Documentary Editing, Association for


Date of this Version

Spring 2004

Document Type



Documentary Editing, Volume 26, Number 1, Spring 2004. ISSN 0196-7134


2004 © the Association for Documentary Editing. Used by permission.


The Harriet Jacobs Papers began as an offshoot of Jean Fagan Yellin's research for a biography of Jacobs and her edited edition of Incidents. For several years, work on the papers project was sporadic, as Dr. Yellin and a series of undergraduate and graduate students surveyed archives for material, accessioned and transcribed documents, and began research on the annotations. The pace changed dramatically in the summer of 2002 when the project received funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Gladys Kriebel Delmas Foundation and secured a contract to publish the book with the University of North Carolina Press. Suddenly there was money for the project to move forward-and a deadline to meet.

I began as the full-time associate editor in September 2002, encountering a project that had wonderful resources, historical significance, and some not insignificant challenges. Because so many people had worked on the papers, over such an extended period of time, it was unclear at points what work had been done, how the work had been organized, and the rationale behind some of the decisions that had been made. Because of funding limitations, undergraduates with relatively little experience would conduct much of the research. Moreover, like many projects, we work in an environment in which few people know what documentary editing is and why it is important. Despite these obstacles, the project has made significant progress in the time since it became a full-time operation. I can break down the strategies we have devised into three categories: Organization, Outreach, and Optimism. While our project's situation may be relatively unusual, I believe these strategies can be applied to many projects as they change staff or try to meet a deadline or pick up the speed at which they work.