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An envelope and letter fragment from Helen Pickens

to brother-in-law Samuel Pickens, July 12, 1871.

Not all letters survived intact.

(The Doy Leale McCall Papers, The Doy Leale

McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library,

University of South Alabama.)

Under a grant supported by the Mellon Foundation to encourage faculty-student research

collaborations in the humanities here at Lycoming, Jacob Quasius ’18 joined the project in June to

assist with the initial phase of research. In early July, we traveled to the University of South Alabama

in Mobile to explore the archival collection. Together, we digitized more than 8,000 pages of family

correspondence, diaries and legal documents spanning from 1850 to 1878. Returning to Lycoming,

we uploaded the documents to a digital collaborative workspace for transcription, annotation

and tagging.

To coordinate the work of multiple researchers, we constructed a topic-indexed

correspondence database to organize and quickly access sources reviewed and annotated

by team members. The database also permits experimentation with data visualizations

that characterize the evidence in ways not immediately apparent to an individual

scholar. By connecting geolocation markers and topic tags to documents,

we can map the frequent travels of the Pickens family members

and track the varying frequency with which specific topics

were discussed in correspondence. These digital tools facilitate

discussions of the sources that yield a fuller, more nuanced


The Pickens family collection is vast, containing nearly 7,000 letters and

100 personal diaries, making it ideal for collaborative research. Quasius’s assistance

this summer enabled us to organize a large body of evidence quickly. In exchange, he

gained valuable experience with advanced research and an opportunity to make intellectual

contributions to the project. For example, Quasius uncovered evidence suggesting that the

mother’s frequent health complaints may have resulted from multiple sclerosis, casting family

interactions in a new light.

Already a seasoned disability rights advocate, Quasius benefitted from this project by acquiring

in-depth research and analysis experience — skills that will aid him when he pursues graduate

studies in public policy, especially if he continues on to law school. Exposure to the challenges of

managing and maintaining large-scale projects will also put him at an advantage in his future career

in public service. Over the next three years, we hope to bring additional student researchers into the

project, all of whose contributions will be acknowledged in the final book.

Given public interest in both the Civil War and the Ku Klux Klan, we believe the book

will foster productive public discussion of terrorist violence and the enduring

challenge to forming a more equal society. We also hope to demonstrate the

quality of scholarship that can be achieved through collaboration between

faculty and student researchers across liberal arts institutions.

Jacob Quasius ’18