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Spanning More than a Century, Letters Shed Light on Physicians’ Lives in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley

Caspar Henkel

The History of Medicine Division's Archives and Modern Manuscripts Program (AMMP) is pleased to announce the launch of a new digital texts site "Physicians' Lives in the Shenandoah Valley," a collection of 828 letters dating between 1786-1907. It is drawn from the Henkel Family Letters collection covering more than a century of life in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.

The Henkel family settled in New Market, Virginia in 1790. Generations of fathers and sons studied medicine. Over the course of their careers, these physicians ministered to their community, tended to their countrymen on the battlefield, and testified in the nation's courts of law.  The letters of the Henkel family richly document the daily life of men in medicine in the nineteenth century and reveal the challenges of the profession as well as the rewards and responsibilities. Their writings colorfully represent the range of events in everyday life, from the minute details of local issues to the national crisis of the Civil War. The missives convey the concerns and characters of the authors, vividly illustrating the writers' personalities, and their experiences as physicians.

For instance in a letter to Caspar C. Henkel from childhood friend Benjamin F. Graves dated August 28, 1861 while encamped on the Greenbriar River, Benjamin marveled at the sublime beauty of his surroundings as he prayed "for our final deliverance from the hands of our enemy, that is now polluting the soil of Western Virginia with their unhallowed feet."

The site contains the complete collection of transcribed letters alongside images of the originals. Curators normalized the majority of place names, general subject terms, and MeSH terms (Medical Subject Headings) to aid searching and browsing. The original spellings are enhanced by pop-up window links that display the normalized phrase. All spellings and verbiage are those of the original writers; no editorial interventions were made, although some layouts differ to enhance readability.

This site marks AMMP's first XML encoded text collection using the DLXS software. The encoded texts conform to the TEI Level 4 (Text Encoding Initiative) specifications, a markup language developed for encoding humanities texts.

Project Conception, Transcriptions/Scanning, Content Development: Jim Labosier

Technical Coordinator, Site Design, and Development: John Rees