Valley of the Shadow

The Valley of the Shadow enables visitors to explore a critical part of the American past for themselves. The Valley project presents the complex historical record of the people of a northern community and a southern community, one in Pennsylvania and another in Virginia, both in the Great Valley that stretches across the Mason Dixon line, throughout the era of the American Civil War.

Franklin County and Augusta County, about 200 miles apart, shared a great deal but differed in two profound ways: the Virginia county was built around slavery and followed its state into secession, war, emancipation, and Reconstruction. The Pennsylvania county, bordering slavery and with a substantial free Black population, followed the path of the United States through the war and its consequences.

Visitors to the Valley can experience the hard choices that confronted all the people of these two counties. Through thousands of pages of newspapers, diaries, and letters, through census and military records, through photographs and maps, visitors can follow the drama as it unfolded day by day. The Valley traces history at the ground level, embracing the experiences of soldiers and civilians, men and women, Black people and white.

Millions of visitors have used the earlier versions of the Valley of the Shadow, still available in an archived version at the University of Virginia, where the project began.

The goal of this edition is to make the Valley of the Shadow appealing and accessible to new generations of visitors, who will bring their own approach to enduring questions in United States history: What caused the Civil War and what difference did it make? How did enslaved people navigate slavery, war, freedom, and enfranchisement? How do we remember these profound events?

Improved interfaces allow the project to be explored easily on devices with screens of different sizes. More powerful searching capacities permit the discovery of connections and patterns otherwise invisible, and new ways to save and share the results of research enrich the experience.

Some things have not changed: the project is still free, and all its sources and tools are available for others to build upon.

As part of New American History, the Valley of the Shadow shows us that history still holds surprises, challenges, and inspiration. It also demonstrates that the ways we approach and understand history can continue to develop.

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Background and Staff