William and Mary releases thousands of documents from royalty online

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

More than 33,000 documents that date back to 1714 and shed light on some of the earliest American history are in possession of the College of William and Mary.

On Jan. 28, they'll make those documents public in the first phase of what the college has referred to as the Georgian Papers Programme.

In 2015, Queen Elizabeth II helped establish a rapport between the college, the Royal Archives, the Royal Library and King's College London. The Omohundro Institute of Early American History is also partnering with the program.

By 2020, those involved with the Georgian Papers Programme wants to digitize more than 350,000 documents by Kings George I, II, III, IV, William IV, other members of the royal family, and politicians from 1714 to 1837.

"Her majesty fully supports the work currently underway to make the historic treasures of the Royal Archives widely accessible to the world through digital technology," said Oliver Urquhart Irvine, a Royal Librarian, in a news release.

Just 15 percent of the documents — considered part of a private archive from the Royal Family — have been published. After the documents are photographed and scanned in England, William and Mary students transcribe the documents and place them online.

"This project provides a unique opportunity to work on an international digital project, setting standards for cataloging and digitization that will contribute to the ever-evolving role of libraries in the digital age," said Carrie Cooper, dean of university libraries at the college, in the release. "The lessons we learn from this project will inform our work as we embark on digitizing, transcribing and making discoverable unique items in our own collections. … Digitizing our original collections and making them accessible to scholars worldwide is crucial to advancing scholarship."

The documents shed light onto what royal figures and others in a position of power were thinking as they pondered as they made decisions hundreds of years ago.

Students and academics can use the documents for any number of projects.

"Included in the essays written by King George III are subjects like architecture, military tactics, constitution, all topics," said Nick Popper, an associate professor of history at William & Mary. "There will be something like 300 essays as part of the initial release, partly because they are among the most appealing sources (of future dissertations and books) that are going to emerge from this."

More information about the project is available at georgianpapers-us.wm.edu.

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

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