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Rotunda’s first two publications in our American Founding Era collection, the Dolley Madison Digital Edition (2004) and the Papers of George Washington Digital Edition (2007), had very different origins. DMDE was a born-digital project from the start, with transcriptions created in XML richly tagged for information about people and places. PGWDE was created by digitizing 52 existing letterpress volumes, converting them to XML in a way that preserves the integrity of the printed volumes while also enabling each individual documentary object (letter, diary entry, invoice, etc.) to be treated as a separate item for purposes of searching and display. Each publication was designed and programmed to be “standalone,” with different interfaces and no way to integrate their respective contents for uniform searching and display.
As Rotunda committed its resources to a growing Founding Era collection that would add completed and in-progress documentary editions from many editorial projects—the papers of Jefferson, Madison, and the Adamses; the documentary history of the ratification of the Constitution; and more—we realized the importance of building a new “Founders platform,” a programming framework that would allow us to add publications in such a way that they would become components of a single overarching interface. Readers should be able to search and retrieve documents from any or all publications from a single place, and seamlessly navigate through the results. Chronological navigation within the Founding Era—accessing documents by browsing from decade through year to month and day—should permit readers to find in one place all the documents from all publications for a given date (such as July 4, 1776).
Accordingly, nearly as soon as work was completed on the original PGWDE in mid-2007, we began designing and coding a completely new platform as a container for our Founders material. The goal was to produce a modular framework that would allow the American Founding Era to perform as a single publication in many respects, while also enabling publication-specific features where desired. This was a major undertaking: searching, rendering, map generation, and other back-end functions needed to be recoded, usually from scratch. In addition, we redesigned the navigation area, streamlining the compass and breadcrumb trail display. The beta release of the new Founders platform in November 2008 represents arrival at our first milestone after 18 months of work.
The November 2008 beta release incorporates our two existing Founding Era publications and adds one new one:
Among the improvements to the Founding Era platform that we plan to incorporate over the next few months are: