Writing project expands with grant

By Kellie Doligale

During his lifetime, John Dickinson (1732-1808) contributed countless hours to proving that the pen could be mightier than the sword.

More than two centuries after his death, the John Dickinson Writings Project at UK seeks to reiterate how powerful his words truly were.

The Project, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, is budgeted over a three-year period and seeks to compile Dickinson’s many writings, both published and unpublished.

Dickinson, an early American lawyer and politician from New England, “published more for the American cause than any other figure,” according to the Project website. He wielded considerable power over Congress and the public prior to American independence and continued to compose relevant works afterward.

Jane Calvert, the director and chief editor of the Project and associate professor of history at UK, said the exact numbers related to the Project’s final cost are a challenge to estimate, but it will require approximately $100,000 every year for five years.

In 2010, the NEH awarded $200,000 to the Project under a Scholarly Editions grant, “with the expectation we would apply for more when we used that up,” Calvert said. She is currently the only person paid full-time to work on the Project.

“Most of the money goes to salaries and benefits to the Project team and travel for document collection and research,” she said. “Right now we are probably underfunded … We need a least a couple other paid employees to do the job right.”

In addition to salaries and travel, the Project requires service costs for document duplication and transcription.

Overall, the first year of the Project alone would cost $95,986 as estimated on the budget for the NEH grant application, manageable when considering the $100,000 it was ultimately given for that first year from July 2010 to June 2011. However, indirect costs as negotiated with the Department of Health and Human Services require an extra $32,540.

The Project is currently operating on a strict and limited budget.

The grant application’s Statement of Significance and Impact said only two partial collections of Dickinson’s work exist. The first, compiled by Dickinson himself in 1801, contains 14 documents. The second is a single volume containing 21 documents collected by the Paul Leicester Ford for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1895.

“A few of the best known documents have been published or reproduced in scattered sources,” the statement said. “None of Dickinson’s writings that were not published during his lifetime have been published since.”

The Project’s goal is to ultimately assemble the entire body of Dickinson’s political works into three printed volumes, an abridged college-level course reader and a web-based digital version available to anyone.

“This first complete and scholarly edition of Dickinson’s writings will be an indispensable resource for scholars of the founding in a variety of disciplines … More than this, because Dickinson’s main concern was to advise ordinary Americans about virtuous citizenship, the public will find practical advice for how to engage productively and peacefully in the national discourse.”