The Quill Project: Recreating the process which wrote the United States Constitution

The Constitution of the United States was written between May and September 1787 by a group of delegates working in secret and in a highly formal process. The records of that process include an official journal and a series of private diaries, all of which present significant challenges for general readers and researchers. Chief among these is the difficulty of understanding and describing the particular context within which decisions were made.

The Quill Project provides an entirely new platform for the study of negotiated texts, developed by Dr Nicholas Cole (Pembroke College) and Dr Alfie Abdul-Rahman (Oxford e-Research Centre). We focus especially on the creation of constitutions, treaties, and legislation.

The platform is designed to make it easier to understand the contexts in which decisions are made, the relationship between documents, and the influence of individuals and delegations within a formal process of negotiation.

The Quill Project offers a new, twenty-first century approach to the publication of a digital edition of these records, with an emphasis on interactive visualization, a collaborative approach to material held elsewhere on the internet, and a multi-author approach to the creation of commentaries and other resources needed for a variety of research, teaching, and public-engagement needs.

This talk will explore the challenges of designing a platform such as this with a wide variety of users in mind, and the opportunities for research and collaboration that are created through taking a new approach to the study of these records.

Dr Nicholas Cole is a Senior Research Fellow at Pembroke College, Oxford, and a member of the History Faculty.

Dr Alfie Abdul-Rahman is a Research Associate at the Oxford e-Research Centre.