Retracing President Lincoln’s 12-day journey to Washington: shortening the journey of his digital records to Illinois

Welcome back! This week’s posting is brought to you by Fynnette Eaton.

In February of 1861, after winning the 1860 presidential election, Abraham Lincoln left his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, on a 12-day journey to Washington, where he made many stops and gave several speeches.  Many of these speeches are part of the body of his presidential documents, viewable in NARA’s new exhibit, Inside the Vaults:  Discovering the Civil War.

One hundred and forty nine years later, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum have been working together to retrace that 12-day, 19th century journey, by shortening the 21st century journey of the digital copies of these records back to Illinois and across the globe.

In preparation for the exhibit several years ago, the Lincoln Library, located in Springfield, Illinois, has been involved in a major digitizating project called The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Documentary Editing Project. Through one of its research partners, NARA’s Center for Advanced Systems and Technologies (NCAST) has been actively supporting the project to transfer large numbers of scanned copies of treasured Lincoln records in an error-free, cost effective manner.

Think about it, if you scan a photograph of your grandmother, and you want to make a good quality copy, you would want to scan at the highest resolution possible.  The scanned file that is created would be something like 20+ megabytes, which is huge!

Now imagine the Lincoln project, involving scanning several thousands of pictures and documents and saving huge high resolution digital files, then sending them off to the Lincoln Library.  The usual way of doing things involves copying the scanned files onto hundreds of compact discs, then sending the discs by costly overnight delivery.  And with that much data making the physical journey by mail, there are additional risks of damage or delayed delivery, or even potential loss in the mail system.

At the time of the early transfers, NCAST had access to Internet 2, and were testing the use of new file transfer tools developed by the University of Illinois’ National Center for Supercomputing Applications (you read about NCSA in last week’s blog).

Turns out that the Lincoln project collaboration with NARA was a big success in more ways that we imagined.  We learned about safely and securely moving complex, high quality digital files immediately using new networking capabilities, AND created an unexpected cost-saving benefit as well! This will help us with other tasks involving moving and accessing large volumes of government electronic records in our care.

The journey of President Lincoln’s scanned images and documents took minutes to go from scanners and computers at the National Archives in Washington DC and in College Park, MD, to the Lincoln Library in Springfield, IL. Read more about NCSA’s involvement in technologies that enable access to Abraham Lincoln’s writings.

Definitely check out the new Civil War exhibit and see how online access to documents provides a rich portrait of our 16th President during his administration. As you view some of the digitized documents, you can think about how NCAST technology collaborations made it easy for the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum to safely and confidently transfer and provide images for the exhibit, and to enable access to high quality documents.

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