Digital Modelling of Western State Constitutional Conventions by Undergraduates: Extending the Quill Project

Award of NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grant for Utah Valley University 

Collaboration with Oxford University Digital Humanities Project

The Center for Constitutional Studies and Director Rodney K. Smith at Utah Valley University have received a highly sought-after NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grant to extend their ground-breaking work on the history of constitution-writing in the American West in partnership with Dr Nicholas Cole and the Quill Project at Pembroke College, Oxford.

The three-year grant will expand the team of undergraduate researchers who are employed to work at the Center and enable them to explore the creation of three states in the western United States. Using the methodologies and software developed at Pembroke College by the Quill Project, and building on the experience gained by the project’s study of the 1895 Salt Lake Constitutional Convention, this new phase of research will greatly expand understanding of state-formation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and will be of immediate benefit to researchers, educators, and law makers.

Each of the 50 states that compose the United States is governed by its own constitution, which defines the basic rights of citizens and fundamental policy questions. These constitutions draw heavily upon each other, but feature significant variation, and the negotiations that created them were typically more complicated than those that created the more famous 1787 Constitution that created the Federal Government of the United States. Unlike the Federal Convention, the records of the state constitutional conventions have been little studied and analysed.

This grant will allow students to conduct the work of exploring the official and unofficial archives of three additional states, modelling the work of their state constitutional conventions within the research platform developed by the Quill Project (

Dr Nicholas Cole, Senior Research Fellow at Pembroke College, said: ‘This work will enable us to study the complex web of influences that helped to form the states of the American West. It is an important addition to our portfolio of research projects. The National Endowment for the Humanities has recognized both the intrinsic value of this research, and the opportunities that it provides students to deepen their understanding of archival research and the latest digital techniques. The collaboration of Pembroke College with institutions like UVU enables research to take advantage of the expertise and resources of two very different institutions, and is a model of successful, transatlantic cooperation. This ambitious project is only possible because of the support that the Quill Project continues to receive from its donors, whose generosity allows us to continue to develop the research platform that UVU will be using.’

Utah Valley University is an 'open-enrolment' university with a diverse student population of 40,000, many of them mature and first-generation students. This award is the first major institutional grant made by the NEH to UVU. The NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grants are highly sought after, and the programme has a success rate of less than 15%. Unusually, UVU was awarded the maximum possible award for this project on Constitution Writing in the American West—a further strong endorsement from the reviewers.