- Recovering Recovery:Early American Women and Legacy's Future
Legacy's identity throughout its twenty-five years has been intertwined with its commitment to recovery work. Features like Profiles, Reprints, and From the Archives have brought recovered authors to readers' attention, in turn sparking new scholarship and inspiring new generations of scholars. Unsurprisingly, the Roundtable discussion in this issue demonstrates the participants' sense of the continued centrality of recovery work to the journal's future, especially in light of emerging opportunities offered by new media. The excitement surrounding the opportunities that electronic platforms offer for the future recovery, dissemination, and study of American women writers is palpable in the voices of those contributing to the Roundtable in this issue. This kind of discussion of ways to move forward and embrace technological innovations in order to extend the significance and reach of the scholarship Legacy fosters is important to the journal's development in the twenty-first century. Yet it remains crucially important to remember that, in the current moment, the availability of women's texts in print still largely determines what is read and taught in classrooms and receives analysis in dissertations, scholarly journals, and monographs. While teachers and scholars will undoubtedly rely more and more on electronic sources and archival databases for teaching and research, a range of factors will continue to ensure that the printed book holds an exalted status in our work lives, at least in the foreseeable future: uneven access to digital resources; the simple convenience of a material text and its features—including introductions, bibliographies, and additional materials; our own valuation of the high scholarly standards and peer-review process maintained by academic presses; and the privileging of conventional forms of publication in promotion and tenure decisions. For these reasons, the kinds of print publishing scholars pursue and presses support, especially in the current economic downturn, ineluctably shape the field of inquiry. [End Page 262]
It is hard to overemphasize the monumental importance of the moment Joanne Dobson recounts in the Roundtable when she and Judith Fetterley conceived—in a diner, scribbled on the back of a paper placemat—what became the eighteen-volume American Women Writers (AWW) reprint series from Rutgers University Press (I: 3). For many of us, the reprints in this series brought our professional lives into being. I first encountered this series in 1989, when I was beginning to write my college senior honors thesis on Catharine Maria Sedgwick's Hope Leslie. Special ordering the copy of the book from a bookstore seemed a startlingly new and empowering act to me; my mother believed firmly in libraries, my home town had no bookstores, and before this point the number of books I had actually purchased (other than books required for classes) probably numbered in the single digits. When the book arrived, with its little purple flowers on the cover, tiny print, and eye-opening introduction by Mary Kelley, I felt somehow newly initiated into a club of people who special-ordered books by nineteenth-century women writers and loved them—a club that would have no name for me until many years later, when I learned it was called Society for the Study of American Women Writers (SSAWW).
I read Hope Leslie in bright sunshine on a blanket spread on the grass behind the campus apartment building I lived in. It was in the process of reading that book and writing that honors thesis that I discovered the existence of the field of study I would pursue in graduate school and, later, in my profession as a teacher and scholar. And the AWW series remains vitally important to me today. In the semester just past, I assigned two of its titles, Maria Susanna Cummins's The Lamplighter and E. D. E. N. Southworth's The Hidden Hand, and watched with bemusement and delight as young women the age I was when I first read Hope Leslie hooted with laughter at Capitola's antics, misted up with tears when discussing True Flint's death, and pleaded for recommendations for other books "just like these" that they could read on their own.
I would hazard a guess that many readers...