headerDigital Library

About the Dred Scott Case Collection

History of The Dred Scott Case | The Reclamation of Dred Scott | About the Documents and Encoding process | About the Digitization Process


The Dred Scott Case Collection was the first significant digital library project undertaken by the Washington University Libraries, which went online in 2000. The digital project was a partnership between the Missouri State Archives, Washington University faculty members Peter Kastor and David Konig, and the Washington University Libraries. The primary content of the project were St. Louis Circuit Court legal documents stored in the MSA relating to the Dred Scott freedom suit that led to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision.

When the Dred Scott Case Collection debuted, it quickly became one of the Washington University Libraries’ more popular online resources. Originally comprised of eighty-five documents encoded in HTML, the resource appeared outdated when compared to current HTML design standards, was limited in functionality, and it did not comply with digital project standards that had emerged since 2000. In 2006, Washington University Libraries created a dedicated unit to support locally-created digital resources, Digital Library Services. Several of DLS's current projects are efforts to migrate existing resources in electronic form to accepted standards. One such project has been our effort to revise the Dred Scott Case Collection.

Initially, DLS set out to update the Dred Scott Case Collection web site in time for a Washington University sponsored symposium to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Dred Scott Case in March of 2007. During this process DLS had an opportunity to assess the collection materials and made plans to convert the materials to XML later that summer. In the summer of 2007, DLS focused its efforts on migrating the collection from HTML to TEI XML and provide users with a full-text, searchable resource. Soon thereafter, DLS discovered that the collection was not a complete representation of the Dred Scott Case. Through the investigative work of a Washington University graduate student in English, in collaboration with Michael Everman, Supervising Archivist at the Missouri State Archives-St. Louis, an additional thirty-three documents, 286 pages of text were added to the collection. In total, one hundred and eleven documents, over 400 pages of text, were full encoded in to TEI XML; the new documents include Supreme Court of Missouri published cases and the US Supreme Court decision. As a result, the collection is now a full-text, searchable resource that represents the full case history of the Dred Scott Case.

The Reclamation of Dred Scott

This project highlights some of the issues involved in migrating older digital projects--especially early attempts--to widely-accepted standards, and reveals the unseen benefits of doing so.

Owing largely to the work of Crystal Alberts, a Washington University graduate student in English who also had extensive familiarity with legal genres, we discovered several mishaps in how the digital project’s contents were originally organized and transcribed. First, the original set of eighty-five documents actually represented seventy-eight documents upon closer inspection, which could have only been uncovered by someone with a working knowledge of legal research. Second, the collection materials were initially transcribed into HTML, rather than using a more robust metadata standard, such as the Text Encoding Initiative which was a long accepted standard for texts at the time.

In addition, the titles originally assigned to the collection documents did not represent their legal function. For instance, titles were assigned by the initial project team members using descriptive criteria according to archival protocol, instead of reflecting the practice in the legal profession of referring to documents by their legal function (i.e., "Notice of Motion to Dismiss"). Lastly, the initial project failed to transcribe and interpret the documents in their entirety. DLS discovered abbreviations (Figure 1: Sample MSA Citation) that were originally omitted in the transcription process which, when deciphered, pointed us to twenty-five additional documents related to Dred Scott held by the MSA. As a result, DLS appended proper, legal titles to all the documents, fully encoded the original set of documents, plus an additional thirty-three documents, into TEI XML.

Example of St. Louis Circuit Court Citation
Figure 1: Example of St. Louis Circuit Court Citation

With the new collection, users can now search the complete case history for Dred Scott, view images of the original documents, and trace not only what the attorneys involved did in preparation for hearings/trials, but also what happened in the courtroom. From the original "Petition for Leave to Sue for Freedom" on April 6, 1846, to the extensive opinion of the United States Supreme Court of March 6, 1857, to the emancipation of the Scott family on May 26, 1857, this collection now documents the case history of the Dred Scott and his family as completely as the archival materials will allow.
Back to Top

About the Documents and Encoding Process

Over the summer of 2007, the collection expanded from eighty-five to one hundred and eleven documents. The collection now includes the original materials, which upon closer inspection actually formed seventy-eight complete documents, plus thirty-three additional documents. For a detailed listing of the original and new case files please download this PDF.

The original set of documents were mostly made up of pretrial materials drafted by attorneys (motions, depositions, etc.), court forms (summons and subpoenas) filed by the Saint Louis Circuit Court Clerk, and a few court orders signed by various judges; however, these materials did not make up the "official court record" of the Dred Scott case. As of the summer of 2007, in collaboration with Michael Everman, Supervising Archivist at the Missouri State Archives-St. Louis, DLS identified, digitized, and marked up an additional thirty-three documents. These new documents included new St. Louis Circuit Court documents, documents from the Supreme Court of the State of Missouri, and the U.S. Supreme Court; creating a proper, legal case history for the Dred Scott case.

A brief example of what these additional materials are and how they relate to the original documents is perhaps necessary. When Irene Emerson’s attorney, George W. Goode, responded to the Scotts’ charges of false imprisonment by drafting a plea of not guilty for the court, the document was received by the court clerk John Ruland, who, in turn, entered into Saint Louis Circuit Court Record that a plea was filed on November 19, 1846. The earlier version of this collection only contained the two pleas drafted by Goode, but not the official court record/entry found at 17 St. Louis Circuit Court Record 357.

While expanding the collection and converting the documents from HTML to XML represented a significant improvement to the resource, and modeling them through the TEI guidelines allowed for a more accurate electronic representation of the texts, we found the TEI was limited in its ability to reflect the structure of legal documents specifically. DLS therefore adapted the TEI to this purpose, to account for certain characteristics seen in legal documents. While there certainly are instances of legal texts marked up in TEI, to our knowledge there have been no efforts to adapt TEI to reflect the structure of legal documents in this way.

In addition, since we did not have access to public, non-copyrighted DTD’s for encoding legal documents (proprietary legal databases’ DTD’s are inaccessible), and the TEI guidelines do not account for encoding the structure and other characteristics of legal documents, DLS created legal-specific tags for the project’s documents. They were created to comply with TEI standards, as well as the standard field names used for searching legal documents in leading legal databases used by attorneys. Below are examples of how DLS adapted the TEI guidelines for this collection, however please note that the current online collection does not capitalize on how we adapted the TEI as outlined below; DLS is working on adding increased functionality in the months to come:

Encoding the Structure of legal documents using <div> tags:
<div1> should follow the <body> element; the "type=" attribute should be included to describe what kind of legal document the text is. For example, <div1 type="notice of deposition">.
<div2> should be used to delineate the various subsections of the legal document. These subsections may include "certificate of service," "notarization," "majority opinion," "concurring opinion," or "dissenting opinion." Again, the information contained in the "type=" attribute should follow the standards of the legal profession. For example, <div2 type="certificate of service">.

Encoding multiple dates:
Court documents frequently have more than one date associated with them. A document may be written on one day, filed with the clerk of court on another date, and heard by judge on yet another date. The <date> element as defined by TEI permits the attribute "id="; however, local practice requires ids be unique; thus, "decided date" or "date of service" cannot be used. Consequently, DLS added the attribute "type=" to the <date> element. For example, <date value="1847-05-07" type="date_of_service">May 7, 1847</date>.

The tags created for encoding legal documents include the following:

Elements Created for Legal Documents


<attyName> Legal databases allow users to search by counsel; this element was added and should be used anytime an attorney is named.

<attyName reg="Charles D. Drake">C.D. Drake</attyName>

<caseNo> Legal databases allow users to search by case or docket number, this element should be used anytime a case or docket number is included.

<caseNo><abbr expan="Number">No</abbr> 20</caseNo>

<citation> Legal databases search by citation in the volume, reporter, and page (VRP) format. Because pre-existing TEI elements for citations, <cit> and <bibl>, do not permit this type of encoding, this element was created. It has attributes to store volume ("vol"), reporter ("rept"), and page ("page"). The "rept" attribute should contain the reporter's standard Blue Book abbreviation. The "reg" attribute should be used to provide the full citation with no abbreviations.

<citation vol="60" rept="U.S." page="393" reg="60 United States Reports 393">60 U.S. 393</citation>

<court> Legal databases allow users to search by jurisdiction; this element was added and should be used anytime a court is named. If there is an abbreviation of the court (i.e. Mo Sct.), the "reg" attribute can be used to expand it (Missouri Supreme Court).

<court reg="Saint Louis Circuit Court">St. Louis Circuit Court</court>

<courtDocAuthor> Court documents almost always have more than one "author," each playing a specified role (court, attorney, notary, witness, etc.); Used with same attributes as the <editor>, thus enabling us to specify the role using the "role" attribute.

<courtDocAuthor role="court">St. Louis Circuit Court</courtDocAuthor>
 <courtDocAuthor role="attorney">Charles D. Drake</courtDocAuthor>
<courtDocAuthor role="deputy">G. M. Goode</courtDocAuthor>

<judge> Legal databases allow users to search by judge's name; this element was added and should be used anytime a judge is named.

<p> To the Hon. <judge>John M. Krum</judge>, Judge of the <court>St. Louis Circuit Court.</court></p>

<partyName> Legal databases allow users to search by party name; this element should be used anytime a party to the present case is named.

<partyName>Dred Scott</partyName>, a man of color, respectfully states …

<starP/> Court cases frequently appear in more than one legal reporter, each of which has its own pagination. Star pagination or "star paging" is the legal publishing standard for recording and distinguishing between the various paginations. The page number is preceded by one or more asterisks ("*") which correspond to the citation order listed in the case heading. This order is hierarchical and begins with the proper official citation (the one used in legal briefs for citing precedent).
This element, like the <citation> element allows for the recording of VRP in its attributes. It also has the "n=" attribute, which will likely be the information displayed. It should conform to the examples provided above. Example: <starP vol="60" rept="U.S." page="393" n="[*393]"/>

The Dred Scott case has the following citations associated with it Scott v. Sanford 60 U.S. 393; 15 L. Ed. 691; 19 HOW 393. In star pagination, 60 U.S. 393 is the official citation and page markers in the case would appear [*394]. Pagination for 15 L. Ed. 691 (15 U.S. Supreme Court Decisions, Lawyers’ Edition 691) would appear as [**692] and the pages from 19 HOW 393 (19 Howard's Reports 393) would appear [***394].

Back to Top

About the Digitization Process

The transcription and digitization of the original set of Dred Scott documents was completed prior to the creation of Digital Library Services. The original Dred Scott project team outlined digitization standards for the project. The original eighty-seven documents were encapsulated in mylar, which was not removed during the scanning process. Scanning was done on an Agfa DuoScan XL flatbed scanner with a scanning surface of 11 by 17 inches. Images were captured at the scanners' highest optical resolution, 1000 ppi. Images were then saved as TIFF files on CDs and lower resolution JPEG files and thumbnails were used for display on the website. These specifications were documented for inclusion in catalog records and administrative metadata.

With the inception of DLS, the new unit assumed the role of revisiting and delivering this significant project. After thirty-three additional documents in the collection were identified, DLS began digitizing and transcribing these supplementary materials, and developed a new set of digitization standards in accordance with the benchmark presented by the Digital Library Federation, revised January 25, 2002. This benchmark indicates that digital reproductions should reflect the original "quality of the image (including its tonality and color), and the ability to reproduce pages in their correct (that is their original) sequence."1 The DLF recommends the following minimum standards for color digital reproduction:

New documents in the collection were provided by the Missouri State Archives, Washington University's Law Library and the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries. Since the material from the Missouri State Archives was fragile and oversized, it was photographed in the Special Collections unit, in July and August of 2007. Using a mounted Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT/EOS 350D and spot lights, the materials were photographed in color, and the images were saved as camera RAW files for preservation. The files were then saved as archival, uncompressed TIFFs. Some image correction was performed with Adobe Photoshop, namely lightening and increasing the contrast to make the documents more legible. An effort was made to preserve the original quality of the material, including color and size. Access images were saved in a lossless format, JP2s (jpeg 2000), for delivery.

In September 2007, DLS was provided two books by the Law Library and the department of Special Collections for scanning. These books contained records from the St. Louis Circuit Court and the United States Supreme Court and were in sufficient condition to be scanned. The pages were scanned in RGB 24 bit color at 600 dpi resolution with an Epson GT 2500 11 by 17 inch flatbed scanner. The images were saved as archival TIFFs and as JP2s for delivery. Very minimal image correction was done on these images, including some cropping and lightening.

Transcriptions of the additional documents were completed by the Missouri State Archives prior to digital imaging.

Once presented as a static website, the Dred Scott case is now available in DLXS, which allows users to view the collection as text or page images and perform full text searches.
Back to Top

1 Benchmark for digital reproductions of monographs and serials as endorsed by the DLF