Posted on April 11, 2013
Although @ElizaBTweetin has been up and running for only four short weeks it is part of a much larger and longer project.
It all began in May 2004, with a phone call from Johanna Snyder of Highlands, N.C. She had found a handful of diaries wrapped in a World War II uniform in her father’s garage, and wondered if “our” Mrs. Wheaton wrote them. I was excited beyond belief! For 24 years I had been hoping to find Eliza’s diaries, to which frequent references are made in her biography. I had even traveled to Highlands twice, knowing that Eliza’s favorite niece, Mary Chapin Smith, W1873, who had inherited Eliza’s personal papers, had operated a hotel (purchased for her by Eliza, and still operating) in Highlands.
Ms. Snyder’s comment that the handwriting was nearly indecipherable cemented my conviction that these were Eliza’s long-lost diaries. The purchase of the six diaries was made possible through the combined generosity of two donors: Helen Wann Piper’s (W1939) fund to support the Historical Collection on Women, and David Drumm’s Annual Fund gift in memory of his mother Euphemia Marsh Drumm W1934.
Beginning in 2005, a number of students, faculty and staff participated in our endeavor to bring Eliza’s diaries to the public. Chris Hyde, Wheaton’s Visual Resources Curator, with the assistance of his student workers scanned all of the diaries. Students Ted Holleran and Kate Weston, both Class of 2006, transcribed the 1872 pocket diary and used Text Encoding Initiative standards to digitally mark up the manuscripts. The remaining diaries were transcribed and encoded by three students: Phoebe Stinson W2007 transcribed the 1873 and 1874 diaries, Alice Kellogg W2007 transcribed the 1875 and 1876 diaries, and Ashley Kuhn W2009 transcribed a journal of the 1862 European Grand Tour. This last diary, which records Eliza and Laban Morey Wheaton’s travels through Europe, had been in the Archives’ collections prior to the acquisition of the pocket diaries.
Throughout this effort, Scott Hamlin, originally as Wheaton College’s Humanities Technology Liaison and now as Director of Research and Instruction, continues to provide technological advice and support, including the original push to use TEI.
Kathryn Tomasek, Assoc. Prof. of History, has taken a keen interest in how undergraduates gain educational advantages through transcribing and encoding primary manuscript materials. Prof. Tomasek and I have both traveled to London to trace the Wheatons’ footsteps; and have presented papers on the Wheatons' Grand Tour and the historical use of paper ephemera. She has generously used Wheaton College Faculty/Student Summer Research awards to fund transcribing the diaries. Prof. Tomasek continues to include transcribing and encoding in coursework and for research, with current emphasis on the Wheaton family’s financial records. Read more about her projects at the Wheaton College Digital History Project site.
The Archives began discussing the idea of tweeting the diary entries in 2010, but it took a nudge from Pete Coco, Digital Learning Strategist and Technology Liaison for the Humanities, to get us started.
And what is my contribution? Despite many hours of proofreading the diary transcripts, I still find errors, so tweeting provides an opportunity to once again proof and correct the entries. I’ve enjoyed comparing the diary entries with Mrs. Wheaton’s incredibly detailed cashbooks, which until 2004, were our only windows into her daily life. And I hope the blog posts in which I examine the connections and contexts between Eliza Wheaton, her neighbors, and the larger world, are both informative and entertaining.
College Archivist & Special Collections Curator