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William Henry Harrison in the Digital Age

October 17, 2018

Something exciting has been happening for the IHS Press and the IHS Library. We’re doing a couple of new digitization projects that will bring out an amazing trove of primary sources. The first of these projects is being finished as I write this.

William Henry Harrison is often looked upon as a curiosity – son of a Founding Father, grandfather to President Benjamin Harrison, and as the president with the shortest term –pneumonia took his life mere weeks after his inauguration. Before he belonged to the nation, though, he was Indiana’s Territorial Representative, Governor and military leader. With all those responsibilities, he corresponded with many people.

It is that correspondence which drove our staff on a huge mission starting more than 30 years ago. Since there was not an official agency gathering papers of early frontier leaders at the time, much of that correspondence was scattered, and some was lost in a huge fire at the Harrison home. As historians, we itch to find all the evidence in a story and Harrison was no different.

He was heavily involved in fighting Native Americans who tried to defend their homeland against the new settlers, he was a politician, and, as Territorial Governor, he influenced the rising state of Indiana. Though several staff members were involved in the project over the years, Douglas Clanin was the man dispatched far and wide to find Harrison letters and documents. His mission was to find as many as possible and copy them for a documentary microfilm project which would help bring these primary sources together for researchers. Institutions from all over the country participated and the microfilm has, indeed, been of tremendous research value.

However, we don’t like to just rest on our laurels. We know that what was helpful in the 1980s must be updated and made even more widely available now. The microfilm has been digitized and is being uploaded into our digital collections. It is now available on your computer screens free of charge at any time.

We realize that while this is probably the most comprehensive collection of William Henry Harrison documents, it surely isn’t all that exists. Doug Clanin is a diligent researcher, but he doesn’t possess superpowers. In fact, another staff member pranked him during the project by announcing that a new Harrison letter had been found. The lengthy letter was full of juicy information and concluded with Harrison instructing the recipient to “hide this letter where Clanin can never find it.” It’s exciting for us to bring Doug’s sleuthing work into the digital age and hope you enjoy digging through Harrison’s correspondence. Stay tuned for details on the other exciting project.

Search the William Henry Harrison digital collection.

Note on the image: General Harrison with his army at the Battle of Tippecanoe. The caption at the bottom of the lithograph reads: “Upon one occasion, as he (Genl. Harrison) was approaching an angle of the Line, against which the Indians were advancing with horrible yells, Lieut. Emmerson seized the Bridle of his Horse, and earnestly entreated that he would not go there; but the Governor, putting spurs to his Horse, pushed on to the point of Attack, where the Enemy were received with firmness and driven back.”

Susan Sutton

Susan Sutton is director of digitization. She enjoys hiking, reading and endless cups of tea.

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