Documentary Editing, Association for


Date of this Version


Document Type



Documentary Editing, Volume 20, Number 4, December 1998.

ISSN 2476-1796 (electronic); ISSN 2167-1451 (print)


1998 © the Association for Documentary Editing. Used by permission.


Twenty years ago, at the first annual meeting of the Association for Documentary Editing in Princeton, New Jersey, Arthur Link stated that documentary editing is "the most important scholarly work being done in the United States, and, if well done, it will be the most enduring." Last year, the distinguished historian Edmund S. Morgan echoed Link when he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the 154 volumes produced by the Founding Fathers editions "stand as the single most important achievement of American historical scholarship in this century."

Despite this high praise, Link's and Morgan's opinions are not universally held. The 14 August 1998 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education carried a story on Ira Berlin, founder of the Freedmen and Southern Society Project, that noted "Mr. Berlin is widely respected, but documentary editing doesn't have quite the cachet of traditional research." 3 Gore Vidal, in the 20 April 1998 issue of The Nation, harshly questioned C. Vann Woodward's Pulitzer Prize for his edition of Mary Chesnut's diary as being inappropriate since the edition "is hardly history writing.,,4 Thus, twenty years after the founding of the ADE, there still remains a diversity of opinion about the value and importance of documentary editing. These varying evaluations call for an assessment of the changes in historical editing during the past two decades. I intend to look back on change in three areas of our work: documentary editing as a craft, as a profession, and as a legacy for the future.