Skip to main content
Bowdoin College homepage

The Oliver Otis Howard Papers Online

About the Oliver Otis Howard Papers Online Project

The George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives at Bowdoin College digitized the complete holdings of our Oliver Otis Howard Papers—the most heavily consulted of the Library’s manuscript holdings, among its larger, and arguably its most important collection of nineteenth-century primary source materials—and has made those digital surrogates discoverable and freely available on the Web for viewing and downloading.

The project was funded by Bowdoin College and a grant award from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission’s Digitizing Historical Records program, which promotes mass digitization of historical resources through economical processes that rely on existing descriptive metadata. Additional support came from the Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust.

Project work began in April 2014 and was completed in 2017. Throughout the duration of the project, digitized portions of the collection were made available online as they were created. The Howard Papers Online present nearly 180,000 high-quality scanned images, allowing researchers from anywhere to access all of the documents and examine them in detail that rivals the experience of handling the originals. Because of both the inadequacy of optical character recognition (OCR) software to produce machine-readable transcriptions of manuscripts and the cost of non-automated transcription, providing online word-searching fell outside the scope of the project goals.

The O. O. Howard Papers comprise sixty linear feet of manuscript material, chiefly incoming and outgoing correspondence, memoirs, and addresses created by or relating to General Oliver Otis Howard (1830-1909), a major figure in the narrative of American history. Howard’s distinguished career reflects America's military, social, and cultural history throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, including: the Civil War; the Freedmen’s Bureau and Reconstruction; Western expansion and Indian affairs; social welfare; domestic life; race relations; higher education; and religiosity. Known as the “Christian General,” Howard was awarded the Medal of Honor for valor during the Civil War, served as commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, was instrumental in the founding of Howard (named in his honor) and Lincoln Memorial universities, was superintendent at West Point, and held several Western army commands, including those involving the Nez Perce War and making peace with Cochise. Aside from documenting his career, his papers also reveal his progressive commitment to the social advancement of African Americans and his strong belief in the virtues of Christian faith in effecting social change. Howard’s papers thus attract a wide range of researchers and scholars in large numbers because of the breadth and depth of the documents that he accumulated over a lifetime of public service to the Nation.

Scope Expansion

In its first two years, this project's notable efficiency of production and quality of output provided an opportunity to broaden the scope of digitization. The NHPRC approved an expansion of the project’s scope to include the complementary papers of O.O. Howard’s brothers, Charles and Rowland, who also graduated from Bowdoin and served the Union in the Civil War. These additional manuscript collections document the Civil War and its aftermath, and are of known value to the research community as shown by frequency of use and the range of scholarly publications citing these collections. The papers of Charles Henry Howard and Rowland Bailey Howard, while interesting and significant records in their own right, constitute an extension of the O.O. Howard narrative, bolstering its value by showing other sides and aspects of conversations about the Civil War, personal convictions, and day-to-day life at home and at war for this prominent Maine family.

Please send comments and questions about this site, and inquiries about the Oliver Otis Howard Papers digitization project, to:

Bowdoin College Library
Brunswick, Maine 04011
207.725.3288  |   email us