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Introduction | Materials | Viewing | Project Details | Acknowledgements | Conditions of Use


Their Own Words is a collection of books, pamphlets, letters, and diaries, dating from the latter eighteenth through the early twentieth century, that reflects the history of the United States. The project has as its ongoing goal the digitization of select materials from the Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections that will be of value to researchers of all types. The items chosen for inclusion in this project have the common theme that they all represent, in some way, the original thought and words of individuals who had an association with Dickinson College, and who thus represent an important part of its historical educational mission. These individual writers and thinkers each made their own impact on society - sometimes locally, sometimes nationally, and sometimes globally - and they all contributed to engaging issues of debate in their time. Through the digitization of these materials, we are pleased to be able to provide access to them to scholars of all types around the world. Further, in order to facilitate an understanding of these materials, we have provided biographical sketches for each author and contextual notes for each book or collection of letters. (This information can be found through the browse lists.) In a few cases, we have also been able to provide book reviews contemporary to the original publication date of the book in question.

Introduction | Materials | Viewing | Project Details | Acknowledgements | Conditions of Use


The materials presented in Their Own Words were gathered from among the collections of the Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections. Chartered in 1783, Dickinson College is among the oldest institutions of higher education in the United States, and as a result its special collections mirror the history and growth of this country, providing a wealth of resources valuable to a broad cross-section of educators and researchers. Careful consideration has gone into the selection of each and every item, and criteria for selection were particularly focused on a) materials difficult to access due to their rarity, b) materials from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, c) materials with broad interdisciplinary application, and d) materials that are at risk from a preservation point of view.

At present, the Their Own Words database holds more than 22,000 full-text searchable page images; these include 57 books, 13 pamphlets, 7 letter collections, and 1 diary. Each individual page has been scanned at an appropriate resolution to allow for reading directly from the page image. Full transcripts of every page image are also included to allow for full-text searching and, particularly in the case of the handwritten materials, ease of reading. The collection spans more than 150 years of history, the materials ranging in date from 1764 to 1918.

General themes were identified during the selection of materials, and all of the materials can be categorized by at least one of the following topics: colonial American politics; U.S. politics, government, and foreign relations; historical biography and autobiography; slavery and abolition; the American Civil War; the temperance movement; foreign travel; economics; medicine; philosophy; and theology.

Introduction | Materials | Viewing | Project Details | Acknowledgements | Conditions of Use

Viewing Tools

Their Own Words utilizes CONTENTdm digital collection management software to organize and present its materials online. CONTENTdm allows for the virtual recreation of hierarchical materials online, making it possible to read through a book or a series of letters on screen as you would with the physical copy in hand. Another key feature of CONTENTdm's Document Viewer is its ability to display page images and full-text transcripts side by side; this vastly simplifies the process of reading 18th-century penmanship while still allowing the reader to appreciate the style and format of the original writing. CONTENTdm has been optimized for use in Internet Explorer, and not all of its features are compatible with other browsers. For more information on CONTENTdm and its application in Their Own Words, please see our help pages.

Introduction | Materials | Viewing | Project Details | Acknowledgements | Conditions of Use

Project Details


Their Own Words was supported in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in association with Dickinson College and the Dickinson Electronic Initiative in the Liberal Arts (deila).

Project Dates:

Work on this project began on July 1, 2002; the project website was formally launched on October 31, 2003.


Work on Their Own Words can be divided into various stages, including the selection of materials for digitization, the selection of appropriate hardware and software, pre-processing of materials and testing for quality and consistency, final processing of materials, website development, and content development. For more detailed information on how we proceeded with this project, please visit our separate page on processing.


James Gerencser
Project Director
College Archivist and
      Special Collections Librarian
John Osborne, Ph.D.
Project Coordinator
Associate Professor of History
Robert K. Reeves
Project Technician and
LeAnn Fawver
Project Technician

Margaret A. Browndorf
Project Coordinator

Numerous undergraduate students and Archives employees also provided valuable assistance toward this project. Their efforts in the preparation of materials included transcribing letters, editing OCR'd text, hand-keying text, and performing original research. Our special thanks go to Brian Adams, Jennifer Bullick, Andrew Cassidy-Amstutz, Megan Cole, Krista Gray, Christopher Holden, Cara Holtry, Cynthia Mackey, Anne O'Connor, Christina Rosenberry, Claire Sadar, Allison Schell, R. Jason Snow, Amy Sopcak, Alyssa Them, John M. Thompson, Malinda Triller, Suzanne Ugliarolo, and Cassandra Wargo.

Introduction | Materials | Viewing | Project Details | Acknowledgements | Conditions of Use


As part of our project grant, we requested the input of an outside consultant to make recommendations as we proceeded with the project. For his valuable advice and guidance throughout the development of Their Own Words, we are very grateful to Edward Galloway, Coordinator of the Digital Research Library at the University of Pittsburgh. We would also like to extend thanks to the team of instructors (Helen Tibbo, Seamus Ross, Ian Anderson, Paul Conway, and Lisa Spiro) at the Digitization for Cultural Heritage Professionals workshop in March 2001 at the University of North Carolina. What was learned in those five days provided a solid foundation that allowed us to build on our own digital experiences with confidence.

Introduction | Materials | Viewing | Project Details | Acknowledgements | Conditions of Use

Conditions of Use

Dickinson College retains all rights to the digital images and original content presented on this website.

The Their Own Words website is intended for educational and research purposes only. These materials may be used freely for teaching and academic research and may be linked from other websites; use of the images, transcriptions, and original content contained in Their Own Words should be properly credited to the source.

Any and all commercial use of the materials on the Their Own Words website is strictly prohibited without written permission from Dickinson College. Reproductions of materials and licensing for use are available, upon request, for a fee. If you would like to use the materials presented here for publication or presentation, please contact the Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections.

Page created: August 20, 2003

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