Posterity Now: The People Behind the Founders Online Project

Documents Compass

By Kevin McFadden

Letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, May 1, 1812

“Whether you or I were right Posterity must judge,” John Adams wrote in a letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1812.* John and Tom were arguing about their opposing positions on taxes and the navy. Oh yes, let “Posterity” decide… when the Founders famously disagreed, they were fond of pawning off the moral last word to future generations, whose careful weighing of history would settle their arguments, right and wrong.

Well, it’s 2012—a full two-hundred years after this correspondence. Americans are still disagreeing with each other, famously and infamously, still kicking many rhetorical and political cans down the road, and the weighing of the Founders words and deeds goes on.

But the question on the population’s mind in 2012: Where are the jobs?

Interestingly, one big job is getting such founding correspondence up online for the 21st century to read. Papers projects at the country’s most revered academic institutions have been compiling documents into printed editions for the better part of a century, and the time has come to make the digital leap. Last fall, the National Archives had entrusted this task to the VFH digital-editing program, Documents Compass, working closely with six academic documentary editing projects. Two full-time and thirty-three part-time positions have been created for this three-year and $2.5 million-dollar effort. So to answer the question, there are quite a few new jobs at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, in Charlottesville.

Documents Compass team members at work.

But just who is on the front-lines of “Posterity” now? We thought you’d like to know the people engaged in making one last pass of the Founders words before posting them online. It’s a diverse crew we’ve assembled—doctoral students, writers, editors, historical interpreters, techies, avid readers—all busy rechecking the transcriptions and examining scans to make sure that you and posterities-to-come have what you need to settle your mind on the Founders’ epic disagreements.Will we do a good job? Posterity must judge. We think the scholarly backgrounds and life experience of this team of proofreaders are a good indicator and worth sharing. 

Documents Compass Team, Papers of the Founding Fathers

Jim Ambuske is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Corcoran Department of History at U.Va. and specializes in the era of the American Revolution.

Laura Baker has a Ph.D. in literature, with publications including academic articles, a lifestyle magazine, and a health care website.

Ryan Bibler is a Ph.D. candidate working on a dissertation that examines the development of constitutional forms in the 17th century English Atlantic.

Carl Briggs works for Documents Compass and also part-time at the Darden School of Business in Graphic Design.

Arya Burt is a Ph.D. student and is working on an oral history of the Hare Krishna movement.

Christina Butler is an archaeologist who is currently working at Monticello, but also spent time doing museum curatorial work.

Donna Carty passed through research biochemistry and editing science and medical books on her way to proofreading and through costuming and traditional music and textiles on her way to an interest in history.

John Conroy is a graduate of Virginia Tech in history and works as a scanner/proofreader for Documents Compass.

Ben Davison is a U.Va. graduate student in 19th and 20th-century political and cultural history and also has a degree from the Culinary Institute of America and worked as a New York City chef and restaurant manager.

Jeff Diehm is a proofreader, musician and coffee enthusiast and recent transplant from California.

Sommers Draper is a retired Classical Archaeologist.

Katherine Evans is a historical archaeologist at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and a U.Va. graduate.

Michael Green likes landscape gardening, white water rafting, books, the beach, live music, great food and a good treasure hunt.

Mark Hawking studied English literature, regularly reads American history, and has over 15 years of experience in document editing and proofreading.

Rob Hewitt, a former VFH Fellow, considers it a privilege to be working again at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

Alec Hickmott is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the U.Va., who is in the process in completing a dissertation on the relationship between neoliberalism and black America.

Bill Kissell led large and small marketing/sales organizations for major corporations for 35 years. Today he is an U.Va. American history student, a classical guitarist, and a translator of ancient Greek.

Will Kurtz recently received his doctorate in history from the U.Va. He specializes in the American Civil War.

Margaret Lewis has a bachelor’s degree in history and German from Furman University in 2006 and recently earned a Ph.D. in history from U.Va.

Kristen Lochrie recently completed her doctorate in education from the Curry School and is enjoying doing historical research at both Documents Compass and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

Marian Matthews studied sociology and psychology at the University of Cape Town. She is a yoga instructor and aspiring writer.

Kathy May is a college English instructor who has taught writing and literature at Indiana University, Virginia Tech, and Piedmont Virginia Community College.

Sage Morghan is a 2nd year Ph.D. student in the U.Va. Department of French.  She specializes in 20th-century literature and film.

Steve Neumeister taught humanities courses, including history, English, philosophy, and religion in high schools and universities for over 20 years.

Cody Perkins is a Ph.D. Candidate studying modern South African history; during his undergraduate work, he interned in Cape Town working to preserve video footage from the South African struggle to end apartheid.

Dena Radley has an extensive and varied work background, having held both wholesale and retail sales positions as well as establishing/owning one service and two retail businesses.

Ananda Reed is a graduate student in the U.Va. Department of Religious Studies, focusing on the history of Himalayan Buddhism.

Olga Aleksandrovna Revenko (born Russian, raised cosmopolitan) is a lifelong student and educator, reader and author, traveler and scholar.

Natasha Richter just graduated from the University of Virginia with a Master’s in English. She has an interest in editing and also employed at the Papers of George Washington and Rare Book School.

Emily Sandberg graduated from the U.Va. MFA program in Creative Writing. She is currently at work on a novel.

Michelle Sivilich is a military archaeologist working on a Ph.D. through the University of South Florida and as an archaeologist at Monticello.

John Terry is an ABD graduate student in the field of medieval history at U.Va.

Amanda Thompson is a recent graduate from the UVA English Department with a background in digital humanities.

Alli Villines hails from Moss Bluff, Louisiana, holds a degree in Music and is a singer, actor, and  puppeteer.

Jeffrey R. Villines is a grad student at U.Va. and former interpreter with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Jan Vogelgesang has done editorial work for a variety of companies and now devotes herself to begin a mom while working at her son’s preschool and as a part-time musician.

Jeff Vogelgesang is an attorney and legal publications editor and a bluegrass mandolinist and guitarist performing with a Virginia bluegrass band and with his wife at festivals and concerts.

Greta von Kirchmann recently graduated from U.Va., where she studied the humanities. Her favorite subjects include cultural and political history, the history of language, and writing.

Katherine Zantow is a writer, proofreader, and resident Monroe trivia expert.

*John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 1 May 1812, printed in Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series (Princeton University Press, 2008), 5:3.