The MHS Receives $1 Million Grant from Mellon Foundation and NHPRC for Implementation Phase of the Primary Source Cooperative

Deeply committed to helping documentary editions thrive on a broad scale, this project will provide ready access to a portal for digital publishing.

The Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) has been awarded a three-year, $1 million grant by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to support the implementation phase of the Primary Source Cooperative at the Massachusetts Historical Society (the Cooperative). Founded in 2018 with the support of a Digital Edition Publishing Cooperatives planning grant, the Cooperative is a collaboration among its member editions and its host institution, set up to publish online the work of editors who are preparing the content of archival records for scholarly and public access.

On the insistence of MHS founder Jeremy Belknap, “multiplying the copies” is part of the DNA of the Society. For centuries, the Society has promoted the publication of archival materials—precise transcriptions from handwritten documents with annotation to explain obscure references. This is the “documentary editing” that editors at the MHS continue to pursue. “The funding from this initiative allows us to support the efforts of a wider circle of scholars pursuing these same ends, with the mutual goal of sharing good historical understanding and evidence on a broad platform,” explained MHS President Catherine Allgor.

The Cooperative, consisting of four founding editions (the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary, the Roger Brooke Taney Papers, the Catharine Maria Sedgwick Online Letters, and the Ellen Swallow Richards Papers), is led by scholars who present content that will lead users to a deeper understanding of 19th-century America, and especially the forces of reform and revolution that marked that age. The Cooperative also envisions a broader mission for the platform and cohort that it is shaping, created by and for its editions, most of which lacked ready access to a portal for digital publishing. The work initiated in 2018 created tools that facilitate a digital editorial workflow and cemented a mutual understanding and mission among the editors. The implementation grant will bring those tools into full production and transition the human collaboration to a full-fledged cooperative with established governance policies. The model established by the Cooperative will be shared in order to make the editorial standards and systems, custom software tools, and governance documents all open source for institutions or informal groups that have similar opportunities to support the creation of digital editions.

During the implementation phase, the Cooperative will continue the development of technical infrastructure while also growing its community of editions and audience. A new partnership with the Digital Scholarship Group at the Northeastern University Library will enable the Cooperative to expand the reach of edition content, including digital derivatives such as visualizations, contextual data, and georeferenced metadata. And while the Cooperative itself would grow with deliberate care, paced to maintain close and substantive work with the editors, we are deeply committed to helping documentary editions thrive on a broad scale. Toward this end, the implementation plan includes meetings with other cooperatives in order to begin designing a network of publishing cooperatives. In the end, we believe a plethora of editor-driven cooperatives is a crucial step toward realizing the rich and adaptive environment needed to improve the generation of new editions and the growth and accessibility of documentary publishing.

About The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)

The NHPRC is the grant-making affiliate of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Established by Congress to promote the preservation and use of America’s documentary heritage, the NHPRC supports a wide range of activities to preserve, publish, and encourage the use of documentary sources, created in every medium ranging from quill pen to computer, relating to the history of the United States. For more information on the NHPRC, visit