Editorial Method


Photograph of a woman standing in front of a slave pen in Alexandria, Virginia in 1862. Historical Society of Pennsylvania photograph collection (V59).

This project is intended to weave new connections between the manuscript journal and published book of William Still, known as the "Father of the Underground Railroad." We hope this effort will provide new insight into the experiences of enslaved individuals and families who passed through Philadelphia between 1852 and 1857 and the covert networks that aided their escape.

This effort is a first step in a larger digital history project by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and therefore features only selected pages from “Journal C” and William Still’s published book, The Underground Rail Road. Based on feedback from an external advisory committee, HSP’s project team chose to focus this initial prototype project on the experiences of enslaved families escaping to freedom. The team identified three family groups described in both Still works – the Shephards, the Taylors, and the Wanzers/Grigsbys – and digitized, transcribed, and annotated selections from the volumes that tell their stories. Project staff then encoded those excerpts in XML using the guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative, which allows sophisticated searching and analysis of digital documents. This web site also offers contextual essays and other resources for teachers who may use the site in the classroom.

For more information, please contact Tamara Gaskell, Historian and Director of Publications and Scholarly Programs, at tgaskell@hsp.org


We aimed to write annotations and contextual materials for an audience of educated users, especially college and secondary school students studying this time period. We hope that the annotations and other contextual materials help to provide the historical background needed to make the texts more accessible to modern readers.

At the time of the project's launch in February 2014, we had written more than 120 brief biographies of people and organizations appearing in Still's manuscript and book. We included footnotes in specific document excerpts as time allowed.

We also included interpretive tags for each document, allowing users to see how all of the excerpts fit into the history of the Underground Railroad as well as allowing educators to highlight specific curricular themes in the classroom.

Encoding Overview

For this prototype project, we encoded only excerpts from "Journal C" and The Underground Rail Road that described someone involved in three groups who fled enslavement between 1855-1856: the groups traveling with Frank Wanzer, Harriet Shephard, and Otho Taylor. In “Journal C,” we excerpted text for related diary or account entries. In The Underground Rail Road, we excerpted text at the chapter level.

The excerpts from “Journal C” were transcribed manually in English. Still’s published volume, The Underground Rail Road, was transcribed by the Internet Archive using OCR; HSP project staff began with the publicly accessible transcriptions for the selected excerpts and proofread them against the original volume (a copy is available in HSP’s collection) to ensure consistency and accuracy. 

Project staff then encoded the selections in XML following the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) P5 guidelines. We set out to conform to Best Practices for TEI in Libraries v. 3.0, Level 4, but ultimately chose to diverge from those recommendations in a handful of instances in order to better accommodate web implementation. We relied on a custom HSP encoding schema, and our documents have been imported into a Drupal-based web site.

The project team also included transcriptions of both full volumes on this prototype site for reference purposes, but have not fully encoded or proofread these files for time reasons.

We followed the following transcription and encoding principles:

We preserved original spellings, typographical errors, missing text, and capitalization.

We regularized spacing between words and sentences to be a single space.

We did not encode line breaks, end-of-line hyphenation, visual rendition of layout (such as indentation or text alignment), or changes in font.