American Journeys
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How American Journeys was Built


1. Scope and Content

Documents were selected to provide a wide range of geographical, cultural, and chronological information about the exploration of North America by Europeans and, later, Americans. Roughly equal numbers of pages are devoted to each of six regions: the Northeast, Southeast, Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley, Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, Southwest and California, and Pacific Northwest and Hawaii. Culturally, works by Spanish, French and English writers necessarily predominate but Russian, Dutch, German, Italian, and Native American authors are also well represented (the last usually embedded within documents produced by whites). In general, the earliest eyewitness accounts from each geographic region were selected, along with others that have become "classic" through widespread quotation or republication. An editorial advisory committee of scholars and librarians across the nation have helped to select texts included in this project. These were chosen according to content selection process and guidelines.

Several factors affected application of the preceding principles. First, documents that describe the present-day United States were emphasized, largely because the splendid digital collection Early Canadiana Online ( has already mounted all the principal Canadian texts; these are liberally linked our "Background" pages. Similarly, classic works about the U.S. that are already available for free elsewhere on the Web were usually omitted; for example, the mid-19th century U.S. Railroad Surveys, which provided the first descriptions of much the West, are easily obtainable at the Making of America site ( When the full text of a work was already on the Web yet it was a widely cited classic account, we represented it by excerpting a single chapter or other portion (as with the travels Jonathan Carver, AJ-127 and William Bartram, AJ-123); such excerpts are always plainly identified. When a document was international in geographic scope, such as the account of Capt. James Cook's third voyage (AJ-130) or the round-world-voyages of La Perouse and Lisiansky (AJ-132 and AJ-131), we excerpted only the chapters and images that describe North America; these often total hundreds of pages. Finally, in order to include more illustrative matter, several hundred engravings were excerpted from rare books without their accompanying texts; for example, the images by Theodore DeBry in AJ-119.


2. Page Images

About 40% of the pages, mostly from standard early 20th century trade editions, were scanned commercially by Northern Micrographics of La Crosse, Wisconsin (

The remainder of the printed pages, mostly from rare 17th, 18th, and 19th century books, were scanned at the Wisconsin Historical Society using a Minolta PS7000 overhead scanner. Illustrations and manuscripts were generally captured at WHS using a Creo IQSmart2 ( or an Epson 3200 ( A single document (AJ-150) was scanned from microfilm using a Mekel 525 film scanner. Capture was generally done at 400-600dpi in bitonal mode, though manuscripts and illustrations sometimes required gray-scale or color to preserve their details. Image files were captured first as TIFs, then processed to JPG for Web presentation and to PDF for printing and downloading. Images of text pages were compressed to fit in the ContentDM viewer window with little or no horizontal scrolling; illustrations were usually presented in larger format to facilitate close inspection of their contents. All digital files have been backed up for preservation on optical media according to accepted professional standards.


3. Electronic Text Versions

American Journeys intended to create an authoritative electronic edition of these documents in the form of digital image files of the original pages. The electronic text file of each page is intended merely as a retrieval mechanism – keyword searching of it should yield the associated page image. Our primary goal is to connect users with digital surrogates of the original pages, and researchers should regard the page images as the authoritative text rather than the uncorrected text version.

To create the electronic text files, most page images were processed at WHS with Omnipage Pro optical character recognition software. Several particularly difficult documents – mostly 18th-century octavo and quarto volumes – were OCR'd at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with Prime Recognition software. Both OCR applications were challenged by the archaic typography, poor contrast, bleed-through, page-to-page offset, foxing, and other characteristics of the 200-300 year old books. The OCR of every page was inspected for quality but it was not painstakingly proofread. Corrections were generally limited to the spelling of terms likely to be used in searches, such as proper names. Occasionally entire pages were typed by hand because the software entirely failed to read them. The electronic texts of manuscripts were created by reading them aloud and transcribing them from the audio tape; as with the OCR from image files, these have not been painstakingly proofread. Users should not quote, copy or otherwise rely upon any electronic text as the words of the author. Rather, they should always consult and cite the page image, which reproduces the original document faithfully.


4. Indexing and Metadata

Every page of every document was read and indexed by a historian or librarian according to a controlled vocabulary of topical terms. This time-consuming process was followed for several reasons. First, even if the OCR could be flawless, identical subjects are often named by different authors in different ways. Employing a controlled vocabulary permits users to find all descriptions of tornadoes whether they were called cyclones, twisters, whirlwinds, or something else. It permits retrieval of pages about Wisconsin regardless of whether that was spelled in the modern way or as Wiskonsan or Ouisconsin (as 17th-century French writers often put it). Secondly, it smoothes out the almost limitless variety of ways that semi-literate observers spelled common words; variants such as canoe, canoo, canou, or kanou routinely occur within the pages of the same work. More importantly, a controlled vocabulary saves non-specialists (and our target audiences are high school students and undergraduates) from having to know the archaic terminology employed by observers long ago. A topical search on Animals – Birds will retrieve eyewitness descriptions of hernshawes, puits, ninmurders, stannels, and gripes without the reader having to know that those Elizabethan ornithological terms even existed.

To achieve these ends, a controlled vocabulary of metadata terms was drawn up that attempted to designate every important aspect of natural, social and personal life appearing in the documents. It was drafted after reviewing the history of library subject classification, the index terms in standard collections of American historical documents (such as Reuben Gold Thwaites' editions of the Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents and the journals of Lewis and Clark), and the topical divisions of the Encyclopedia Britannica's Propaedia. Particular effort was given to making it broad enough to encompass the spectrum of human experience, yet short enough to work efficiently in drop-down menus. Care was taken to include terms that facilitate current research trends in gender, race, class, and environmental issues, and to highlight passages that would be particularly appropriate for the 2004 National History Day theme of "exploration, encounter and exchange in history." No subject thesaurus satisfies every user, and this one does not always perform in all respects as we intended. We therefore welcome comments from users who discover ways in which it could be easily enhanced.


5. User Interface

To combine page images, electronic texts, and metadata into an effective Web resource, we chose ContentDM ( for our over-arching infrastructure. Indexing, file management, searching, and document viewing rely heavily on ContentDM, though we customized much of its off-the-shelf functionality and many of its design elements. To present novice users with a simple starting point, we created a structure above and around ContentDM. Document background files written by a historian or librarian provide an overview of the contents and context of each work and provide links to relevant Web or printed sources. A modern reference map shows where each expedition or journey traveled. PDF versions of every page were made for users whose browsers make printing difficult, and to facilitate zooming in or out. To bring all these capabilities together in the a single place, each document has its own home page from which it can be read, searched, researched, printed, or downloaded.

Other top-level Web pages help users browse the digital library or search its contents in ways that our initial audience surveys suggested would be popular. For example, users who want to jump directly to eyewitness accounts of famous encounters in American history, or who only want to retrieve pictures rather than texts, can quickly enter the digital collection by those routes. An advanced search page permits searching single documents, multiple documents, or the entire collection by keyword, controlled vocabulary, bibliographic data, or all fields at once. A curriculum guide for teachers advises them and their students how to locate and interpret documents; it includes, for example, selected lesson plans on North American exploration and a long list of sample research topics. Printed copies of it are being distributed to all teachers nationwide who participate in the National History Day. Help screens targeted at novice users address how to search, print, download and otherwise exploit American Journeys.


6. Rights, Reproductions and Permissions

The Wisconsin Historical Society publishes these documents on the Web for free as a contribution to education and scholarship. Every effort has been made to comply with U.S. copyright law when mounting them. Although nearly all the original works are in the public domain and permission has been obtained to use the others, some may still be protected by the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) and/or by the copyright laws of other nations. The Wisconsin Historical Society does not own reproduction rights for the original documents and cannot give or deny permission to publish or copy them.

Educational Use: U.S. law generally permits the reproduction of small amounts of copyrighted material for non-profit educational use. Specifically, students may legally print any page from American Journeys for their own research and teachers may duplicate materials for distribution to their own class. Further details on fair use for educational purposes are available at Beyond such explicitly fair uses, however, it is your responsibility to determine and satisfy copyright requirements if you wish to reproduce any of the materials found here.

Purchasing Reproductions: High-quality photographic reproductions of most of the images included on American Journeys can be purchased. For details on policies and prices, as well as to see thousands of other images available for purchase, go to Please read the specific copyright advice for image reproduction that is presented there.


7. Acknowledgements

Funding for American Journeys was provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, under a 2003 National Leadership Grant. The Wisconsin Historical Society ( and National History Day ( each provided resources in staff time, cash expenditure, and overhead. The late Prof. Scott M. Cutlip of the University of Wisconsin funded the purchase of equipment through a major gift to the Wisconsin Historical Foundation (

For assistance selecting documents, we are grateful to the following scholars for sharing time and expertise:

James Axtell
Professor of History
College of William and Mary

John L. Allen
Professor of Geography
University of Wyoming

Juliana Barr
Assistant Professor of History
Rutgers University

Ann Billesbach
Head of Reference Services
Nebraska State Historical Society

Sarah Fatherly
Assistant Professor of History
Otterbein College

Emily Troxell Jaycox
Missouri Historical Society

Linda Morton-Keithley
Administrator, Historical Library and Archives
Idaho State Historical Society

Louise Pubols
Autry Museum of Western Heritage

Susan Rippley,
James Ford Bell Library
University of Minnesota

James Ronda
Prof. of History
Univiversity of Oklahoma

Edward Connie Shoemaker
Library Director
Oklahoma Historical Society

David Weber
Director, William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies
Southern Methodist University

Marsha Weisiger
Asst. Professor of History
New Mexico State University

For permission to reprint materials, we gratefully acknowledge the following copyright holders:

The University Press of Colorado ( for document AJ-092.

Nebraska University Press ( for most of the reference maps, which originally appeared in North American Exploration, edited by John Lodan Allen (three volumes, 1997).

The Utah State Historical Society ( for document AJ-106.

The University of Oklahoma Press ( for the map by Chris O'Brion in The Pueblo Revolt of 1680, by Andrew L. Knaut used with documents AJ-009 and AJ-010.

The Missouri Historical Society ( for document AJ-093.

The California Historical Society ( for document AJ-098

The Champlain Society, Torornto, Canada ( for document AJ-129

The University of New Mexico Press ( for document AJ-009


8. Staff

Project coordinators:
Michael Edmonds, Deputy Director, Library-Archives Division, WHS
Paul Hedges, Information Technology Director, WHS

Document Selection:
Michael Edmonds, coordinator
Alexis Ernst-Treutel
Melissa Kascynski
Complete Editorial Committee

Image Capture and Conversion:
Vicki Tobias and Spencer Howard, coordinators
Aaron Harbort
Aaron Hedges
Becky Briggs
Ben Calendine
Charmaine Harbort
Elizabeth Stephan
Heather McClure
Mark Sundlov
Paul Lynch
Stacey Erdman
Toby Thomas
Andy Kraushaar
Sheri Dolfen

Metadata and Indexing:
Daniel L. Smith, coordinator
Barbara Connolly
Cindy Poe
Colin Holden
David Grant
Erika Janik
Jonathan Cooper
Kate Rubin
Kori Graves
Lucy Putnam
Melissa McLimans
Page Baldwin
Stephanie Westcott
Thea Browder

Editorial Production
Daniel L. Smith, production editor
Page Baldwin

User Interface:
James Ellis, coordinator
Brad Schwarzhoff
Kris Maldre
Laura Bullion
Maria Mazzenga
Matthew Calo
David Grace
Katie Benton-Cohen
Tracy Will
Web Page Templates by Rapidigm (

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