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Bringing the 18th century into the 21st

In his introduction to the new second series of Colonial Records of North Carolina, Archives and History Director Christopher Crittenden wrote:

“This new series is definitely needed.”

Today, a little more than fifty-seven years later, Dr. Crittenden’s sentiments remain just as true. The Carolina Charter Tercentenary Commission launched the new series of Colonial Records in an effort to make historical sources more widely available to students and scholars across the state. In the decades since the production of the first series of Colonial Records—published between 1886-1914—many more documents had come to light. Also noted were “new inventions, processes, and products, such as the photocopy and microfilm” to make the easier the work of editing.

As we sit behind screens fed by high-speed internet, it’s tempting to chuckle at the enthusiasm for microfilm and xeroxes. But the consequences of those technologies were profound for the documentary editors of the day. As an alternative to copying thousands of pages of documents in overseas repositories by hand [by hand!] and shipping those one-off records back to Raleigh, the Colonial Records Project could now put thousands of pages on reels of easily duplicated microfilm. New options and opportunities opened up as a result. Out of those efforts came the eleven print volumes (with Volume 12 forthcoming) of the Colonial Records of North Carolina [Second Series].

The Colonial Records Project has lived long enough to see yet another sea change in technology. Consequently, and to echo Dr. Crittenden’s words from long ago, “This new series is definitely needed.” Now, the Office of Archives and History is publishing a digital edition of the Colonial Records. Database technology—while not exactly new—is being applied in new ways to make the historical sources of North Carolina available even more widely than before. On MosaicNC, for example, readers can search full text transcriptions and sort documents by topic, author, or date. Images can be added easily, in contrast to the print volumes of the past.

The excellent work done by the past editors of the Colonial Records informs the work being done today. Their editorial method was of the highest quality and we have only updated our editorial apparatus to reflect the options made available by the new publishing platform. The new digital edition will facilitate new ways of seeing old documents. We look forward to sharing what we have found.

Joseph Beatty is editor of Colonial Records for the North Carolina Office of Archives and History. He received a B.A. from James Madison University and a M.A. and Ph.D. in early American history from the University of Florida. Previously, Joe was a public historian and Director of Research and Interpretive Education for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.