History

The Papers of Martin Van Buren microfilm project was founded at Pennsylvania State University (PSU) in 1969. Dr. Walter L. Ferree headed the project, which sought to bring together the main Van Buren papers held at the Library of Congress with other Van Buren documents scattered in depositories and private hands across the United States. The project received endorsement from the National Historical Publications Commission (NHPC) in 1969 and initial NHPC funding in 1971. A total of 260 repositories contributed the approximately 13,000 documents contained in The Papers of Martin Van Buren microfilm edition. Ferree and his editorial staff originally intended to publish letterpress volumes of Van Buren’s papers, but the NHPC instead recommended a microfilm edition.

In 1976, Ferree retired, turning over leadership of the project to Dr. George Franz, also at PSU. Franz worked on the project part-time until 1985, when the project’s advisory board, PSU administrators, and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) recommended the hiring of a full-time editor to finish the project. Lucy Fisher West of Bryn Mawr College was appointed project director in 1986. The project ended in 1987 with the completion of the microfilming of the papers, their microform production by Chadwyck-Healey, Inc., and the compilation of a comprehensive index by West.

In 2014, James Bradley and Mark Cheathem restarted The Papers of Martin Van Buren at Cumberland University (CU), Cheathem’s home institution in Lebanon, Tennessee. Their goal is to produce, in partnership with the University of Virginia’s Center for Digital Editing (CDE), a free website hosting transcriptions of all of Van Buren’s papers; a Rotunda digital edition with Van Buren’s papers fully transcribed and annotated; and a one-volume letterpress edition of his most significant political papers (The Selected Papers of Martin Van Buren). The two editors assembled an advisory board of distinguished historians knowledgeable about Van Buren and his times. They also began cultivating private and corporate donors to help fund the project both with seed money and long-term financial commitments.

Logistically, the project has made significant strides. Former project editor George Franz facilitated the transfer of 337 microfilm reels pertinent to the project, including the complete Library of Congress and Chadwyck-Healey microfilm collections of Van Buren’s papers, from PSU to the new project office, which is housed in CU’s Vise Library. PSU has also loaned the archives of the The Papers of Martin Van Buren microfilm edition to CU for two years. Finally, Cheathem successfully completed the Association of Documentary Editing’s Institute for the Editing of Historical Documents in June 2015, which gave him the training necessary to serve as project director.