Topic: Documentary editing

Interrogating the Text; How to Annotate a George Washington Document

by William M. Ferraro, Managing Editor
August 17, 2o17

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?

To identify research directions and establish the contours of the eventual annotation, the editor first must determine whether the people, places, and facts in the document already have been covered editorially. People identifications and places mentioned in The Washington Papers’ Revolutionary War and Presidential Series can be located quickly through searchable authoritative files found on the “Washington Papers Resources” webpage, an internal online database through which editors and staff share resources and information. The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition‘s cumulative index and conversations with colleagues also help at this stage. Ascertaining what already is known and has been presented avoids redundant research and suggests potential cross-references.

Sources most useful in annotation are those closest to the document being edited. Thus, the most relevant and dynamic pieces of annotation are texts directly linked to the document. These can be enclosed letters or extracts from letters, intelligence reports, legislative resolutions, or military returns regarding troops, provisions, or equipment. Replies, particularly shorter replies that simply address the document, frequently function better as notes to the document that prompted their creation than as separate and distinct entries.

Work then moves outward to the large universe of primary sources that might shed light on the content of the document. The Papers of George Washington offices in the University of Virginia’s Alderman Library hold hundreds of these sources, including contemporary letters (manuscripts on microfilm and printed editions), diaries, journals, and governmental proceedings. Vast amounts of similar material can now be accessed through ancestry.com and fold3.com. Searchable newspaper and bibliographic databases offer ready access to an astounding amount of printed information from Washington’s lifetime. It is a challenge to avoid getting lost in this forest of source material! Contemporary writings and publications can suggest a rich array of research directions, but these can also lead editors far afield of the document. Editors must always keep the text in mind and maintain focus on answering the questions it raises.

A similar discipline must be practiced when writing annotation. Except for the occasional figure or place of relative obscurity or exceptional importance, people and places are identified in thumbnail sketches of two or three sentences that explain or suggest why they appear in that document. Quotes from manuscript documents or other primary sources are limited to the pertinent portions and introduced as plainly as possible (“In a dispatch written at New York City on 8 Nov., Hessian major Carl Leopold Baurmeister reported:”).1 Cross references further direct readers to pertinent information elsewhere in the volume or edition. (“For the instigation behind this general order, see Anthony Wayne to GW, 18 December.”)2 Rarely is it desirable to repeat information at any length.

Just as editors must resist the temptation to follow wide-ranging but not strictly pertinent research directions, we must limit—and generally avoid—free-ranging prose in the numbered notes tagged to a document. Such prose commentary can add bulk without value, cluttering the presentation and confusing readers. If research turns up sources—primary or secondary—with interesting content beyond the needs of establishing basic context, it might be included as a “see also” reference. The list of sources used while editing a volume is compiled in the “Short Title List” and becomes an enduring scholarly contribution.

As a documentary editor with more than 28 years of experience, I have condensed what I consider the ideal approach to annotation into a phrase: deploying bibliography to contextualize texts. The editor filters and structures sources—especially primary sources—to illuminate each document. Rather than interpret or narrate, the editor places, points, reports, and guides. In our case, the repetitive cycle of work is engrossing because it centers on an endlessly fascinating subject—George Washington.

Brig. Gen. Peter Muhlenberg

An excellent example of the annotation practices discussed here is the letter from Brig. Gen. Peter Muhlenberg to Washington, written at Fredericksburg, Va., on May 8, 1780. It appears in volume 25 of the Revolutionary War Series, which will be published soon by the University of Virginia Press.

One note offers brief quotes from his father’s diary on the travails of Muhlenberg’s family on the journey from Philadelphia to Virginia (travails which Muhlenberg kept from Washington). Several notes present lengthy quotations from enclosures Muhlenberg sent with his letter. A short note identifies Rocky Ridge, a place later named Manchester and eventually annexed to Richmond. Muhlenberg mentions to Washington that he has advertised for officers to assemble, and a note includes the text of his advertisement from an issue of The Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg). A passing allusion to “Parson Hurt at Charleston” triggered a note to identify John Hurt, who served as a chaplain for the Virginia troops. Most of that note points to a 19th-century book with a sermon he preached in 1777, a letter Hurt wrote Washington during his presidency, and a biographical sketch published in a little-known modern journal.

The 14 notes attached to this document are more than the usual number, but the complexity and length of Muhlenberg’s letter justifies such handling. Please look at it yourself when the volume appears in print and let me know if you agree!

 

Notes

  1. See Silvanus Seely to GW, 4 Nov. 1779, n.2, in The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series (Charlottesville, Va., 2015), 23:150-51.
  2. See General Orders, 20 Dec. 1779, n.1, in Papers, Revolutionary War Series, 23:656.

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.

Washington Crossing the Delaware, painted by Emmanuel Leutze (1851). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

At The Washington Papers, one of the more obvious benefits of a classics degree is that when I’m conducting research, I understand classical references that I may come across. For example, George Washington’s favorite play was Cato, a Tragedy, written by Joseph Addison in 1712.2 Cato tells the story of Roman senator Marcus Porcius Cato (95­–46 BC), who stood up to the tyranny of a dictator and believed passionately in republican ideals.3 Sound familiar? Inspired by Cato’s stand against Julius Caesar, Washington requested that Cato be performed for American troops at Valley Forge.4  It’s exciting when my worlds connect like that!

I’ve also used my knowledge of Latin to figure out unfamiliar words while proofreading document transcriptions for an upcoming volume of The Papers of George Washington: Presidential Series. In one instance, the volume editor had transcribed a word from a Washington letter as “supernumeracy.” I had never heard of that word. As I looked more closely at the word in the original document, I could see that the “c” was actually an “r,” and so the word was “supernumerary.”  I had never heard of this word either, but thanks to Latin, I now had some clues. In Latin, “super” means “above,” and “numerus” means “number” (as you probably guessed). So, put those two parts together, and you have literally “above the number.” I looked up “supernumerary” on the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)’s website, and sure enough, “supernumerary” meant “beyond or in excess of a usual, regular, stated, or prescribed number or amount; additional, extra, or left over.” According to the OED, the Latin word origin is “supernumerarius,” a military term, meaning “appointed to a legion after it is complete.” The letter’s context backed up this reading of “supernumerary.” In this case, my Classics degree helped me solve this word puzzle and prevent a mistake in the printed volume.5

This blog post is the first of a three-part series, “Three Degrees to Washington,” about how my humanities majors help me at The Washington Papers. Part two will be about my psychology degree, and part three will explore my educational background in film.

 

Notes

1. Michael Gagarin, ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome (New York, 2010), 4:155; “To John Cadwalader from George Washington, Dec. 25, 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-07-02-0343. Also available in print: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series 7:439.

2. Henry C. Montgomery. “Addison’s Cato and George Washington.” The Classical Journal 55 (1960), 210.

3. Gagarin, Ancient Greece and Rome, 2:62.

4. Montgomery, “Cato and Washington,” 210.

5. Because of the large number of documents to proofread for this volume, I’m unable to go into too much detail in the blog post about this letter. However, I look forward to readers seeing evidence of my proofreading work on this and other letters in the upcoming volume, Presidential Series volume 20.

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.

 

 

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (III): Louise Phelps Kellogg (1862-1942)

by William M. Ferraro, Managing Editor
March 31, 2017

No former editor has eased my research burdens more than Louise Phelps Kellogg, who built a remarkable career as a historian during the first decades of the twentieth century. Her work informs some of the most consistently challenging letters sent to George Washington: those from Colonel Daniel Brodhead, who commanded the western department from Fort Pitt during the Revolutionary War’s middle years. What makes Brodhead’s missives so problematic is that they cover a vast swath of frontier that ranges west across present-day Ohio to the upper Mississippi River Valley, north to Detroit, and east to the Appalachians, extending south into what is now West Virginia. Kellogg’s annotations in four documentary volumes cover an astounding percentage of obscure geographic and event references in Brodhead’s correspondence.1

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The Simplicities and Intricacies of Indexing

By William M. Ferraro, Managing Editor
February 2, 2017

Bill's blog postDocumentary editors strive to make their products as accessible as possible. Systematic transcription facilitates reading by converting handwritten manuscripts into printed pages. Numbered notes explain obscure references or allusions in the texts. Introductions and editorial essays draw larger connections or present rich background information. The index, however, arguably stands as the most important feature of a documentary work as far as providing access. Even users with no interest in the principal historical figure easily can find new, potentially useful items on people, places, and subjects.

But something like the modern book index appeared only in the late seventeenth century, and it was not until the later nineteenth century that an alphabetical index became a customary addition to any substantial publication.1 As with so much else over the past few decades, technology has eased the process of creating an index. Gone are boxes of cards and painful hours hunched over while recording, sorting, and alphabetizing the entries. Inputting data remains a tedious task, but the purely clerical dimensions of the endeavor now take seconds rather than days or weeks.

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A Documentary Dilemma: Editing the Farewell Address

January 17, 2017

Senior Editor David Hoth’s guiding principle in documentary editing is to display the evidence without influencing a reader’s conclusions. His current focus, George Washington’s Farewell Address, complicates that principle. This document is included in Presidential Series volume 20 and arguably is one of Washington’s most significant contributions to the institution of the U.S. presidency. Hoth’s research into its preparation led him to suggest that we “cannot assume what has always been assumed” of this document.

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Washington Papers Editors Share Work, Meet Hamilton’s George Washington at Human/Ties National Endowment for the Humanities Conference

by Kim Curtis, Research Editor
September 30, 2016

From September 14 to 17, the University of Virginia (UVA) hosted Human/Ties, a four-day celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). To explore and honor the vital role played by the humanities in today’s world, the forum brought together multiple University departments and programs, including the Washington Papers, as well as speakers and artists from across the country and around the world.

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, Part II: Henry Barton Dawson (1821-1889)

By William M. Ferraro, Managing Editor
July 15, 2016

Title page of the catalogue.

Title page of the catalogue.

Award-winning journalist and World War II historian Rick Atkinson visited the Washington Papers near the start of his research for a trilogy examining the Revolutionary War. He sought insights into Washington from the editors and obscure sources that might shed light on overlooked or shadowy aspects of the conflict. The editors shared plenty of thoughts and anecdotes, and Atkinson nosed around our extensive holdings of microfilm and reference works. What I enjoyed most, however, was bringing to his attention an item from my personal collection: the auction catalogue for dispersing Henry B. Dawson’s library produced by the New York City house Bangs and Co. and titled Catalogue of the Large Historical Library of the Late Henry B. Dawson, LL.D., an Extensive and Valuable Collections of Books, Pamphlets and Periodicals . . . . I told Atkinson that if he were starting a major Revolutionary War work in the later nineteenth century and sought insights and obscure sources, he would have visited Dawson rather than a documentary editing project like the Washington Papers.

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Documentary Editing at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute

By Cathy Moran Hajo, Director of the Jane Addams Papers Project
July 1, 2016

IMG_20160617_124340732-300x222Since 2001, the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, held annually in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, has been an annual gathering of technologists, scholars, librarians, graduate and undergraduate students…and editors. For the past three years, Jennifer Stertzer (Washington Papers) and Cathy Hajo (The Jane Addams Papers Project), joined this year by Erica Cavanaugh (Washington Papers), have offered a course titled “Conceptualising and Creating Digital Editions,” one of a rich slate of hands-on and theoretical week-long immersions into digital humanities.

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George Washington’s War Diary

By Benjamin Huggins, Associate Editor
June 23, 2016

Washington's first entry. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Washington’s first entry. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress. Click on image to enlarge.

In my most recent blog post, I mentioned that General Washington kept two diaries during the Revolutionary War: his weather diary (which he maintained from January to June 1780) and his journal kept from May to early November 1781. In this post, I want to discuss the latter diary.

Written entirely in Washington’s own hand, the journal shows almost no corrections, suggesting that Washington may have copied the entries into the diary after writing a draft. The journal consists of two volumes: the first covering May to August 14, 1781, and the second spanning from August 14 to November 5, 1781 (the entry for August 14 is split between the two volumes). Washington opened his war diary with a statement of regret:

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