Topic: Documentary editing

What I Learned from Camp Edit: A Glimpse into the Practice of Documentary Editing

By Katie Blizzard, Communications Specialist
July 25, 2018

In June of this year, two of my Washington Papers colleagues (Kim Curtis and Dana Stefanelli) and I attended the Institute for the Editing of Historical Documents (IEHD), sometimes affectionately referred to as Camp Edit. The five-day workshop, held each year prior to the Association for Documentary Editing (ADE) conference, introduces new editors to a mix of technologies and strategies for creating a scholarly edition. And so, in an effort to provide a glimpse into documentary editing, I would like to share what I learned at Camp Edit.

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Confronting the Complexities of Digital Publication: A Glimpse into the ADE Seminar on Critical Issues

By Katie Blizzard, Communications Specialist
June 11, 2018

In late June, numerous textual-editing scholars will travel to Olympia, Washington, to attend the Association for Documentary Editing (ADE) Annual Meeting. The three-day conference will allow these scholars to discuss the practices and challenges of editing historical documents. For the past few years, the National Historic Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), through their grant-funded support of a seminar held during the conference, has encouraged attendees to identify and address the obstacles that prevent documentary editing from being fully accessible and sustainable. The commission’s sponsorship enables cross-disciplinary scholars to contribute to a meaningful dialogue about the critical issues facing the field.

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Revolutionary War Series, Volume 26: An Interview with the Editors

By Katie Blizzard, Communications Specialist
March 9, 2018

Neither associate editor Benjamin L. Huggins nor assistant editor Adrina Garbooshian-Huggins could have anticipated the complexities involved in editing The Papers of George Washington’s Revolutionary War Series, volume 26. One such difficulty concerned the content of the documents, which included the communication of misleading or even false intelligence. And so, in anticipation of the volume’s publication later this year, I sat down with both editors—who collaborated on the volume—to examine the work behind the next installment of the series.

When Adrina began work on Revolutionary War Series, volume 26, which covers mid-May through early July 1780, she had hoped to call upon past experiences for insight into the material. Armed with a doctorate in French literature—specifically on the evolution of the enlightenments occurring in France, Britain, and the American colonies—Adrina had a strong understanding of the sociopolitical environment out of which the revolutionary ideals grew. Moreover, her experiences as an editor at The Papers of Benjamin Franklin—particularly on his papers during the year 1783—and as a project indexer for The Papers of George Washington had familiarized her with the events, people, and themes of the war. Despite such an informed contextual understanding, Adrina still found the volume 26 material challenging.

Co-editor Benjamin, who has long studied military history, encountered the same issue: the vocabulary from Washington’s Revolutionary War-era papers was obscure and particular. When editing past volumes in the series, for example, he had to learn how to discern between usage of the term “corps” in describing units of varying size.

Supplementary reading thus proved crucial to understanding the material. According to Adrina, she strove to learn more about those people, events, and terms with which she was less familiar and “looked into as many sources as possible until the job was done.” Obviously passionate about her work, Adrina poured over several primary and secondary sources in her free time in order to transcribe and annotate one of the most significant events for her portion of the volume: the surrender of Charleston, South Carolina.

Regardless of these efforts, certain documents took a considerable amount of time to annotate. For example, letters from Major General Robert Howe, which often included multiple items of intelligence, required research on each piece of news in order to contextualize and verify the information. Some of these rumors, Adrina found, could be corroborated by diaries from officers. Others could not be verified as the information was second- or third-hand, making it difficult to trace back to the original source. Occasionally, research confirmed that the intelligence was erroneous. In those instances, Adrina provided additional information as to why the intelligence had been shared with General Washington. And if all this does not sound difficult enough, Howe misspelled many of the names of individuals mentioned within these intelligences, adding an additional step to the verification process!

Faced with these cumbersome tasks, Benjamin and Adrina divided up the work by each assuming responsibility for the letters from one of the two months to be included in the volume. This required coordination of all research and annotation to ensure volume cohesion and to reduce repetition. Such logistics became particularly useful when Benjamin began writing editorial notes on the two battles that occurred in June 1780: Connecticut Farms and Springfield. In addition to working with Adrina to gather information from her half of the volume, Benjamin widened his scope of research beyond the documents and events included in the volume in order to get a broad perspective of the topics in question. According to Benjamin, he enjoyed writing these notes because they allowed him to use sources or extended quotes that typically would not be included in regular annotations. As a result, he could add commentary, such as “following this battle, the British never attempted an invasion of New Jersey again.”

Benjamin pointed out that preparing these documents for publication was rigorous and unforgiving. “It’s a complex endeavor,” he said. “The pace you have to maintain is probably even more so than a presidential volume. There’s more letters per day, and they’re sometimes very long.” Indeed, despite having only 19 days’ worth of letters, Adrina’s half of the volume alone included more than 200 documents. This is because some of those days had up to 10 letters, all of which she had to transcribe and annotate. Unfortunately, this intense production schedule was further complicated by unforeseen obstacles outside of the control of the editors, such as reduction in time allotted for editing as well as a delay in review of their volume.

Nevertheless, Benjamin and Adrina remained graceful under pressure. As Revolutionary War Series, volume 26 is slated for publication later this year, assistant editor Adrina Garbooshian-Huggins reflected on her experience: “Documentary editing is a lot like other things—the more you do it, you improve. I want to continue to improve and grow as an editor, [and] working on that volume did help me to grow, learn, and improve.…I’m grateful I had the opportunity to work on it.”

 

The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series, volume 26 will be published by the University of Virginia Press in late 2018. To learn more about the volume in the meantime, read a summary of the volume and see the editors’ volume dedication.

Loose Ends: George Washington and “Philip Langfit”

By Jeffrey L. Zvengrowski, Assistant Editor
January 26, 2018

When undertaking research, editors of The Papers of George Washington have occasionally discovered intriguing historical connections that are not included in the annotation. In some cases, the information is omitted because connections cannot be definitively tied together and therefore lack sufficient certitude to warrant inclusion.

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“To enchain syllables, and to lash the wind”: An Introduction to Style Guides

By Jane Haxby, Copy Editor
October 13, 2017

The first ever Washington Papers style guide. Image provided by author.

When I tell people that I am a copy editor at The Washington Papers, most are horrified: “You edit George Washington?!” When I explain that The Washington Papers is a documentary editing project, they are even more confused: “You make movies?”

Eventually, I get around to describing what I really do. Copyediting is what I imagine most people think of as editing: correcting grammar, syntax, and spelling; clarifying meaning; and checking for consistency of style and formatting. I do not, I promise, change Washington’s words. Our volume editors carefully and accurately transcribe his letters and documents (hence, “documentary editing”) and then annotate them, researching and explaining all references to people, places, and events so that readers can understand what Washington and his correspondents wrote. It is primarily this annotation that I copyedit.

When I arrived at The Washington Papers, my first task was to read through our in-house style guide. Readers may be familiar with the Chicago Manual of Style, or with MLA or AP style. These guides independently address a plethora of questions ranging from how to hyphenate and capitalize, to the correct use of pronouns (yes, Chicago now sanctions the singular “they”1), to how to cite virtually any source imaginable. Many of us were taught that there is only one right way to do these things. I remember learning in grade school that in a list of three or more items, I should not separate the last two with a comma, and that when typing, I should follow every period with two spaces. The latter rule is a relic of the typewriter age and has been superseded, one of many examples of how written (not to mention spoken) language evolves. The former is still followed by some style guides but not by others,2 indicating that language rules are not universal even at any one moment. This is why The Washington Papers has a style guide.

In the few years I have been with The Washington Papers, we have added to our in-house style guide multiple rules that reflect recent discussions specific to our project. One of the challenges and joys of working on a multivolume documentary editing project is that each volume is part of a much larger edition. Once a style decision is made, we include the new rule in our style guide so that volume editors can apply it moving forward. This week, I am fixing what has been a somewhat haphazard approach to historic college names in past volumes—for example, Columbia University was “King’s College” until 1784, when it was renamed “Columbia College.” The fact that we haven’t been consistent in how we refer to this and similar institutions, even on a long-term project with careful scholars, simply shows the slipperiness of language. The question is not merely one of following rules, but of making the rules in order to follow them in the future.

Style guides, as we know them today, began about a century ago. The first Chicago Manual of Style was published in 1906, the same year as Henry Watson Fowler’s The King’s English. Only 20 years later came Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, which, now in its fourth edition, is still a mainstay of writers and publishers.3 These style guides, of course, build on even earlier publications. The author of a 16th-century proto-dictionary introduced his work as an “elementarie which entreateth chefelie of the right writing of our English tung.”4 In 1755, more than a century before the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Samuel Johnson published his Dictionary of the English Language. His preface reminds us of the mutability of language even while it introduces his attempt to impose stability on it:

Those who have been persuaded to think well of my design, require that it should fix our language, and put a stop to those alterations which time and chance have hitherto been suffered to make in it without opposition. With this consequence I will confess that I flattered myself for a while; but now begin to fear that I have indulged expectation which neither reason nor experience can justify. When we see men grow old and die at a certain time one after another, from century to century, we laugh at the elixir that promises to prolong life to a thousand years; and with equal justice may the lexicographer be derided, who being able to produce no example of a nation that has preserved their words and phrases from mutability, shall imagine that his dictionary can embalm his language, and secure it from corruption and decay, that it is in his power to change sublunary nature, or clear the world at once from folly, vanity, and affectation.

With this hope, however, academies have been instituted, to guard the avenues of their languages, to retain fugitives, and repulse intruders; but their vigilance and activity have hitherto been vain; sounds are too volatile and subtile for legal restraints; to enchain syllables, and to lash the wind, are equally the undertakings of pride, unwilling to measure its desires by its strength.5

Sadly, neither Johnson’s dictionary nor any style guide can clear the world of folly. But our in-house style guide does serve the larger purpose of documentary editing–conservation–which Johnson is simultaneously celebrating and lamenting the impossibility of here. We publish Washington’s papers to preserve his words and wisdom for any and all to read and use. Our in-house rules, as pedantic as they may sometimes appear, help stabilize our approach, making those words and their annotation as consistent and comprehensible as we “sublunary”6 mortals can make them.

 

Notes

  1. For a discussion of Chicago‘s recommended uses of “they” as a generic singular pronoun, see “CMOS Stop Talk” for April 3, 2017: http://cmosshoptalk.com/2017/04/03/chicago-style-for-the-singular-they/
  2. The absence of this comma can have real-world effects, as a Maine dairy company learned in March 2017. See Daniel Victor, “Lack of Oxford Comma Could Cost Maine Company Millions in Overtime Dispute,” New York Times for March 16, 2017, at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/16/us/oxford-comma-lawsuit.html?_r=0.
  3. For this edition, see http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199661350.001.0001/acref-9780199661350; for an entertaining review, see Jim Holt, “H. W. Fowler, the King of English,” New York Times Book Review for Dec. 10, 2009, at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/13/books/review/Holt-t.html. For the full 1908 edition, see http://www.bartleby.com/116/101.html.
  4. For the British Library note and images, see http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item126632.html.
  5. For the British Library note and images, see http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item126707.html. For a transcription of the full preface by Jack Lynch of Rutgers University, see https://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/preface.html.
  6. “Sublunary” literally means “beneath the moon,” or earthly. Johnson used it to connote impermanence, as in the third OED definition, “Characteristic of this world and its concerns; mundane; material; temporal, ephemeral.” The corresponding 1609 example following this OED entry illustrates it even better: “No pompe (how euer glorious) No ioy or pleasure, if sublunarie, But brings sacietie soone with their vse.”

 

Three Degrees to Washington: What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

by Kim Curtis, Research Editor
September 20, 2017

Miniature of Martha Parke Custis, as painted by Charles Willson Peale (1772). Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Throughout my childhood and young adulthood, I flirted with different answers to this ever-present question: teacher, pediatrician, school psychologist, child psychologist. Having earned a BA in psychology (and classics) from the University of Virginia in 2000, I settled on clinical psychologist, with the goal of teaching college students and treating patients. Since this required a PhD, I applied to several highly competitive doctoral programs but was rejected by all of them. What would have happened had I been accepted? For one thing, I would have missed becoming acquainted with George and Martha Washington.

It may seem like a reach for me to say that my psychology background and history, specifically of the founding era, go hand-in-hand. My father paved the way for me. For a graduate seminar in counseling, he wrote a psychoanalytic profile of Thomas Jefferson, in which he suggested that Jefferson’s fraught relationship with his mother led to his architectural fixation with domes! A field of academic scholarship with this approach actually exists: psychobiography analyzes the lives and psyches of historic figures. Psychobiographers Elizabeth Wirth Marvick, Jerome A. Winer, and James William Anderson took a psychoanalytic approach (like my father did) to profile Washington, Jefferson, and James Madison. Marvick, Winer, and Anderson concluded that Madison “most closely follows the model of the angry revolutionary striving to overcome his passivity toward the father and replace him with his own righteous authority.”1

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Rick Britton: Portrait of the (Map) Artist

by Jane Haxby, Copy Editor, and Kathryn Lebert, Communications Specialist
September 6, 2017

British Operations Against Charleston, S.C. (1780), as originally published in Revolutionary War Series, volume 24. Copyright of Rick Britton.

In Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard’s take on Hamlet, Rosencrantz tells Guildenstern that he doesn’t believe in England. Guildenstern shoots back, “Just a conspiracy of cartographers, you mean?”1

Here at The Washington Papers, we may not have the makings of a conspiracy, but—amazingly—we do have a cartographer. Historian, photographer, and tour guide, Rick Britton conspires with our editors to craft the maps that appear in our volumes.2 Perhaps more accurately described as, in his words, a “map illustrator,” Britton draws maps by hand using historical references and a list of landmarks compiled by the editors. He goes beyond simply including all the necessary elements, however: His maps are not only accurate and scholarly, but original works of art.

How does one become a historical map illustrator? For Britton, it began with an interest in history. As he tells it, when he was a teenager, he “just fell in love with the maps in the old history books, the maps the way they looked back then, the maps the way they were drawn during the Civil War and during the American Revolution.” He taught himself to enlarge maps using the same “grid method” artists have been using for centuries. This involves drawing a grid over an image and then proportionally reproducing that image by using a larger grid of equal ratio.3 He covered his bedroom walls with freehand reproductions of his favorite maps. And in the course of copying the maps he loved, he also learned how to draw the terrain symbols and other graphic design elements used by the cartographers of those periods.

Britton still revels in the details of historically accurate maps. For him, “it’s all about making it fit the period.” As with all true craftsmen, the joy he takes in the details of his art shines through. In the map of Virginia that will appear in the upcoming edition of George Washington’s Barbados diary, Britton drew icons for the buildings that were important in Washington’s youth, including his childhood home (now called Ferry Farm) and his later residence, Mount Vernon. To render these tiny images, he found depictions online of the buildings as they looked at the time, drew them, and then shrunk them (now using modern technology rather than his early training in the grid method). For the same upcoming volume, Britton mapped the route to Barbados that Washington recorded in his ship’s log, as recreated mathematically by editor Alicia K. Anderson. For that map, he departed from the border that he has made standard for The Washington Papers and drew a new one based on eighteenth-century nautical maps. He reflects that the period-specific border was “pretty complicated to draw, but it makes the whole thing fit.”

Northeast New Jersey (1780), as originally published in Revolutionary War Series, volume 25. Copyright of Rick Britton.

Skillfully using pencil and compass, Britton illuminates events for readers of presidential papers, including The Washington Papers, The Papers of James Madison, and The Papers of Thomas Jefferson; for students of the American Civil War and World Wars I and II; and even for players of a Tolkien-based game for which he hand-lettered maps of Middle Earth. Partly because his maps often depict places and scenarios that no longer exist—or that exist only in the imagination—Britton routinely cannot visit the sites he illustrates. But even when he is unable to see an area, his work offers a new perspective on it, not only for readers but for himself as well. In the course of his research into the Civil War battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, two Confederate forts whose captures opened major waterways to the Union army, Britton’s geographical fluency helped him to grasp the brilliance of General Ulysses S. Grant’s gunboat strategy. Grant knew that the Tennessee River, on which Fort Henry stood, and the Cumberland River, likewise guarded by Fort Donelson, flow north into the Ohio. “Of course, looking at the map I could see it!” Britton marvels. “Even though [the steam-paddle gunboats were] going south, they were going upriver to bombard the boats and the forts on the land. If they got in too much trouble—for example, if they were getting too much enemy fire—all they had to do was cut the engines and float away.”4

Britton is particularly interested in the minutiae of historical engagements and the unique ability of maps to convey those details. Two of Britton’s favorites among his own works are his illustrations of Northeast New Jersey and of British operations against Charleston, S.C., both in 1780 (published in Revolutionary War Series volumes 24 and 25, and reproduced here). He enjoys illustrating in such detail because “it makes it so much easier for the reader to understand exactly what happened.” On a deeper level, the historian within him values maps like these because such “small-unit actions” have been “largely overlooked, and it’s so important for us to honor those who fought, and suffered, and died on our behalf.”

Rick Britton advances the study of and joy in history in everything he does. He confesses that he loves “things the way they used to be.” The twin goals of documentary editing are scholarship and accessibility, helping a wider audience understand the past. Britton’s maps offer both, and the volumes of The Washington Papers that have the good fortune to include them are all the more beautiful for it.

 

Notes

  1. Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (New York, 1967), Act 3, p. 106.
  2. Find Rick Britton’s website at http://www.rickbritton.com.
  3. Find step-by-step instructions in the “grid” technique at https://sibleyfineart.com/tutorial–gridding-art.htm.
  4. For a summary of the battle of Fort Henry, see https://www.nps.gov/abpp/battles/tn001.htm. For an 1875 map showing the two forts and their respective rivers, see https://www.civilwar.org/learn/maps/positions-fort-henry-fort-donelson.

Interrogating the Text; How to Annotate a George Washington Document

by William M. Ferraro, Managing Editor
August 17, 2017

Moderating a panel on public engagement at the 2017 meeting of the Association for Documentary Editing, Washington Papers communications specialist Katie Lebert observed that content that explores the basic practices of documentary editing is often received favorably by and connects with a wide audience. Taking the cue from Katie, I devote this blog post to annotating documents that appear in The Papers of George Washington.

An editor working on elucidating a document for readers approaches this task by “interrogating the text” in order to determine which information is needed to comprehend it. The process begins by asking questions from the perspective of a reader. Who is mentioned? What is the purpose of the document? Are place references obscure? Does this document result in some action, especially an action involving Washington?

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Three Degrees to Washington: How “I Came, I Saw, I Conquered” Working at The Washington Papers

By Kim Curtis, Research Editor
July 7, 2017

Caesar Crossing the Rubicon, an illumination on vellum by Jean Fouquet (c. 15th century).

“Veni, vidi, vici.” Roman emperor Julius Caesar supposedly proclaimed this famous Latin phrase after a military victory. For centuries, young students of Latin have learned this quotation, which translates to “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Their history lessons presented another well-known general who crossed a river (Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC, and George Washington crossed the Delaware in 1776).1 But as one of those junior scholars of Latin, I didn’t think  I would explore the connections between these two worlds much further. I had never imagined I would grow up to be a research editor at The Washington Papers and use my background in classics every day on the job. 

I started learning Latin to satisfy my eighth-grade foreign language requirement. At the time, I wanted to be a pediatrician and thought Latin would help me with complicated medical terms. My teacher, a seemingly mild-mannered older woman, gave my class a list of common curse words in Latin, which unsurprisingly helped further stoke my interest. I took to learning the language fairly easily and continued studying it in high school (where I won sixth place on the Virginia Junior Classical League’s mythology test) and in the University of Virginia (UVA)’s Classics Department. At UVA, I also took a required year of ancient Greek (which I didn’t like as well as Latin) and classes in Greek and Roman culture, history, and mythology. I earned my BA in Classics in 2000.

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Who’s That Guy?: Identifying an Unnamed Individual from Washington’s Correspondence

by Adrina Garbooshian-Huggins, Assistant Editor
May 17, 2017

An engraving of Ezra Lee (1916), from The Story of the Submarine by Farnham Bishop.

Identifying individuals mentioned in George Washington’s correspondence often poses an exciting challenge for the editors at The Washington Papers. When the only clue you have is a title or occupation (e.g., “quartermaster,” “painter”), it can prove even more challenging. I came across an example of this when coediting the forthcoming volume 26 of The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, with Washington Papers associate editor Benjamin Huggins.

On May 13, 1780, Washington wrote to Jedediah Huntington (1743-1818),1 a Norwich, Conn., merchant who had been serving since May 1777 as a Continental brigadier general. In the letter, Washington advised that Brigadier General William Maxwell’s New Jersey brigade would soon relieve Huntington’s command. In addition, upon Maxwell’s arrival, Huntington was to march his Connecticut brigade, which had been on the army’s outpost lines since February 1780, to the army’s winter encampment at Jockey Hollow, southwest of Morristown, New Jersey. Washington further directed Huntington to “send up” his “Quarter Master” to prepare huts in the encampment for the reception of Huntington’s brigade.

In an effort to fully understand the document, I sought to identify the “Quarter Master” of Huntington’s brigade. I examined the muster rolls for the 1st Connecticut Regiment (which was part of Huntington’s brigade), and discovered that in the summer and fall of 1779, Ezra Lee (1749-1821), a lieutenant in that regiment, was listed on muster rolls as “Q.M.B.” and “B.Q.M.,” common abbreviations for brigade quartermaster.2 Lee’s position as brigade quartermaster also appeared on muster rolls for the entire year of 1780, indicating that he held the position when Washington penned his May 13, 1780, letter to Huntington.

When regimental and brigade quartermasters were on furlough, other officers sometimes would temporarily fulfill their duties. Due to such temporary reassignments, editors sometimes omit from annotation the identification of brigade majors and regimental quartermasters.

Prior to being named brigade quartermaster, Lee had been contributing to the war effort through military service since 1775. A native of Lyme, Conn., Lee served in Lieutenant Lee Lay’s company of Connecticut state troops in 1775 and entered the Continental ranks as a sergeant in January 1776. In the summer of that year, Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons chose Lee to operate David Bushnell’s famous submarine Turtle, aboard which Lee conducted tests and made an attempt against enemy vessels off Governors Island, New York.3 Lee later served as an ensign and then lieutenant in the 1st Connecticut Regiment, and in November 1778 was appointed that regiment’s quartermaster.  He transferred to the 5th Connecticut Regiment in 1781 and served as its paymaster before retiring from the army in June 1782.4

Notes

1. Draft, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, Library of Congress, George Washington’s Papers.

2. National Archives: Record Group 93, Compiled Revolutionary War Military Service Records, 1775–1783.

3. William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution, 11 vols. to date (Washington, D.C., 1964–), 6:736, 1499, 1507-11; The New-York Evening Post, Nov. 16, 1821.

4. GW to John Jay, Sept. 19-20, 1779, in The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, 22:458-59; Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1783, Rev. ed. (Washington, D.C., 1914), 345.