On July 14, 2016, the Rosenzweig Center lost Ronald J. Martin, a longtime and valuable member of our team, to his struggle with cancer. Ron came to the Center in 2008 to serve join the team of scholars editing the Papers of the War Department, 1784-1800, and was integral to our work with the National Park Service on the history of the War of 1812. He was an enthusiastic partner in our work to share early American history with the public, and we mourn his passing.
Serving as PWD’s only full time staff person, Ron began as an assistant editor, but soon he moved into the role of Associate Editor. From that position, he worked with the assistant editors to complete the basic description (author, recipient, and date) of the full collection, more than 18,000 of the total 42,800 documents. Then, in 2010 he and the staff turned their attention to offering a more full description of a key subset of the collection. During the next three years, Ron shepherded the process of creating enhanced description, including people, places, and items mentioned and a general description of the document, for more than 27,000 items. Ron alone completed the description for more than 5,000 documents annually. In the end, the team exceed their description goals by 3,000 documents. As a result of this work, researchers, students, teachers, and members of the interested public have vastly improved access to the inner-workings of the early national federal government, to day-to-day correspondence on issues related to Native Americans, active military, veterans, and their families.
Beginning in 2010, Ron started to share his unparalleled knowledge of the PWD collections with the public through a series of blog posts. In the end, these short pieces covered the range of historical issues and events contained with in the collections. Ron wrote biographical sketches of key individuals, including Andrew Pickens, William Blount, Tobias Lear, and George Izard. He offered explanations for different kinds of documents, outlined important events in early national military history, and provided insight into the development of the Navy. Once RRCHNM began work on community sourcing the transcription of the Papers in March 2011, Ron carefully selected a set of documents that would be interesting candidates for public work. These documents included letters from Judith Sargent Murray, the Jay Treaty, materials on the beginning of the Quasi War, and orders for supplies related to muskets being manufactured by Eli Whitney—each one fascinating in its own way, and all reflective of different elements of the early national experience.
Upon the completion of the description for PWD, in 2013, Ron turned his attention to the War of 1812. Working with Christopher Hamner and Spencer Roberts, he created a significant amount of the historical content on the National Park Service’s website dedicated to the war’s bicentennial. The team for the 1812 work decided on content strategy that was more suited to the digital engagement habits of contemporary users, that stressed the cultural and social context of the war along with the more traditional materials on major military events, and that highlighted both contingency and diversity. Rather than presenting a series of longer essays that focus on key themes, the team developed 70 modules that users could explore by following their own interests and questions. “Voices” modules began with a quotation from a specific individual to offer users many human experiences and perspectives. “Moments” modules focused on a specific event to give users a sense of the key milestones of the conflict.”Perspectives” modules targeted the experiences of and impacts on the many diverse communities touched by the war. This approach allowed the team to present the history of the War of 1812 in new way while working within the constraints of the National Park Service’s technological infrastructure.
It was while he was finishing up his work on the War of 1812 that Ron fell ill. We at the Center have missed his kindness and generosity over the past year and a half, and we are deeply saddened at his death. Ron was so much more than a good historian—a Marine, a husband, a father, a champion hockey and football player—but, we knew him best through his hard work and his dedication to early American history. Given that commitment, Ron’s family has requested that memorial donations be made to RRCHNM. We will use those contributions to sustain our digital collections, including the Papers of the War Department project.