The Digital Stephen F. Austin Papers

I’ll be presenting the Digital Stephen F. Austin Papers (http://digitalaustinpapers.org/), an ongoing effort to build a digital scholarly edition of the surviving correspondence of Stephen F. Austin.  During the first half of the nineteenth century, Austin served as the most prominent American land agent working with the government of Mexico to bring colonists from the United States into the Texas borderlands. During those decades, most Americans contemplating a move to Mexico wrote letters to Austin seeking information.  At the same time, Mexican officials with questions or concerns about this migration of Americans into Mexico’s northern frontier also wrote to Austin seeking advice.  As a result, Austin’s voluminous correspondence offers a remarkable window into the ideas and movements of both Mexicans and Americans during the 1820s and 1830s.  Those movements mattered enormously because the American migration into Mexico spearheaded by Austin led, ultimately, to a war between the United States and Mexico in 1846-48 that brought the modern American Southwest into the U.S. and redefined the border between the two countries in ways that continue to reverberate today.  To tell that story, the project has thus far transcribed and digitized more than 2,100 letters written by nearly 700 people living on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, all of which are now available online in the project’s prototype database.

The driving goal of the DAP project, however, is to pair those original sources with innovative analytical research tools that will enable users to discover meaningful patterns scattered across the corpus of historical documents. To that end, the project is incorporating a variety of natural language processing tools and data visualization techniques into the DAP search interface — providing users new ways to discover patterns hidden in the writings of hundreds of men and women living along the shared edges of the United States and Mexico.

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