A University of Tennessee historian has received $150,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to tackle the next major phase of editing the Andrew Jackson papers.
Dan Feller, UT history professor and director of the Jackson papers project, will direct the editing and publication of documents created during the eight years of Jackson’s presidency, 1829 to 1837.
“From a historian’s standpoint, we’re just getting to the good stuff,” Feller said. “Among all the so-called great presidents, he is the one about whom there is the deepest controversy.”
The papers in UT’s collections are photocopies of manuscripts the 19th century president received, wrote himself, or had written on his behalf.
The editing task involves choosing the papers that are most significant not only to the history of the man himself but also to the Jacksonian era. The papers are then transcribed, footnoted and indexed.
“We are doing this work on the presumption that it will still be useful 100 years from now,” Feller said. “We’re being very painstaking so that we don’t let errors slip into the volume.”
UT historian Harold Moser, who retired as editor of the papers in December, recently published Volume 6, which covers 1825 to 1828, including Jackson’s campaign for the presidency.
UT began the Jackson papers project in 1971. It has received support from the NEH and the National Historical Publications and Records Administration, an agency attached to the National Archives.
Feller was a junior editor of the Jackson papers in the mid-1980s, when they were housed at the Hermitage in Nashville, Jackson’s plantation home. He has since become a leading Jacksonian-era scholar who taught until last year at the University of New Mexico.
His studies have been motivated by the heated debate that continues to surround the Tennessean, the seventh president and the first elected from west of the Appalachian Mountains.
“To some he was a great man and a great democrat, to others he was a very evil person. Mention Jackson these days and most people immediately think of the Trail of Tears,” said Feller, referring to the forcible removal of the Cherokees from North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee to Oklahoma in the 1830s.
“Fifty years ago that was not so.
“Our perceptions of Jackson mirror our current concerns,” he said. “You can almost track what’s important to us now by what we think of Jackson.”