Louis Gallo enjoys the look, feel and smell of history.
An American Studies graduate student at Youngstown State University, Gallo, 26, formerly of Chester, began discovering the wonders of historical letters while taking a course in historical editing in the spring of 2012.
The class introduced him to the prominent Sutliff family of Warren, Ohio, and the Sutliff Family Museum, which houses the family's letters, papers and artifacts from the antebellum period. Gallo is now working as a graduate assistant at the museum on a project to digitize and transcribe all the family's papers, many of which have to do with the family's involvement in the anti-slavery movement prior to the Civil War.
"The majority of them have never been recorded or used by scholars. ... It's pretty much a treasure trove of letters that have never been looked at," said Gallo, who earned his bachelor's degree in history from West Liberty University. "You don't get that many chances to record 170-year-old letters for the first time."
Now, Gallo's work on the Sutliff family papers has earned him recognition by the Association for Documentary Editing (ADE), an organization for scholars who edit the papers of famous Americans. The association singled out Gallo's poster presentation for praise at its 2013 annual meeting in Ann Arbor, Mich., in July.
Gallo was the only graduate student to present at the poster session, and his poster is featured on the ADE's website: www.DocumentaryEditing.org.
The poster, titled "The Personal Side of Editing: The Sutliff Family Papers," outlines Gallo's graduate research project and details the historical significance of the Sutliff papers - especially the correspondence between Flavel Sutliff and Ohio Congressman Joshua Giddings.
Sutliff and Giddings were friends, law partners and prominent abolitionists, Gallo said. Their correspondence touched on family matters, politics, court cases, Giddings' anti-slavery tactics in the House of Representatives, even Sutliff's poor penmanship, he said.
Gallo stumbled on the men's correspondence while working on the museum's digitizing project and decided to turn it into his master's project. He expects to graduate with a master's in American Studies in December.
"This was my opportunity to analyze Giddings' early political motives and understand how he approached opposing slavery in the chambers of the House of Representatives," Gallo said in an interview with the ADE.
For his project, Gallo plans to digitize four to six of Giddings' letters from his first year in Congress (1838-1839) and post them to an interactive Web page. Digitizing involves scanning papers, creating PDF documents and putting them in a control file, he said.
"It protects the integrity of the original letters, and, at the same time, you can still research and study them," he said. "(The Internet) is a good medium for making scholarly research available to a larger audience."
A native of East Liverpool, Gallo grew up in Chester and Newell and still has family living in Hancock County. He graduated from Oak Glen High School in 2005.
Even with a history degree, Gallo said it wasn't until he started handling the real stuff of history - letters, land deeds, legal documents, receipts - that history became a passion for him.
"The process of digitizing the letters creates a personal connection with the author," Gallo told the ADE, "because not only do I get to read the author's most precious thoughts, but I get to see, feel and smell the medium in which it was written."
It will be up to future researchers to transcribe and annotate the letters, Gallo said.