Dreaming in Digital

Lydia Pettijohn Huggins, who, last night, told me something in my sleep.

Lydia was the daughter of abolitionists in Highland County, Ohio. She married Alexander Gilliland Huggins, the son of abolitionists, and hid a fleeing slave in their home at Traverse des Sioux, Minnesota.


Talk to scholars who work on the Dakota War of 1862 and many will admit that for every lost letter, diary or lost book we recover, dozens more wait to be discovered.

That’s one of the most exciting aspects of this commemorative year: not the sense that we’ve arrived, but the understanding that we’ve pushed the boundaries of what we knew. The edge of our known world is in a new place. And from that place, I, for one, am humbled by the vistas of how much we have yet to learn.

Digitization is a fresh wind in the sails of our collective storytelling.

I’m on my way to Ohio this week on an old-fashioned research trip. Sitting down on a wooden chair in a library is currently the only way to read the  papers of Wilbur Siebert, an Ohio historian who was a contemporary of William Watts Folwell. Siebert’s burning ambition was to correspond with every last living person who worked on the Underground Railroad.

Because the Ohio State Historical Society in Columbus has digitized their 149-page finding aid to the Siebert Papers, I can tell from my desk that there appears to be a lot of new information about the families of missionaries who came to Minnesota from Ohio: people who dove into the Indian Reform pool from the high board of the Abolition movement.

However, the Minnesota Historical Society paved my way to Ohio by digitizing the Alexander Huggins Family Papers. Five years ago I would have had to drive to MHS and read the collection in person. Instead I’ve spent the past few weeks flipping through page views on my lap top screen, printing letters of high interest.

Unlike researching in person at MHS, in between page views I have: started loads of laundry, tucked children into bed, weeded thistles out of my garden, and planned a research trip to Ohio. Digital history fits my real life.

As much as I love old paper and ink, and with almost every golden research moment happening on a hard wooden library chair, I guessed I would not easily be won over to doing digital history. But last night, for the first time, I dreamed in page views. I magnified holographs, deciphered Lydia Huggins’s handwriting, and sent pages to print.

If only I’d found copies on the printer this morning telling me what I found in my sleep.

Photo credit: The Minnesota Historical Society via Google Images.

This entry was posted in Doing Historical Research, Underground Railroad. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Dreaming in Digital

  1. Marcia says:

    Have a blessed and safe trip to Buckeye country. I lived there 28 years and love the people

    • Carrie says:

      Marcia, I had no idea! Where did you live? The cluster of families I’m following now were on a leg of a UGRR line that started in Ripley, Ohio and ran north through Brown County into Highland County. They also had abolitionist relatives in Adams County. I may know more after I look at the maps in Siebert’s papers. But I can’t help but wonder if some of the same people fleeing for freedom through southern Ohio later passed through Mary Butler Renville’s family’s homes in Indiana??

  2. Jan Klein says:

    I am really enjoying your posts. You bring a new dimension to research. Thanks for that! Jan Klein

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