With NEH funding, the Kentucky Historical Society established and publishes The Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWGK). The online, openly accessible archive is much more than a record of the governor’s office from 1860–1865. It is a uniquely ambitious project that aims to shine a light on the tens of thousands of people who interacted with the executive office. As managing editor Patrick Lewis described it, “the office of the governor is a collecting point for human stories that aren’t captured anywhere else in the historical record. CWGK offers a bottom-up view of the suffering caused by war, environmental change, and industrial collapse that continues to have lessons for us today.”
“CWGK offers a bottom-up view of the suffering caused by war, environmental change, and industrial collapse that continues to have lessons for us today.”
On CWGK, readers can access digitized and transcribed correspondence, petitions, legal and financial statements, commissions, appointments, and other documents. These resources provide a rare access point to the lives of ordinary Kentuckians—spread throughout the state—in part because the editors write biographies of every person mentioned in this archival collection. In addition to the local political brokers who corresponded with the governor’s office as a matter of course, CWGK documents people who do not often appear in the historical record. For instance, a series of documents helped editors create “The Caroline Chronicles”—an educational unit that tells the story of Caroline Dement, a homeless, twenty-year-old African American woman who arrived in Louisville in 1862.
CWGK has become an integral part of the Kentucky Historical Society’s work, allowing them to bring locally sourced programming and community outreach to everyone in the state. The Kentucky Historical Society has included the voices and lives explored in CWGK in exhibitions and educational curricula. They also created “Legislative Moments,” a digital exhibition that was installed on state legislators’ computers in 2019. The CWGK is an extremely popular feature of the society’s social media and the Kentucky Historical Society is developing further ways for Kentuckians and others to interact with the collection online, such as by helping transcribe the materials.