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About this Project

Reconstructing Virginia was created by the students of a First Year Seminar, “Touching the Past,” at the University of Richmond in the spring of 2017, taught by Edward L. Ayers. Visitors to the site can explore the complicated and passionate transformation of the former capital of the Confederacy into an uncharted post-slavery and post-secession society.

After reading widely about Reconstruction in Virginia and in Richmond, the students began working with digital copies and transcriptions of the leading daily paper of the era—the Richmond Daily Dispatch.  That paper was made available in Virginia Chronicle, a large collection of scanned newspapers produced by the Library of Virginia with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Each student was responsible for four and a half months of the Dispatch, beginning with January 1866 (when the paper resumed publication after the Civil War) and extending through early 1871 (by which time Reconstruction had run its course in Virginia).  The students read each issue of the paper within the period of their responsibility and selected articles worth naming, transcribing, summarizing, and categorizing.

After the selection, the students corrected the digitized text of the article made available in Virginia Chronicle, adding to the accuracy of the text provided by Optical Character Recognition on the site.  After transcribing and proof-reading the text, students summarized each article and provided metadata about them on custom-designed PDF forms.

Those forms were created by Chris Kemp, Head of Discovery, Technology, and Publishing in the University of Richmond’s Boatwright Library.  Kemp designed the site in Omeka, an open-source platform developed at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.  Working closely with advice and requests from the students, Kemp developed ways not to only to present and search the nearly two thousand articles transcribed by the students but also to visualize patterns within them, ranging from word clouds to sophisticated timelines.  Students wrote “snapshots” of the leading events of each week and mapped them on the timeline.

The students who did this work are:

  • Justin Barlow
  • Brooke Beam
  • Nat Berry
  • Walker Black
  • Stacey Dec
  • Komal Deol
  • Mallory Haskins
  • Joshua Hurlburt
  • Jacob Markman
  • Joseph McEachon
  • Ali O’Hara
  • Jermaine Reynolds
  • Charles Simmonds
  • Bryce Smith
  • Travis Terry
  • Megan Wiora

The students and the professor are grateful to Chris Kemp for skill, patience, and good humor.