Library receives NHPRC grant to digitize Messersmith Papers

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9 a.m., April 27, 2010----The University of Delaware Library has announced receipt of a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to digitize the George S. Messersmith Papers for worldwide electronic access.

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George Strausser Messersmith (1883-1960), known in the field as a “Diplomat of Democracy,” was a prescient observer of world events whose lengthy dispatches and meticulous correspondence reflect his role in shaping American identity and policy through ten diplomatic posts on three continents between 1914 and 1947.

In Curacao in the Netherlands West Indies, Messersmith broke a secret German code during World War I. As consul general of Berlin and minister of Austria in the 1930s, he warned of the rising threat of Nazi Germany.

From post-war ambassadorships in Cuba, Mexico and Argentina, he advocated the Good Neighbor Policy of the United States. Information from these periods is critical to understanding America's national policies on international engagement in modern times.

There is much scholarly demand for remote access to the Messersmith Papers, which the project will satisfy. Further, the collection will be enhanced through use of EAD-XML, the newly established standard for online delivery of archival description.

The papers of George S. Messersmith span the dates 1907-1961, with the bulk of the material concerning the years 1932-1947. There are approximately 15,000 pages in nearly 5,000 items.

The vast majority of these are correspondence and official dispatches that provide Messersmith's eyewitness accounts of critical events and his professional perspective and advice on American policy in response to these historic instances.

Carbon typescripts of Messersmith's outgoing papers as well as original incoming documents are included, providing thorough coverage of many issues.

Messersmith had strongly-held principles and was devoted to the American ideal of democracy. He practiced no political favoritism in his frank diplomatic reports and letters. His character profiles of key players in Hitler's circle and his description of Nazi goals do much to explain the origins of World War II and the shift in American policy that brought the United States into the war.

The Messersmith Papers are one of the library's most heavily used archival collections. The papers have supported numerous articles and books and have served as a primary source for many theses and dissertations.

The biography of Messersmith by Jesse H. Stiller, George S. Messersmith, Diplomat of Democracy (University of North Carolina Press, 1987), which contains many references and bibliographic citations to the University of Delaware Library, has drawn researchers from around the world to use the collection.

Paul Anderson, assistant director for Library Administrative Services, is the principal investigator for the grant. L. Rebecca Johnson Melvin, librarian, Special Collections Department, is providing the technical expertise for repurposing existing item-level descriptive metadata to the latest standards for Electronic Archival Description, thereby greatly enhancing the usefulness of the digitized images to researchers.

Mark Grabowski, CITA IV, Library Data and Server Support, is overseeing the technical support for the project to convert the original documents to digital format and the development of the online browse search interface that will assure effective access to this material.

The original George S. Messersmith Papers will continue to be held and available for use in Special Collections in the Morris Library at the University of Delaware.

Information about the NHPRC can be found at the website.

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