The Charles W. Chesnutt Archive has deep roots and has benefited from relationships and projects developed over decades. It was created in 1997 by Stephanie P. Browner and her students at Berea College as part of an undergraduate course on Chesnutt and HTML encoding. In addition to student work (removed in 2004), the early version of the site, originally titled The Charles Chesnutt Digital Archive, included digital versions of published works by Chesnutt (some sourced from other electronic collections and some newly created), and a small sampling of material from the Charles W. Chesnutt Collection in the Special Collections at Fisk University's John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library, imaged and transcribed during a class trip to Nashville, TN. Material was added over the next two decades, including almost three hundred contemporary reviews, collected by Mike Freiermuth, who visited libraries across the country to find and scan contemporary reviews of Chesnutt's works.
The site has had periodic redesigns with help from Berea College students and IT staff, and in 2005 it was reviewed and accepted by NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship), an organization that offers peer review of digital projects and multifunctional search interfaces across approved sites. For the first twenty years of its existence, though widely known, cited, and indexed, the Charles Chesnutt Digital Archive was the project of a single scholar, but with help, contributions, and insights from literary scholars, digital humanists, and general readers. In 2008, for example, when the Archive needed updated metadata in order to join NINES, the staff at the Walt Whitman Archive provided assistance.
In 2018, with the support of a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant, the Charles Chesnutt Digital Archive moved to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Center for Digital Research in the Humanities (CDRH), and was re-branded as the Charles W. Chesnutt Archive. As part of the NEH grant project, nearly all the content of the old HTML site was converted to TEI-compliant XML, page images of the original publications were secured, and the transcriptions re-checked against these originals. Whenever possible these page images are now displayed alongside the text. Additionally, new content was added to the site, most significantly, transcriptions and images of Chesnutt's galley proofs of four full-length works, including emendations in Chesnutt's hand, allowing users to see this meticulous writer's revision process in action. The encoding schema and display of this new manuscript wing will serve as a template for the addition of further manuscript material in the future. Finally, the entire site was re-designed by CDRH digital development manager and designer Karin Dalziel, and features original artwork from Lincoln, Nebraska-based artist Kat Wiese.
Those who have provided critical help in the early days include Steve Gowler, Berea College; Stacie Brisker, Cleveland Public Library; the generous and enormously helpful Fisk University Reference Librarians who have served over the last twenty years, including Beth Howse, Chantel Clark, Aisha Johnson, and DeLisa Minor Harris; and the Dean of the John and Aurelia Hope Franklin Library at Fisk University, Dr. Jessie Carney Smith.