Cumberland University receives NHPRC grant for Van Buren papers project


Cumberland University received a grant for $60,752 from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) for the Papers of Martin Van Buren (PMVB) project. The funds will support the creation of the digital version of the papers of Martin Van Buren, which will make accessible approximately 13,000 documents belonging to the eighth president.


Mark Cheathem, PMVB project director and CU history professor, involves students with transcribing and annotating the difficult-to-decipher papers written in 19th-century script, which are freely accessible via a website hosted at While the project is ongoing, the editors will periodically update the website with new documents so that users will not have to wait until the project is completed to utilize Van Buren’s papers.

Cumberland University is one of the smallest universities to receive the NHPRC grant in the category of publishing historical records. Stanford University, Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Tennessee are examples of other institutions to receive a grant from the NHPRC in this category.

“The NHPRC’s endorsement and commitment of funds is an important step forward for the Papers of Martin Van Buren project here at Cumberland University. It is an honor to have the NHPRC to recognize our importance as one of the few presidential papers projects in existence and one of three currently located in the state of Tennessee.  We hope that this grant opens the door for other funding that will help us make significant progress on providing access to President Van Buren’s papers,” said Cheathem.

The PMVB project is significant not only for Cumberland University but to United States history. By transcribing and annotating Van Buren’s papers, including his letters, speeches, notes, and miscellaneous material, this project will provide fresh insight into the founding of the Democratic party, the evolution of formal politics between the War of 1812 and the Civil War, and the changes in political culture that occurred during Van Buren’s lifetime. Additionally, it will help scholars, students, and the public understand the maturation of United States politics during its early development.

Dr. Harry Watson, PMVB advisory board member, Atlanta Alumni Distinguished Professor of Southern Culture, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said: “Far more than many of us realize today, President Martin Van Buren was an innovative and influential figure with deep influence on political development, public finance, western expansion, and anti-slavery politics in pre-Civil War America. The publication of his papers will open an enormous trove of under-explored information about our early national life to scholars and the public alike.”

Dr. John L. Brooke, PMVB advisory board member, Humanities Distinguished Professor of History at Ohio State University, stresses the importance of the eighth president whose contributions to our modern-day political system often are overlooked.

“Martin Van Buren was the first American to rise to the presidency from an ordinary background, and he is credited with helping to construct mass party politics on roughly the model that we still have today.  His career encompassed local and state politics in New York during the early republic, and a great swath of highly controversial national struggles from 1820 to 1848. His papers are a gold mine of advice, opinion, and information coming from all quarters of his society. They are available on microfilm, but bringing out a well-edited collection in print and online would be a major asset for students and scholars, especially those at smaller institutions with limited budgets, and to the general public. The Papers of Martin Van Buren Project, ably directed by Mark Cheathem, is poised to do a great service to American historians of all walks of life.”

Jennifer Stertzer, senior editor of the Washington Papers and interim director of the Center for Digital Editing at the University of Virginia said: “Since its inception, the Center for Digital Editing has sought partnerships with projects that share a vision of strong editorial standards, a desire for wide-ranging and meaningful accessibility, and an interest in engagement with students, whose experiences with all aspects of developing a documentary edition, from transcription work to platform development, benefits all involved.  The Papers of Martin Van Buren project not only exemplifies these important goals, which will help advance the field of documentary and digital editing, but also will make Van Buren’s papers accessible.”

The NHPRC grant announcement can be found at The Papers of Martin Van Buren project can be accessed at

Cumberland University has one of the longest, richest histories of any higher education institution in the state. Founded in 1842, the University flourishes today with exceptional faculty and fully-accredited academic programs steeped in the liberal arts, including three distinct schools: the Rudy School of Nursing and Health Professions; the School of Humanities, Education, and the Arts; and the Labry School of Science, Technology, and Business. With a student body approaching 2,500, 25 percent of whom live on campus, our unique residential living and learning experience allows students to find their sense of belonging. Athletics also are a strength of Cumberland University, as its teams in 20 sports regularly compete for conference and national championships. Its world-renowned baseball team has claimed the NAIA national championship title three times since 2004.

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