By John A. Lupton, Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission
In May 2022, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) awarded the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission a grant for $136,000 to digitize early Supreme Court case files.
The project will digitize approximately 3,650 case files from 1819 to 1865 and make them available to researchers on a freely accessible and user-friendly website. Early Illinois Supreme Court cases covered many topics, including transportation, immigration, women and children, Abraham Lincoln, slavery, the Civil War, the rise of Chicago, and urban/rural disputes. The Commission expects the work to take two years with a publication date of August 2024.
In July 2022, the Commission hired two scanning technicians with decades of experience in historic preservation and digitization. Shanta Thoele had worked at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Kathryn Powell previously worked at the Illinois State Archives in a similarly grant-funded position to scan the Winfred “Doc” Helm photograph collection (https://www.ilsos.gov/news/2022/april/220415d1.pdf).
Thoele and Powell began scanning the case files in August 2022 and currently have scanned 3,000 case files containing 75,000 documents. The technicians have also begun the process of creating metadata for the case files. Creation of metadata is an important step because it allows for easy searching by the end user. The final product’s search engine will utilize the metadata so researchers can find subjects and cases quickly. Once the researcher has identified relevant cases, they can continue a deeper dive by examining pdf images of the documents in the case.
Samuel Wheeler, the Commission’s Director of History Programs, and John Lupton, the Executive Director, have taken the lead in managing the overall project, fielding questions from the technicians, budgeting, reporting, and making editorial decisions. Matt Burns, the Director of Administration, manages the technical aspects of the project relating to file storage, backups, and coordinating with Levi, Ray & Shoup (LRS), the technology firm.
The project has already received media attention. A reporter interviewed the staff, and the linked article provides more details about the project: https://pantagraph.com/news/state-and-regional/govt-and-politics/illinois-law-200-years-ago-inside-the-quest-to-digitize-states-legal-history/article_1a4713ac-a9a0-11ed-b3a8-17f44fe1c581.html