Documentary Editing, Association for


Date of this Version

Fall 2003

Document Type



Documentary Editing, Volume 25, Number 3, Fall 2003. ISSN 0196-7134

Reprinted from 1987


2003 © the Association for Documentary Editing. Used by permission.


Historical editing has come far in recent years. Editors now have their own organization; they have an ever-stricter set of standards and, as of this year, a handbook codifying those standards. What was once an avocation has become a profession. Yet one cannot overlook that documentary editions have failed to meet some of the expectations first held out for them. The "bloodless revolution in American history" promised us a quarter-century ago from the publication of great statesmen's papers has so far proved not only bloodless but undetectable. Ironically, just as that revolution was being proclaimed, a very different-and far from bloodless-revolution in American historiography began to carry scholars away altogether from the kinds of concerns that could be effectively addressed through "the papers of great white men." Since then the wheel has turned once more, and a renewed appreciation of the ideological currents running through early American history has led us to look again at the words of the Founding Fathers, and to find new meaning in them. But while the modern editions of statesmen's papers have facilitated this resurgence of interest, they in no sense instigated it; indeed it is difficult to trace any significant historiographic trend to their direct influence. Stimulated by unforeseen developments both within and without the historical profession, our ways of thinking about the past have evolved quite independently of the production schedules of documentary editions.