Digital Documentary Editors Engage the 21st Century

AHA Session 40
Thursday, January 7, 2016: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM
Crystal Ballroom C (Hilton Atlanta, First Floor)
Stephanie Kingsley, American Historical Association
Tenisha Armstrong, Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project, Stanford University
Edward G. Lengel, The Washington Papers Project, University of Virginia
Jennifer Steenshorne, The Selected Papers of John Jay, Columbia University

Session Abstract

We analyze the past through the physical record left behind, and as the endeavor of preparing that record for wider use, documentary editing is central to the work historians do. Documentary editing is the process of assembling written records and papers, using historical expertise to understand the circumstances in which the documents were created, and establishing authoritative texts. Editors wield their specialized knowledge to provide valuable context for the documents. Such context has traditionally been confined to introductory essays, textual analysis, annotations, and lists of variants appended to the text. Now, however, with the advent of the digital age, editors are no longer confined to the physical book in making their editions valuable for scholars.

Documentary editors have long recognized the benefits of the digital edition, which allows for more integrated presentation of metadata as well as greater accessibility for users via the Internet. With the process of creating online editions established, what are the next steps editors must take to stay current in an ever-changing digital environment?

This roundtable will discuss methods documentary editors use to remain up-to-date in the 21st century, both in the production and dissemination of their editions. Digital technology allows for new ways of presenting documentary texts, both in terms of metadata associated with the document and the presentation of the text itself; but these technologies also create opportunities to reach out to new audiences. In this age, should documentary editors’ responsibilities lie solely with presenting reliable texts, or should they also include making that text approachable to a wider audience? How do editors go about doing this, and why should they concern themselves with it? Scholars on this roundtable represent a variety of editorial projects, and from their unique perspectives they will discuss how they seize the opportunities of the digital age to ensure that their work remains relevant to a rapidly evolving audience. This could refer to the types of documents editors work on, the presentation of the texts themselves, auxiliary projects based on the data arising from the documents, or reaching out to audiences through the use of social media. Participants will also discuss getting students involved in editing, both in the classroom and on editorial projects, ensuring that interest in documentary editing will continue well beyond the period of current scholars’ careers.

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