Almost two years ago, I wrote complaining about a report from NARA that seemingly gave up on open access to the papers of the Founding Fathers and endorsed instead a subscription delivery model. I suggested that other models that encouraged free access to the content could be followed instead.
I was therefore delighted to learn a few weeks ago about the Ulysses S. Grant Digital Collection hosted by Mississippi State University. The project has made the 31 published volumes of the Grant papers freely available as PDF downloads. In addition, they are adding an assortment of digitized cartoons, sheet music, and other material that is also freely available.
Is the system as powerful and useful as the Rotunda delivery platform that is being used by the University of Virginia to deliver the papers of the American Founding Era? No – though in the you can do searches in the Grant collection for words, and the search terms will appear highlighted in the page images on which they appear. The big difference is that Mississippi State is making a usable version of the page images of the printed volumes available for free. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if UVA also provided a basic level of free access to the printed Founding Fathers volumes so that everyone could have access to at least one form of the content? The subscriptions could remain available to those institutions that needed the more sophisticated search and display functions of Rotunda.
Congratulations to Mississippi State for their important contribution to American history.