Woodrow Wilson’s Papers Go Digital, Leaving Microfiche Behind

Historians in the News
tags: Woodrow Wilson

Related Link The Archives of Historic Black Newspapers Are Going Digital

Woodrow Wilson, diligent self-archivist that he was, likely would have been delighted to learn of the Library of Congress’s recent digitization of his presidential papers. In addition to directing significant legislative reforms and entering the United States into world war, the Progressive-era president wrote prolifically throughout his eight years in office. Now, thanks to work by Library of Congress archivists, the almost 300,000 documents in his official papers are now available online. As new debates continue to arise about Wilson’s legacy, scholars hope that this digitization project will encourage new generations to learn more about the 28th president.

The digitization comes at a time of reinvigorated controversy and interest in Wilson. A Democrat who was also part of the Progressive movement of the early 20th century, Wilson and his administration oversaw significant expansionsof the federal government, with the authorization of the income tax, the establishment of the Federal Reserve, and the passage of various labor reforms. Combined with his subsequent campaign for a world without war, Wilson would seemingly be ripe for hero status among modern-day liberals. But his troubling views on race have brought forth denunciations from the left andattempts to distance their own “progressivism” from the 20th-century movement marred today for enduring white supremacy. From the right, his big-government legacy has drawn criticismfrom conservatives like Glenn Beck, who calledhis political beliefs an “insatiable thirst for control.”

David Greenberg, a presidential historian at Rutgers University, says that now is a “fortuitous moment to have these archives being digitized.”

Even though the Wilson papers have been accessible to historians for years, they can still be mined for new revelations, says Greenberg. The connections between Wilson’s era and today, when Americans are still struggling to resolve issues race relations, can lead those seeking answers to historical record. “Archives are important in furnishing information, but they only do so when you come to them asking new questions,” he says. ...

Read entire article at Smithsonian

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