By Jutta Seibert
Locating and working with the papers of American presidents can be unexpectedly difficult. Copies are generally easy enough to locate, but sifting through the plethora of resources and finding the best format for a specific research question can be a veritable challenge. The papers of Ulysses S. Grant are a case in point. They are easy enough to find with a simple internet search, but it takes some patience to understand what is available.
There are the original manuscripts of his correspondence, speeches, military records, and other types of documents, which are spread across many libraries, historical societies, and personal collections, among them the Library of Congress and the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library at the University of Mississippi. The Library of Congress digitized all its Ulysses S. Grant papers and made the digital facsimiles available online. The unique merits of this collection include marginalia, unique handwriting characteristics, and other information gleaned from the physical artifacts. However, this collection does not allow full text searching and lacks transcriptions and annotations.
Most research needs are better met by a comprehensive, annotated, and transcribed edition prepared by academic specialists. Such an editorial project was undertaken by the Ulysses S. Grant Association (USGA) in 1967, under the leadership of John Y. Simon, and completed in 2012. The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant were published over a span of 45 years by Southern Illinois University Press. The Library has all 32 volumes of the print edition featuring over 30,0000 individual documents. The Papers are organized in chronological order and do not include facsimiles of the original documents. Each volume includes transcribed documents, annotations, and an index. This massive editorial project is unsurpassed and served as the basis for the digital edition published by the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library at the University of Mississippi and the one published by the University of Virginia Press as part of its American History Collection.
The digital edition of the Papers of Ulysses S. Grant published by the USGA and available via the website of the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library is a facsimile of the print edition. The advanced search options allows a search of all volumes simultaneously and groups search results by volume. Readers can download individual pages as well as PDF files of complete volumes. (Note: readers should be aware that the USGA retains its copyright to all content.)
The Library recently acquired the digital edition of the Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, published by the University of Virginia Press. The collection is part of the American History Collection on the Rotunda gateway. It has some unique features that the free version published by the USGA lacks. The HTML text is easy to read, and annotations are hyperlinked in the text. Page breaks are clearly identified and link back to facsimiles of the original print edition. The advanced search capabilities of the Press’s Rotunda gateway include faceting that limits search results to the text or the annotation apparatus, controlled author and recipient lists to disambiguate individual names, date limits, and date and relevance ranking of results. It also includes an index with hyperlinked page numbers as an additional access point. Most of all, the collection can be searched simultaneously with all or selected collections on the Rotunda gateway. For example, readers can select the papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Jackson, and Daniel Webster and search all three collections for shared keywords or correspondents. The Rotunda gateway also includes the text of Grant’s Personal Memoirs, which are in the public domain and available online in numerous archives. Falvey also owns the annotated edition, which was produced under the aegis of the USGA and published in 2017.
For a quick overview of Grant’s life consult James M. McPherson’s short biography in American National Biography Online. Other collections available through the Library on the Rotunda gateway include the papers of John and John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James and Dolly Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, John Marshall, Andrew Jackson, Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Harriot Pinckney Horry, and the diaries of Gouverneur Morris.
Jutta Seibert is Director of Research Services & Scholarly Engagement at Falvey Memorial Library.