Digital Archives Update June 2020

The digitization of our collection of 19th century Sandy Spring neighborhood store ledgers is near complete. Just shy of five-thousand pages, these sixteen volumes include records of the community’s first general store founded in Sandy Spring in 1819 by James P. Stabler and Caleb Bentley as well as ledgers from the Ashton (1870-1907) and Brookeville (1846-1854) general stores.

At first blush, these documents may seem like incomprehensible lists of gibberish and gobbledygook BUT if you spend a bit of time on any single page you’ll soon realize what treasure troves they really are.

Indeed, the study of early store ledgers can unlock enigmatic details of 19th-century life by providing quantitative insight on topics like consumer consumption, labor compensation, informal bartering economies, inequities in resource access, and early adoption of technologies. It’s enough to give even the most reluctant historian goosebumps!

Formerly of narrow interest to mostly economists, recently these old store ledgers are being recognized by anthropologists, historians, and other social scientists as valuable primary sources. Recent developments in transcribing this kind of structured text are also leading to exciting ways of visualizing the data held within.

We are delighted to contribute significantly to this growing bevy of material and look forward to forging partnerships in their use.

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The Archives Digitization Project has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.