Documentary Editing, Association for


Date of this Version


Document Type



Documentary Editing, Volume 29, 2007. ISSN 0196-7134


2007 © the Association for Documentary Editing. Used by permission.


Every now and then, even the most cynical among us find ourselves on the receiving end of an inspiring surprise. Last summer, the Institute for American Thought at the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts, where I am assistant editor of the Frederick Douglass Papers, hosted a group of undergraduates from Taylor University along with their mentor and professor Dr. Robert Lay. Having prepared himself by reading documentary editing theory and consulting with scholarly editors, Lay designed and supervised an intensive summer-term research project for undergraduates whose aim was to prepare two nineteenth-century journals for publication. These volumes contain the private accounts of Bishop William Taylor and his wife Anne. His diary recounts the Methodist evangelist's pioneering missionary work with miners during the years 1851-.56, the height of the California Gold Rush, while his wife's diary recounts the family's travels from South Africa to Europe a decade later. Both journals are nmv preserved by the Bishop William Taylor Collection at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.

As textual editors working on three different longstanding projects (Douglass, Santayana, and Peirce), we believed that the purpose of our meeting with Lay and the Taylor undergraduates was to offer guidance and instruction. However, one student after another surprised us as each presented his or her work in progress, speaking intelligently about collation, historical annotation, and emendation. More striking still was the students' recognition of the importance of their work-work they clearly felt privileged to do. With minimal training, these undergraduates were able to accomplish a substantial amount of work in a short time and even to infer processes that they had not been taught.

The students' presentations caused me to reflect on my own teaching experiences and the pedagogical possibilities in the work I do now as a textual editor.