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"I have nothing to do here, but to take the Air, enquire for News, talk Politicks and write Letters."

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 30 June 1774

Monday, June 6, 2011

Saltonstall as "Adams Lite": Tastes Great, Less Filling

Mr. [John Quincy] Adams is now the rising sun, and of course finds many idolaters. You can hardly conceive the strange appearance he makes--so cold--so unbending rigid muscles amidst such smiles, such good humor, gaiety--and among his own guests too. It seems a miracle that he has ever been chosen President of the U. States. Is it an invincible proof of his eminent merit, or the result of a singular concurrence of fortunate circumstances? Mrs. A. is the very antipode--if you will allow the term to be applied to a lady....And I fear that she has a Courtier's hart [sic]--or like him is heartless.

(Letter from Leverett Saltonstall to his wife Mary, 24 Feb. 1825)

This little teaser is just my way of introducing the Saltonstall family papers slip file project, another grant-funded paper-to-digital conversion modeled on the Adams family catalog. We here at the Massachusetts Historical Society have come to call the Saltonstall slip file "Adams Lite" because it is both much smaller (only 3,000 slips) and much more straightforward than its unwieldy counterpart. Both catalogs consist of a series of paper slips describing individual documents: author, recipient, date, place, length, etc. But unlike Adams, this slip file describes papers in a single collection at the MHS: the Saltonstall family papers, Ms. N-2232. The entire data set fits in a single xml file, and all of the information has been entered, controlled, and verified by one person. And lastly, because publication of the Saltonstall papers was completed years ago, this database requires only one static interface--basically a searchable item-level collection guide. The Adams Papers Editorial Project, on the other hand, is ongoing, so that database requires two interfaces: one static, for public use; the other dynamic, to be edited by Adams Papers staff.

The Saltonstall database fulfills a requirement of the original Adams slip file grant, awarded in the fall of 2008, which specified that that project would serve as a prototype for similar projects. The Saltonstall conversion has been in the works since the beginning of 2010, and many MHS staff members have contributed to the project. Laura Lowell processed the Saltonstall family collection, and our digital team of Nancy Heywood, Laura Wulf, and Peter Steinberg have digitized, transcribed, and marked up many individual items for presentation on the web. I was responsible for building the database, using the Adams slip file as a model.

Mary Claffey's work on the Adams slip file laid most of the groundwork for me. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I literally copied and pasted her schema and revised her tags to suit the needs of the Saltonstall family papers, scaling it down by deleting unnecessary elements and adding or repurposing others. Our web developer, Bill Beck, is designing an attractive and user-friendly interface, also modeled on the Adams slip file, and Laura Lowell's collection guide to the Saltonstall family papers will link to the database. It was a lot of fun to work with so many other members of the department; everyone brought their own strengths to the project.

The Saltonstall family, like the Adams family, is chock full of prominent and interesting people, spanning several generations. Leverett, Sr. (quoted above) was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, the Massachusetts Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives, and he served as the first mayor of Salem, Mass. His wife, Mary Elizabeth (Sanders) Saltonstall, was the daughter of Thomas Sanders, a well-known Salem merchant. Leverett's great-grandson, also named Leverett, was the governor of Massachusetts during World War II and a U.S. senator for over 20 years.

Keep an eye on the MHS website for further information about both projects.

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