About Digitizing Daniel Boone

Andrew Offenburger
November 8, 2018

This project began in a graduate research seminar taught by John Mack Faragher at Yale University, in which Dr. Faragher encouraged his students to develop their own systems for organizing research notes. Participants in the weekly seminar took turns discussing their own strategies, and Dr. Faragher himself also shared with us his own method of note-taking, which, after decades in the profession, had developed into a complex system.

When I took the seminar in the fall of 2008, I had a thought: what if there were a system to facilitate note-taking that would also make historians’ annotations publicly available long after their projects concluded? I put this question to Dr. Faragher, and he seemed intrigued, and then casually remarked that, if I were to develop such a system, he would be open to sharing his notes from a previous project. It surprised me to a degree; historians typically guard their notes, laboriously taken from books, manuscripts, and archives, to protect their intellectual property, accumulated over years. His generosity in that moment made an impression on me such that the offer forever remained in the back of my mind.

Jump forward eight years. Having finished graduate school and landed at Miami University, I now wanted to discuss source collection and research strategies with my own honors and graduate students. From this desire, and with previous professional experience in systems administration, I converted the system I had developed for the dissertation into an online platform with two goals: to facilitate the teaching of research, and to enable collaborative research projects. Much to my surprise, another professor at the University of Oklahoma, Raphael Folsom, had developed a similar platform with his colleague, John Stewart; perhaps unsurprisingly, though, Folsom was also a former student of Dr. Faragher's, having finished several years before me. He had been equally impacted by our professors’ discussions of systems to organize research. From this serendipity and our two separate developments arose SourceNotes, the resulting platform that serves the Digitizing Daniel Boone project.

Once SourceNotes was proven stable, I sent my former advisor an e-mail, reminding him of our conversation long ago, and asking if he would, in fact, be willing to share his notes from a previous project. He did not hesitate, and felt that his biography on Daniel Boone might make an ideal contribution. It was the first major project he undertook using computers to organize his research, which was a conglomeration of more than 600 individual text files, generally organized by source, with keywords in upper case.

In 2017, I hired a talented advisee of mine, Kaylie Schunk, to enter these notes into the system, and to tag keywords and people to all entries. The resulting data set—nearly 5,000 individual notes—allows scholars unprecedented access into the historian’s craft. Readers of Daniel Boone can now search the author’s research to see how he constructed paragraphs and meaning from scraps of evidence dispersed across thousands of sources and archives. The online publication of these notes therefore allows colleagues and critics alike to understand the first level of interpretation, when the historian begins to make connections between a series of dots, long before a cohesive narrative is published in bound form.

Notes on Methodology

The original files supplied by the author have been modified minimally in order to preserve the original annotations/interpretations. Keywords were expanded beyond the author's abbreviations, and keywords that represented a historical person were moved to the "People" section of SourceNotes. Infrequent typos and misspellings have been corrected.

Along with his annotations, the author provided a number of "topical files," where notes were copied according to keyword. After consulting with him, I decided not to import these duplicates into the system, since its keyword-search function improved upon the historian's first efforts.

Scholars interested in consulting the original files against their representations in the SourceNotes system are welcome to download the entire archive of original files (to the right). To facilitate this comparing of the database with the original Faragher notes, each entry in the system ends with a reference to the original file as supplied by the author.


First and foremost, thank you to Dr. Faragher for being willing to share his work openly on this platform. His generosity as an advisor in graduate school is matched here by his commitment to freely available sources and his investment in the critical tradition.

Thanks also to:

  • Eric Johnson, Numeric and Spatial Data Services Librarian at Miami University, for his work on a prototype of SourceNotes.

  • Raphael Folsom and John Stewart of the University of Oklahoma, for their ongoing collaboration with SourceNotes.

  • The Miami University Humanities Center and its Digital Humanities Fellowship, which funded a portion of this project.

  • Kaylie Schunk, an M.A. student at Miami University, who entered much of the data and thoughtfully contributed to discussions on when (and when not) to modify the original notes.

  • The Miami University History Department, which supported SourceNotes and the labor necessary for this project.

The original source of this (now) online dataset contained more than 600 individual text files, generally organized by source/text or, occasionally, by location.

This is one example of a single text file, this one produced from Thomas Wildcat Alford's Civilization (1936). Note the keywords before, and page references following, each entry.


boone-notes.zip (3.7 MB)

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