The Rundown

Project Quincy is a Ruby on Rails application with a MySQL database that uses information about people, places, and organizations to trace how social networks and institutions develop over time and through space. It is named in honor of John Quincy Adams (1767-1848).

Along with the migrations to create the database, I will also be releasing loading scripts and methods for exporting data keyed to various visualization techniques (Google Earth, relational browsers, hypertrees, and the like).

If you become curious about this strange historian/ programmer who loves John Quincy Adams (a.k.a. me) feel free to check out my website at

The Design

Project Quincy is being created by a historian for historians (or at least those interested in the long ago and conceivably far, far away). The database exists to connect people with other people at a particular time, in a particular place, and for a particular reason, allowing the user to map networks of correspondence, the growth (or decay) of organizations, kinship, patronage, and early institutional development.

Project Quincy has six (more or less) interconnecting modules, each to track a different type of information/network: biography (profession, personal relationships, and residences), organizations (membership and organization history), correspondence (letters), assignments (connecting a person, a job, and a place for a specific period of time), locations, and citations.

The Origin

Project Quincy comes out of three digital humanities projects I have worked on at the University of Virginia.

In the summer of 2007 I was hired by the Dolley Madison Digital Edition to do something with the over 100 extant invitations sent or received by Dolley Madison during her widowhood years in Washington, D.C. Individually the invitations weren't that exciting, but connected in a relational data structure they could reveal the social elite of Washington, D.C. in the 1830s and 1840s.

As I mapped out the relationships between people, places, and organizations I realized that a similar database could be very useful in my dissertation on the early history of the U.S. Foreign Service. While I was beginning to design the The Early American Foreign Service Database, I was hired to design another database for Documents Compass's People of the Founding Era: A Prosopographical Approach. Delving into all the ways a person can interact with their world deepened my designs for the Dolley Madison Social Events Database and the Early American Foreign Service Database.

At some point I realized that I wasn't designing three separate databases, but rather one generalizable and extensible database that could be modified to fit a wide range of subjects. Project Quincy was born.

The Man

Why, you might ask, is this project named in honor of John Quincy Adams?

The short answer is: I'm a diplomatic historian.

The somewhat longer answer is: As I began designing the Early American Foreign Service Database, John Quincy Adams kept popping up all over the place -- translator for Francis Dana's mission to Russia, Minister to the Netherlands, Minister to Prussia, Minister to Russia, Head Negotiator for the Treaty of Ghent (ended the War of 1812), Minister to Great Britain, Secretary of State, not to mention all the letters sent and received, plus his time in the Senate, as President, and in Congress. An extremely organized and methodical man, I think Adams would have loved databases . . . provided you could keep him from dissecting the computer to figure out why the screen glowed.

The really long answer is: my dissertation (all 300+ pages of it).