Creation of the Digital Edition


All content for the Adams Papers Digital Edition (APDE) came from the letterpress volumes as printed rather than from original manuscript sources. As much as it was possible and reasonable, the electronic text retains the information that appears in the books and supplements and extends it only very little. Adams Papers editors approved all necessary changes from the printed pages.

While the digital project seeks to maintain the scope and intellectual value of the original publication, it has not attempted to represent the formatting of the printed layout except where that was understood to carry information about the manuscript source. Consequently, page composition elements such as line breaks, stylized characters, and alignment determined by editorial convention are not necessarily replicated in the online display.

Elements that are useful for navigation, such as the page numbers for the original volumes, are embedded in the electronic text and can be accessed. Also, in some cases images of printed pages that were especially complex (account books, for example), and are difficult to reproduce electronically, are available for viewing.

Conversion Process

The Adams Papers Digital Edition has made every effort to use the highest standards for the creation of electronic text and to ensure consistency and accuracy commensurate with the editorial values of the original editions. (To read a full explanation of the practices of the documentary editing project as originally set out, please read the introduction to the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, as published in 1961.)

The initial conversion from either printed pages or PDF of typeset files to XML-encoded ASCII text was performed by codeMantra, a vendor headquartered in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. The character encoding is UTF-8 unicode. APDE began with a tagset that the staff at Rotunda, the electronic imprint of the University of Virginia Press, adapted from the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). The current XML files are now fully compliant with the P5 release of the TEI, and we aim to keep those files interoperable with related digital humanities projects. A full list of our tagset as employed, with some explanatory notes, is available by request.

Review of the files as received from the vendor followed two paths: an encoding quality check at the MHS and an external proofreading of the text transcription, paid for by Harvard University Press. The encoding review included extensive development and implementation of guidelines for how to apply the tags in an effort to maintain semantic value and consistency of display.

Since 2008 the initial conversion of the volume PDF into XML is carried out by Rotunda and a review of both the encoding and transcription is performed by members of the Adams Papers staff before a volume is added to the digital edition.

What Is Different from the Printed Books

The Adams Papers Digital Edition is a document-based resource. While the organizing scheme of volumes is retained in embedded information, we did not rely on the books to determine how the historical writings are made available for your use. Consequently, access points to the online documents make use of information that preceded the books—they are grouped by author, for example, or by date of composition—and any navigation of the contents here will produce results that draw documents from across all of the Adams Papers.

As mentioned above, the digital display does not attempt to replicate the formatting of the printed pages unless that is understood to provide significant information about the original manuscript source.

At the same time, however, APDE is not a digital archive and does not pretend to represent the primary sources (for those, please visit the page describing all Adams Family Resources at It maintains information about the manuscripts only where the editors of the print edition felt it necessary to do so. Otherwise, APDE seeks to make available all of the meaning and value of the documents as transcribed and described by the editors. Any place where formatting in the print edition indicated editorial significance, a similar or equivalent display convention has been instituted.

Significant Changes from the Printed Editions

Metadata: Printed editions did not require determined metadata such as author and recipient, but these are essential to the user’s ability to browse and search the documents in the digital edition. Although the digitization staff has made every effort to assign accurate metadata to the documents, there may still be some misattributions of author, recipient, or date. Please contact us with suggested corrections if you see an error.

Note numbers have been changed in volumes 3 and 4 of Diary and Autobiography of John Adams and all volumes of the Legal Papers of John Adams. Where an annotation refers to an endnote with a changed number, that new number will appear in the default display.

Errata collected by the Adams Papers editors over time have been instituted in the digital edition as appropriate. Any errors discovered during the encoding process have also been corrected in the electronic text. Hover text will show the original letterpress wording.

Other changes in text: The wording of some editorial text, usually in annotations, has been altered at times to accommodate hyperlinks.

In the digitized text of the John Adams Autobiography (last half of volume 3 and all of volume 4 of Diary and Autobiography of John Adams), in addition to changes in the note numbers, runs of very long text were broken into chunks for online delivery. These abbreviated documents also carry titles supplied by the digitization project.

Conventions Used in the Digital Display

A dateline precedes a salutation at the beginning of Adams Papers letters; this convention is carried over from the books. Similarly, every dateline is flush right and every salutation is flush left. Signatures are also flush right. These conventions do not represent anything about the arrangement of text on the manuscript page. Address lines are not reproduced as part of the historical text in Adams documents but may at times appear in the document’s descriptive note.

Titles for the Adams Family Correspondence, Papers of John Adams, and Legal Papers of John Adams series are reproduced as provided by the editors; author and recipient information was generally derived from those titles. In the diary volumes, the title for each document reproduces the date of the entry as written by the author—the same convention used by the AP editors, except that the text appeared in small capitals on the printed page.

The acorn and oakleaf design is redrawn from a seal cut for John Quincy Adams after 1830. The motto is from Cæcilius Statius as quoted by Cicero in the First Tusculan Disputation: Serit arbores quæ alteri seculo prosint (“He plants trees for the benefit of later generations”).