NEH logo
[Return to Query]

Products for grant RQ-249881-16

Correspondence of James K. Polk
Ernest Freeberg, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Grant details:

Absent Authors and Missing Manuscripts: Editing the Letters of James K. Polk (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Absent Authors and Missing Manuscripts: Editing the Letters of James K. Polk
Author: Michael David Cohen
Abstract: This paper outlined the process of creating a scholarly edition of historical documents and highlighted several of the associated challenges related to manuscripts. An anonymous letter, signed "The Devil," led the editor of the Correspondence of James K. Polk on an investigation to learn the author's identity. The copy press, an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century precursor of the photocopier, enabled President Polk to retain copies of his outgoing letters but left his editor with often-difficult-to-decipher documents. Finally, the inside an envelope retained a faint, backwards copy of the missing letter it once had contained; digital manipulation allowed the editor to read this lost document.
Date: 10/29/2016
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Conference program
Conference Name: Manuscript Cultures Minicon, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

The James K. Polk Project: A President’s Letters in Print and Online (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: The James K. Polk Project: A President’s Letters in Print and Online
Author: Michael David Cohen
Abstract: This poster presented the work of the James K. Polk Project, a major undertaking in documentary editing. The project produces a selected and annotated edition of letters by and to Polk (1795–1849), who served from 1845 to 1849 as the eleventh president of the United States. The letterpress and digital volumes for the first time make important documents—many held by the Library of Congress but others scattered among numerous archives and private collections—easily accessible to scholars, students, and others interested in U.S. history. The letters cover political and diplomatic topics ranging from Andrew Jackson’s war on the Bank of the United States to the Mexican-American War and from the growing debate over slavery to relations with the Kingdom of Hawaii. The letters also illuminate the culture, society, economy, and science of the first half of the nineteenth century. The poster taught American Historical Association members about both the work of the Polk Project and the historical field of documentary editing. Images of a manuscript letter highlighted the rich primary-source material the project makes accessible. Bullet points and quotations from letters introduced some of the diverse historical topics documented by the letters. A map showed the many repositories that house Polk letters. Transcriptions and annotations showed the work process of an editor. The presenter brought copies of a published volume and the forthcoming thirteenth volume, as well as a laptop to demonstrate the project’s online products. In conversations with the audience, the presenter explained not only the project’s work and accomplishments over the past six decades but also the ongoing work to prepare the fourteenth and final volume. The poster format thus best facilitated the presentation of a letterpress and digital project dedicated to making often-hidden nineteenth-century sources accessible and legible to a twenty-first-century audience.
Date: 01/07/2017
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Abstract on conference website
Conference Name: American Historical Association

Correspondence of James K. Polk: Volume XIII, August 1847–March 1848 (Book)
Title: Correspondence of James K. Polk: Volume XIII, August 1847–March 1848
Author: James K. Polk
Editor: Bradley J. Nichols, Editorial Assistant
Editor: Michael David Cohen, Editor
Abstract: Volume thirteen of the Correspondence of James K. Polk documents a critical juncture in the history of North America. The eleventh president’s letters from August 1847 to March 1848 reveal his and his correspondents’ official and personal concerns during the final months of the Mexican War. The U.S. capture of Mexico City and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo redrew the continental map. Mexican land stretching from Texas to California became part of the United States. Including the earlier settlement of the northwestern boundary with Canada, Polk’s policies had enlarged his country by one-third. Governing the new land proved a challenge. At odds over whether to allow slavery west of Texas, Congress could not unite on a bill to form territorial governments. Some began to fear that discord over slavery’s expansion would split the nation in two. Polk faced other crises and opportunities. Letters discuss treaty negotiations with the Kingdom of Hawaii, Mormons’ journey from Illinois to the Salt Lake Valley, and U.S. interest in annexing Cuba. Dakota leaders sought the president’s help in conflicts with other Indians and with U.S. officials. European revolutions prompted hopes in America, including by Polk, for the spread of republican government. 1848 was an election year. Though some urged Polk to reconsider his pledge not to seek reelection, he let others vie for the Democratic nomination. Ominously, a split within the party in New York over slavery threatened any Democrat’s chance of retaining the White House. The president wrote to friends and family and monitored his private business. Of particular interest to him were the work of the slaves on his Mississippi plantation and the construction of the Nashville home where he and his wife, Sarah, looked forward to retiring. These are but a sampling of the topics addressed in Polk’s letters. Presented here with full annotation, they illuminate American politics, diplomacy, economy, and culture.
Year: 2017
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: WorldCat listing
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description: Publisher's listing
Access Model: Book
Publisher: Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press
Type: Scholarly Edition
ISBN: 9781621902751
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes