinwiddie, detailing the defeat of Gen. Edward Braddock at the Battle of Monongahela.
  • A 1760 letter written by George Washington and loaned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.
  • An 1801 letter written by Thomas Jefferson, describing a visit with Martha Washington at Mount Vernon.

“Since our outset, we have been committed to making these papers as accessible as possible,” said Jennifer E. Stertzer, a senior editor at The Washington Papers.

Stertzer also directs the Center for Digital Editing, which applies the technological insights gained from work on the Washington Papers to support other editorial projects.

There are two ways readers can access the Washington materials online: the digital edition, with a cumulative index, which requires a subscription to Rotunda, the digital imprint of the University of Virginia Press; and Founders Online, which is a free-to-access collection of edited documents that have been published by the Founding Fathers projects, as well as early access transcriptions produced by Virginia Humanities’ Documents Compass.

More information can be found here.

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