Open Government Comes to the Department of State: The Office of the Historian’s Digital Publishing Revolution

Location: O'Neill (4th Floor) Level:
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Over two years ago, before “open government data” had even become a buzzword, digital historians in the Office of the Historian at the Department of State realized the public deserved greater access to the thousands of declassified documents the office was printing. Known as the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, the Office is responsible by law to research and publish documentary collections detailing foreign policy decision-making. The FRUS series is unique across the globe for the level of disclosure it provides of U.S. Government foreign policy formation. Yet, only a small group of academics and government officials know of its existence. The Digital History Initiatives Team in the Office determined to create a new digital publishing system that would allow the Office to easily digitally publish all of the volumes it authored.

Three key historians in the Office will describe the bureaucratic roadblocks, digital methodologies, and successes and failures we have experienced in our goal to open up government to its citizens.

Williams will begin the panel by laying out the goals of the digital conversion project, how this dovetails with current open government initiatives, and the bureaucratic struggles and successes.

Wicentowski will discuss the digital publishing platform that the Office designed—both how it streamlines workflow and how it harnesses the powers of the semantic web to make our documents web-searchable.

Chalou will complete the panel by discussing the document lifecycle and the cost-saving and time-saving measures that entity enrichment tools have added to our digital publishing platform.

Williams, Wicentowski, and Chalou will leave a good deal of time in their panel for questions and answers.

Stephanie Williams

Department of State

Stephanie Hurter Williams joined the Office of the Historian in 2007 as a historian/ digital history initiatives project manager in the Policy Studies Division where she manages the redesign of the Office of the Historian website and facilitates digitization of The Foreign Relations of the United States. Williams earned a B.A. in history from West Chester University graduating with highest honors (2002). She completed her M.A. in the interdisciplinary subject of new media and history under the direction of Rosemarie Zagarri and Roy Rosenzweig at George Mason University (2003). She is completing her doctorate at George Mason University where she has focused on politics and the press in the Early American Republic (expected 2009). Her dissertation, entitled, “Pressing their Voices: The Emergence of the Press and a Vocal Public in the State Ratification Conventions of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Rhode Island,” evaluates the growing influence the press had in restructuring the social and political roles in American society in the late eighteenth century. Ms. Williams has worked extensively in public history, managing the creation of multiple history-based websites at George Mason University’s award-winning Center for History and New Media. She has spoken extensively on utilizing new media to facilitate the teaching and spread of history and has been published in the Organization of American Historian’s Magazine of History.

Mandy Chalou

Department of State

Mandy A. Chalou joined the Office of the Historian at the U.S. Department of State in 2008 as a historian/editor in the Declassification and Publishing Division where she primarily edits volumes in the Foreign Relations of the United States series. She completed a B.A. degree in Humanities with concentrations in Literature and History from Bradford College in 1997, and received her M.A. in History from the University of New Hampshire in 2004. From May 2004 until February 2008 she held the position of Managing Editor at Historicus, Inc., a new media publishing company specializing in producing educational CD-ROMs, websites, and interactive activities designed to accompany high school and college-level textbooks and courses.

Joseph Wicentowski

Department of State

Joseph Wicentowski joined the Office of the Historian in 2007 as a historian in the Policy Studies Division, after receiving his Ph.D. in History from Harvard University, where he focused on the history of modern East Asia. He leads the technical development of the Office of the Historian’s new website (, as well as internal research tools and workflow management tools. He designed the new XML-based workflow for publishing the Foreign Relations of the United States series online (using the TEI schema) and created the office’s website using the eXist open source native XML database. He is actively engaged in the open government data, open source XML communities and continues to develop new content and new tools for historical research, teaching, and publishing.

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Brett Hopp
02/24/2010 10:00am EST

This session was, as a University Publisher, worth the entire cost of admission. The State Department representatives were very helpful and willing to talk in detail about the front end XML process they had created. It is no wonder this session went into double overtime.

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