The concept of the Indian Papers Project arose several years ago from conversations between historians and members of several of New England’s tribal communities. The discussions revealed, as a common and urgent concern, a need for the publication of reliable primary source material on the area’s Native peoples. At that time, the group contemplated printed volumes as the publishing medium for the endeavor. However, understanding the cost and limitations of printed editions, the group soon turned to the new technology of the Internet in the form of a searchable documentary archives that could reach a larger audience at a more reasonable expense.
In 2003, the chairs of Yale’s History Department and American Studies Program agreed to support a plan to create a New England Indian scholarly editing project at the University. Project organizers refined the proposed features of the digital archives by conducting surveys of numerous potential users. An exploratory committee asked faculty, graduate and undergraduate students in American Studies and History from Yale and other universities, various New England tribal members and elders, visiting scholars to Yale’s Native American Pathways conferences, and teachers from the Connecticut Historical Society’s Teaching American History Program what they would like to see from such a resource.
The results indicated that not only was there a demand for information on New England Native Americans but that prospective users expected four things: a method of doing research more effectively, access to primary sources of New England Indians, a reliable source of accurate information, and the prospect of new perspectives on Native peoples in the region. Educators on all levels expressed the hope that access to the wealth of information would inspire a generation of young scholars to pursue careers in the humanities, or at least be enlightened to the Native world around them. Educators also stated their belief that in today’s informational age, to reach this audience, the Project should create a set of modern, computer-based tools that kept pace with emerging Web technologies.
In building its intellectual infrastructure, Project editors sought out interested Native historians and tribal representatives as advisors, consultants, and potential editorial collaborators. At the same time, they met with several members of the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge and an editor of the London-based History of Parliament Trust to discuss a working relationship between the Project and a number of British scholars interested in the intersection of Native American Studies, American History, and British/Atlantic History. Having British and Native American scholars work with Project staff addressed two principal concerns: first, the need to enlarge the scope of the study of New England Indians from the conventional province of local history to a discussion of national and global importance and second, the critical need to include the perspective of Native American and Commonwealth scholars, voices missing in former studies of New England Indians.
The Project secured a home office at the Lewis Walpole Library, a department of the Yale University Library in Farmington, Connecticut, and financial support from the Library’s endowments in the summer of 2008. The Project’s advisory board and editorial council met the following fall to establish short and long-term goals, cooperative partnership agreements, a work plan, and editorial guidelines.
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