MHS News

New Website Uncovers Passages Written by Jefferson That Have Been Hidden for Centuries

Notes Table of Contents PageThe manuscript of Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson’s only full-length book is now available online at Created by the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS), the website enables visitors to see and interact with passages that were previously hidden from view due to the methods used by Jefferson for inserting changes onto handwritten pages. The website provides evidence of not only Thomas Jefferson's meticulous approach to writing but also an ingenious way to view passages that have been obscured for centuries.

Using recent advances in technology—including faster computer processors, faster bandwidth speeds, and the ever-increasing capabilities of web browsers—the website developed by the MHS allows the reader to interact with color digital images of Jefferson's complex manuscript; read each manuscript piece in sequence or jump to specific pages or numbered queries—the topical chapters that Jefferson used to organize his published work; or remove the attachments and see the original passages written by Jefferson.

Work on this website began years ago when the MHS made conservation work on the manuscript of Notes on the State of Virginia a priority. It was in dire need of conservation treatment because the manuscript had been tightly bound in a modern leather cover. Wear-and-tear was beginning to take a toll on the paper, and there was considerable risk of tearing and decay along the edges of sheets. MHS applied for and received funding from Save America’s Treasures, a federal program, to conserve the manuscript and digitize selections of it.

Once conservation work was complete, each full and partial page—both front and back—were scanned. After experimenting with the digital images, the MHS realized that its existing web delivery system—designed to present a predictable sequence of manuscript pages—wasn't adequate to display Jefferson's complicated manuscript. However, recent changes in technology enabled the MHS to develop a website that fully conveys the elaborate nature of Jefferson’s revision process and allows users to “flip up” or “remove” the attachments—just as someone handling the paper manuscript would.

The online manuscript of Notes on the State of Virginia is part one of a larger effort planned by the MHS to present a scholarly electronic edition with annotations conveying how the manuscript relates to various significant published editions.


Image: Detail of Table of Contents page from Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia

Published: Friday, 9 April, 2010, 4:04 PM