- Pouring Old Editorial Wine into New Digital Bottles*
The Three Essays that Follow Originally were given in abbreviated form in a session at the National Council on Public History meeting that took place in Ottawa, Canada, April 17-20, 2013. The title of the first essay gave the session its name. The authors are, or until recently were, editors of digital editions of notable 18th- and 19th-century writers of letters, diaries, or belles lettres, working at the University of Virginia and the University of South Carolina. The earliest of these editions is the Dolley Madison Papers Digital Edition. The essay on it is first. Following it is an essay on the papers of a mother and daughter, South Carolina planters Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Harriott Pinckney Horry. The Pinckney/Horry papers built on the pioneering work of the Dolley Madison project. The third paper treats the digital edition of the writings of a man who was a generation younger than Horry: noted author and editor William Gilmore Simms. Like Pinckney and Horry, he was a Charlestonian, but with broad national connections. As his papers have an audience of literary scholars as well as historians, the digital edition of his works raises other questions about the uses of digital versus printed editions.
Between 2008 and 2012 a small staff of editors at the University of South Carolina created a born-digital scholarly edition of the Papers of Eliza Lucas Pinckney (1722-1793) and Harriott Pinckney Horry (1748-1830).1 Eliza Pinckney, of whom there is no known portrait, is well known, remembered by historians of southern women and of southern agriculture as the first to develop indigo as a profitable commercial staple crop, which she accomplished as a teenager managing her absent father’s South Carolina plantations. Her daughter Harriott Pinckney Horry is scarcely known at all, although she too was an innovative plantation mistress who successfully managed extensive plantations in South Carolina for most of her adult life.
Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the edition was published in November 2012 by the University of Virginia Press as part of its Rotunda “American Founding Era Collection.” It consists of 1,051 transcribed documents, nearly 4,000 identifying annotations, ten editorial essays, and five biographical sketches, plus a detailed introductory description of editorial practices. It includes correspondence, financial and legal records relating to the plantations and other properties owned by these wealthy women, miscellaneous personal papers such as Eliza Pinckney’s prayer concerns and list of important dates, receipt (or recipe) books kept by both mother and daughter, and three [End Page 18] extensive journals kept by Harriott Horry of travel within South Carolina in 1795 and from South Carolina to New England and back in 1793 and 1815.
Scholars familiar with the sometimes glacial pace of letterpress scholarly editions (most of the large-scale founding fathers projects began in the 1960s and are still not completed) may well ask how this project could accomplish so much in only four years with a part-time staff that never exceeded the equivalent of two-full time editors? The answer lies in part in the efficiency advantages that a system designed for a born-digital edition provided. We decided to do a born-digital rather than a traditional letterpress edition because a digital edition offers distinct advantages with regard to two different aspects of scholarly editing. One group of reasons is related to the usability and accessibility of the final product of a digital edition. We wanted to provide greater flexibility and utility to allow imaginative use of our documents by researchers. We wanted to provide access to the documents within our edition through the internet digital display that is becoming more familiar to researchers (and more necessary to compete for funding). We wanted to provide links to other digital resources of related or similar primary sources outside of our edition. It is this set of issues with which Holly Shulman’s essay is principally concerned.
There is, however, a second set of advantages to a born-digital edition that concerns the process of creating an edition: the ability both to keep internal records of the...