The Seward Courses

The foundation of the Seward Family Archive Project (SFAP) is a two-course undergraduate/graduate sequence—The Seward Family in Peace and in War; The Seward Family’s Civil War—(rotated annually) that uses the vast collection of Seward family diaries, letters, journals, and household accounts housed in the Libraries’ Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation. There is also now a third course, which is offered for the first time in fall 2016—Women’s Lives and Letters, c.1830-1880—that uses the same methods to teach the same skills, but draws on the correspondence between Frances Seward, her sister Lazette Miller Worden, daughter Fanny, and their female friends (about 400 letters) to explore the history of women and female friendship in nineteenth-century America. Plans are underway for a comparable course on male friendships also, to be offered either during fall 2017 or 2018.

Students in these courses explore the history of American family life, c. 1801-1920 (the lifetime of William Henry Seward through that of his son, namesake, and heir, who was the last surviving member of the next generation) as historians and documentary editors utilizing digital tools for humanist ends. For this family, these courses, and this project, the family’s life includes social, cultural, and political-diplomatic history. We also train volunteers in the relevant class sessions, as well as offsite (see the section on the Highlands at Pittsford). For four years, students have been locating and collecting manuscripts, establishing a workflow, cataloging and indexing materials, designing and constructing a website, drafting finding aids for relevant parts of the Seward and related collections, digitizing manuscripts and photos, creating a master file of images and the metadata to support them, transcribing and annotating manuscripts to ADE and NHPRC standards, and building a public website launched in April 2016. They have annotated names of people, pets, places, and literature mentioned in the letters, marked up the transcriptions to TEI P5 standards, created Drupal databases of people and places, and documented our pedagogy in standards, rationales, and guidelines for transcription, annotation, editing, digitization and archive management, and Project TEI. As documentary editors and digital annotators, the students and volunteers also engage with critical issues of representation and digital literacy in ongoing discussions about web design and about how the critical apparatus of website architecture can both constrain and expand humanistic inquiry.