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UT has received a prestigious national grant to complete publication of the correspondence of James K. Polk, a Tennessean and the eleventh president of the United States.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded the James K. Polk Project, based in the Department of History, a $204,785 grant. So far, the project has released twelve volumes of Correspondence of James K. Polk, covering July 1817 to July 1847, halfway through his presidency. The UT Press publishes the volumes in hardcover and Newfound Press, the digital imprint of the UT Libraries, publishes them online. They can be read online free of charge.

The Polk project is among the 290 humanities projects and programs nationwide that will share $79 million in grants.

Michael David Cohen
Michael David Cohen

“This NEH grant will enable us to complete a major resource for Tennessee and US history,” said Michael David Cohen, a research associate professor of history and editor of the Polk project. “The letters, written by men and women from all walks of life, will allow people to explore the many issues on Americans’ minds in the years before the Civil War. These historical documents will be accessible in colleges, schools, and libraries and on any device connected to the Internet.”

The Polk project began in 1958 at Vanderbilt University and moved to UT in 1987. Cohen joined as assistant editor in 2009 and became editor in 2015.

The NEH award, part of its Scholarly Editions and Translations grant program, will support the project from 2016 to 2019. Through the grant, Cohen will complete the final two volumes in the series. Volume 13, due out next winter, will bring the series through the end of the Mexican-American War and the US acquisition of California and the Southwest. Volume 14 will cover the last year of Polk’s presidency and his brief retirement before his death in June 1849.

In addition to the war and national expansion, the last two volumes will include letters on topics such as the heated debate over slavery; diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Hawaii; Polk’s refusal to seek a second term; the installation of Washington, DC’s first gas lighting system; and the California gold rush. These volumes, like preceding ones, will feature annotations identifying all people and topics discussed in the letters.

Polk’s letters highlight the politics, diplomacy, science, and culture of the early nineteenth century. They also offer scholars, teachers, students, and history enthusiasts insight into one of the most consequential yet least known presidents. During his term (1845–49) the United States acquired all the land from Texas to the Pacific Northwest.

The Polk project also is supported by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the Tennessee Historical Commission. Read more about it online or follow the Twitter account.



Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,

Michael Cohen (865-974-2069,