Many Colonial Virginians considered unfair British economic practices to be an infringement of their natural rights. The economic grievances of the Virginia planter class eventually became a key motivator for rebellion. As Thomas Jefferson complained in his Summary View of the Rights of British America, Virginians were at the mercy of “the British merchant for whatever he will please to allow us.” Jefferson argued that Virginia tobacco “planters were a species of property annexed to certain mercantile houses in London.”
One of the primary goals of the George Washington Financial Papers Project (GWFPP) has been to make Washington’s financial records freely accessible. The GWFPP team has worked tirelessly to provide accurate transcriptions as well as to build and illustrate relationships among people, places, and themes. However, what would be the point of all this if no one could use the website? In order to make sure the GWFPP site is accessible, efficient, navigable, and meaningful, we conducted usability testing in December 2016.
While the financial records detail Washington’s purchases, and thus his belongings, it is difficult to gain deeper meaning from the records in their raw form. We could look at each document line-by-line—discovering that Washington bought twenty bushels of corn one day in 1790 and then sold four pounds of beef the next—but we do not gain any broad historical insight from such information. In order to see meaningful patterns and trends, we must look at the data as a whole.
One of the many interesting challenges the George Washington Financial Papers Project (GWFPP) team has faced is how best to make content accessible, or more accurately, intellectually accessible. This is hardly a new challenge, though, as editors have always worked to move beyond mere availability.
Making George Washington’s financial papers accessible had been an early goal of the Washington Papers, but given the intricacies of the financial papers and our means of publication, very little had been done. We began to think about solutions for the financial papers, and our ideas grew and evolved with the huge advances made in the field of digital humanities in the last few years.
December 4, 2014 Interested in learning more about the Financial Papers Project? This video details the importance of studying George Washington and his detailed financial records, as well as the work happening now to create a digital resources for educators, students, historians, businesspeople, and those generally interested in the life […]