In the early days of the American republic, the territorial imperative that would develop into manifest destiny was more of an optimistic thought experiment than an imperial (or divine) mandate to subdue the wilderness. For the first release of Readex’s Territorial Papers of the United States, let’s examine a few deceptively simple terms and the concepts underlying them, namely Territory, and Paper.
A Territory denotes a specific piece of land over which a consistent level of sovereignty and law is extended. But what did that require, exactly? When surveys were perilous, expensive and imprecise, and even explicit natural boundaries were often contested, the concept of a Territory required magical thinking. Certainly American Indians took that position; the boundaries delineated in treaties and land grants took little account of indigenous traditions, alliances and patterns of settlement. In that much U.S. territories seemed quixotic and arbitrary, foisted upon established societies that could do quite well without legal title, not to mention Indian removal.
This past January, history professor Daniel Feller delivered a highly praised presentation on shifting views of Andrew Jackson at the American Librarian Association midwinter meeting in Denver. Following his talk, Prof. Feller met with Readex to discuss how digitized primary sources have helped to unlock many important new discoveries about this controversial figure whose reputation has “undergone some remarkable somersaults over the years.”
Feller began by describing the mission of “The Papers of Andrew Jackson”—the major project he directs at the University of Tennessee—to create a complete literary record of the nation’s seventh president by, among other things, tracking down every letter Andrew Jackson wrote, and every letter written to him. Digitized documents and the ability to use keyword search have proven critical to the project’s continued success.
“Digital databases, such as newspapers, now enable us to find things that we never would have been able to find before,” Feller said. He is also optimistic that Readex’s digital edition of The Territorial Papers of the United States will yield additional new findings critical to a fuller understanding of Jackson’s presidency.
Watch the interview to learn how a creative search strategy enabled his research team to find previously unknown letters, published as “curiosities” in newspapers, long after they were written and far from where they originated.
On Sunday, June 24, Readex will host a special breakfast presentation titled “When Indians and Americans Got Along: An Alternative History of the Louisiana Territory.” An open discussion will follow the talk by Stephen Aron, professor of history and Robert N. Burr Chair at the University of California, Los Angeles.
About the Presentation
In this enlightening talk, Prof. Aron—a leading authority on the American frontier—disputes textbook histories that treat the ejection of Indians from their lands as inevitable and relations between native peoples and American pioneers as unremittingly hostile. Aron’s spirited presentation uncovers an alternative history in which some Indian and American migrants to Spanish Louisiana, including most famously Daniel Boone, overcame their enmities and cordially cohabited.
Drawing on Spanish colonial records and the Territorial Papers of the United States, Aron explores how former enemies found common ground in the 1790s and how generally friendly interactions continued after the Louisiana Purchase transferred the territory to the United States. But in the decade after the War of 1812, he explains, amicable relations gave way to pressure from a new group of settlers and to the demands of “American democracy.” These changes challenged the authority of territorial officials like William Clark and paved the trail for Indian removals to and through the Louisiana Territory.
Since the early 1940s, Readex has been the leading innovator in the publication of historical American resources. We started our work with massive projects, including Early American Imprints, based on the Evans and Shaw-Shoemaker bibliographies, and Early American Newspapers.
Back then, the medium was microprint and then microform, and it often took ten…or twenty…or thirty years to complete a single product. Many source institutions had to be visited; many documents had to be filmed; and many license agreements had to be drawn up. New technologies had to be developed, too, to ensure that the original images were captured as effectively as possible. These early major collections later became online digital offerings, of course. The ones mentioned above proved to be absolutely foundational back in the early days of digitization.
Today, Readex is extremely proud to be the developer of one more foundational product:Territorial Papers of the United States. This new collection—which we are releasing in four series beginning in June 2018—captures the essential history of more than half of the states of the United States when they were still territories. From Florida to California to Alaska and just about everywhere else in between, Territorial Papers is the crucial—and until now, undigitized—record of a growing, expanding America.
More than half of America’s states began as territories. From the 1760s to the 1950s the United States of America expanded southward and westward, acquiring territories that spanned from Florida to California to Alaska. Before they evolved into twenty-seven American states, these territories were managed by the U.S. State and Interior departments. The official history of their formative territorial years is recorded in the “Territorial Papers of the United States”—a collection of Native American negotiations and treaties, official correspondence with the federal government, military records, judicial proceedings, population data, financial statistics, land records, and more. For the first time, the Territorial Papers are available in a digital online collection, offering unparalleled research opportunities for anyone interested in the creation of modern-day America.