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No Time like the Present, For a Timeline

As some readers may know we have been diligently working with students and staff members here at the library to provide transcriptions for handwritten letters. This project was piloted with the Sherman-Thackara collection and the number of letters transcribed continues to grow. At this point those letters are not available for viewing in the Digital Library software but excerpts have occasionally been posted to this blog.

The first long transcription project was completed last March by an undergraduate intern, Brittany Dudas. As a history major here at Villanova University she worked with the digital library on transcription during a for-credit internship. A talented transcriber, she was able to transcribe far more letters than we were able to review at any given time so it was decided that perhaps a longer project was in order.

In 1872-1873 Alexander Montgomery Thackara wrote a diary while out to sea on the USS Nipsic. His tour of duty brought him to the then “West Indies.” Among other places, he visited Key West, Samana Bay, Puerto Plata, Havana, and St. Thomas. His journey lasted roughly six months and resulted in nearly 50 pages of diary entries. This entire diary has been transcribed and reviewed, but is much too long to post here. Instead, I would like to share snippets of the diary as used in a timeline.

Dipity LogoDipity is an emerging software that allows users to create an online, interactive timeline. You can include links from any number of online sources, such as Google books, Wikipedia, Flickr, blogs, and much, much more. Moreover there is a feature that allows you to “map” locations on your timeline. This seemed like the perfect venue to create a resource that would allow users to experience Mont’s Journal in a completely new way.

Most entries are titled with the page upon which the text appeared in the actual diary. Next, the date was added for that entry, and usually a link to either the scanned page from the digital library, or to a Wikipedia article that helps explain the location or subject at hand. A fun addition was linking the book, as scanned in by “Google Books”, that Mont was reading while on this voyage. Locations were also added to most entries so they could be mapped and images were used to brighten things up. Dipity allows users to view timelines in four different ways, as a timeline (the standard way), a list, a flipbook, or as a map. The map feature is especially fun for this project as it allows users to “play events” and view the events as they are listed on the map. In this case it allows users to virtually sail around with Mont.

This was certainly an enjoyable project and something that could be an asset for some of our other long transcription projects. I hope that you will check out the timeline and I would love to hear any feedback you may have.


Sherman-Thackara Collection Digitization Completed

After two years of work our first large personal paper collection has been fully digitized and described. A comprehensive digital finding aid is in the final development stages and should be available for use by the end of March. While the digitization and description have been completed, ongoing work still continues as a broad team of students, staff, and interns works to transcribe, and thus make keyword searchable, these handwritten texts.

Containing over 2,100 discreet items the Sherman-Thackara Collection is largely composed of correspondence containing many letters from Eleanor to her father, General William Tecumseh Sherman, frequently referring to public events and personalities. Another feature of the correspondence that calls for special attention is the local color and references to many individuals, events, and institutions of Philadelphia and the Main Line in the 1880’s and 1890’s. A unique part of the collection is A. M. Thackara’s correspondence, photographs, and memorabilia relating to his years at Annapolis up until his marriage. Here can be found an unusual first-hand picture of Naval life after the U.S. Civil War.

While the transcriptions have not yet been made available, final editing has been completed on a growing pool of letters and documents, so starting in this Blue Electrode post we will be making selected transcriptions available. Here is a part of the transcription from a letter from A.M. Thackara to his father Benjamin Thackara, April 12, 1866, from the ship the U.S. “Constitution”:

As I have some spare time I thought I would write you again. Frank Biruey has returned from Philadelphia. He says he saw you while he was there and he brought me some paper and stamps, for which accept my thanks. It was what I wanted as I was entirely out. We went to an entertainment Friday Evening given by a party of midshipmen. It consisted of a pantomime, called “The Magic Trumpet” and an afterpiece called “The Mummy” it was very good. The magical feats were performed very well. We play ball a great deal now. Every afternoon after exercise


we go out and practise. We have very nice grounds over by the Hospital. We are going to play the return match, next Saturday with the 3rd classmen. I suppose they will beat us this time. I am in the First Section in “Math”. I went up this last week. I tell you it is a big thing to be there. There is a photographer coming from Philadelphia to take photographs of the Midm. He has a place in the yard built for him and I suppose he will be here in a few days. From what I can hear it is Gutekunst. I know it is him I now. I suppose You will want me get some taken. We are getting along all right here now, the even numbered crews sleep on board the Santeo. They commenced last Evening the fellows are all around me


sulking about leave and different things. I tell you it is very nice. During recreation hours I enjoy myself almost as well as home. Al sends his best wishes and hopes you will have a splendid time on your Journey. The Winnepec left here Yesterday for Boston, she is going there to refit for the cruises. I see by last night’s paper that the Senate has passed the Civil rights bill over the veto of the President. We have to make hammock clews and splice ropes and make grummels It leaves us a great deal, we have to make a certain amount every week. The unsatisfactory list just came, I am not on it, in fact I have not been since I have been here. I hardly expected to get up in Math. This


week I wish you would come down and see me before you go across the water. We will soon begin to talk about examinations as it commences next month.
I must close now,

Give my love to Mother, Julia Herarlee
From You Affec. Son,
A. M. Thackara

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Last Modified: March 19, 2008