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Civil War on the Western Border Digital Collection

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Civil War on the Western Border Digital Collection

Kansas City Public Library, Mo.

Civic and Community Engagement | 2015

Innovation Summary

The Kansas City Public Library (KCPL) and its project partners collaborated to establish an innovative, award-winning model for presenting local history online through a digital repository that is contextualized for public audiences with original scholarship, a flexible digital asset management system, and a unique “relationship viewer.”

Problem Statement

One challenge of historical research is being able to access a representative swath of primary source material. Increasingly the expectation is for these sources to be located in online collections, yet most archival holdings are not digitized, and those that are often lack a streamlined interface, beneficial analysis, or contextual information to help wider audiences grasp the significance of the collection items. Many of our 25 partner institutions along the Missouri-Kansas border lacked the resources or expertise to provide standards-based digital repositories. Most importantly, prior to the Civil War on the Western Border, there was no authoritative online source of information about the Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas border, where violence and a national debate raged over slavery even before the Civil War officially began.


KCPL had the opportunity to address all of these challenges and shed light on original documentation that was often difficult to access. The Library’s technology solution, a cutting-edge VITAL repository integrated into a Drupal website, allows us to bring all of these elements together into a rich, interpretive website. This resource presents numerous contextual links between the collection and our original scholarly writing, maps, a timeline and semantic visualizations in a “relationship viewer” that offer an innovative method of browsing and understanding the collection. We approached the best scholars in the field to populate the site with long-form essays and shorter entries.


Civil War on the Western Border has quickly become a mainstay resource in K-12 and higher education classrooms, as well as among researchers and the general public. Its digital collection and scholarship has garnered national recognition culminating in four major awards from historical, museum and library associations (including the 2014 prize for Innovation in Digital History from the American Historical Association). Funded in part through an LSTA grant, it culminated in a collection of 6,000 pages of primary source materials from 25 partner archives, and it drew on the Library’s growing reputation as a leader in the field of digital history and an authority on local history with closely associated events programming that attracted more than 14,000 attendees relating to the Civil War sesquicentennial alone.