Project Editors

Colleen Bailey
Trey Conatser
Hayley Harlow
Katie Kirk
Elle Kowal
Stephanie McCormick

about the edition

Letters from Devastation: Mary Breckinridge in the Aisne, 1919 is a digital scholarly edition of selected correspondence from the University of Kentucky Libraries Special Collections Research Center's Frontier Nursing Service records, 1789-1985. Founder of the Frontier Nursing Service and pioneer of nurse-midwifery in the United States, Mary Breckinridge made a significant impact on public health and social justice in Appalachia. Before the founding of the Service and the University that continues her legacy, however, she traveled to rural France in the immediate aftermath of World War I to work for the American Committee for Devastated France. Caring for infants, children, and mothers on the brink of starvation and poverty in the wake of destruction and occupation, Breckinridge began to practice the public health outreach that she would eventually implement as the first of its kind in the United States.

From the letters, mostly to her mother, we encounter a year of contradictions: artillery shells repurposed as flower pots, soirees not far from battlefields, a political culture shifting away from its radical past. We also encounter the drama of the day-to-day life of a war-torn region: emergency midnight calls, families with ailing infants, workers displaced by POW labor, the joyful arrival of goats for families in need. The edition presents a dramatic, surprising view into a lived experience that led to a significant development in the histories of Kentucky, nursing, and public health in Appalachia.

Text Encoding

The selected letters were transcribed and encoded in extensible markup language (XML) following the P5 Guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). Transcriptional markup focused on the documentary state of the typewritten letters (e.g., deletions, emendations, additions) while contextual markup identified named or referenced entities (e.g., people, places, organizations) and pointed to explanatory annotations (e.g., biographical, historical, contextual, linguistic). The XML corpus file was composed using the <oXygen/> XML Editor and versioning control was managed through RiouxSVN. The XML file was transformed into these HTML-based pages using extensible stylesheet transformations (XSLT) in <oXygen/>. The XML corpus file may be downloaded here.

Pedagogical Context

The edition was transcribed, encoded, researched, and designed collaboratively as part of Honors 301-004, Critical Editing and Publishing in the Digital Humanities, a Spring 2018 seminar in the University of Kentucky's Lewis Honors College. The course was an essay in student-centered, collaborative, and project-based learning in the digital humanities. Deliberations and decisions were made collectively by the group, and the workload was distributed among the students and instructor. Class meetings were used as collabortive work opportunities to troubleshoot, code sprint, coordinate research, and explore theoretical and practical issues in text encoding and the digital humanities.


Collaboration is a hallmark (and a necessity) of digital humanities projects. The editors would like to express their gratitude for the invaluable guidance of the faculty and staff of the University of Kentucky Libraries, especially Jamie Marie Burton, Jennifer Hootman, and the researchers and archivists in the Special Collections Research Center. Their scholarship, teaching, and service for the University and the Commonwealth cannot be underestimated.


This is an open-access edition licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. The work may be cited, reproduced, remixed, referenced, etc., as long as all editors are credited as the original content creators and a link is provided back to the edition in its original form (i.e., this site). If it is possible, please cite all editors by name as opposed to an "et. al." format. The edition was originally released on April 24, 2018 in Lexington, Kentucky.