Documentary Editing, Association for


Date of this Version


Document Type



Documentary Editing, Volume 14, Number 1, March 1992

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


Copyright © 1992 by the author.


No one doubted the wisdom of gathering information about current use of historical sources when the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the American Council of Learned Societies launched the Historical Documents Study two years ago. The Commission would learn more about the context for its own decisions to support projects that publish and preserve historical documents. True to its mission to lead and educate in matters of the nation's documentary heritage, the Commission would also inform other agencies and individuals responsible for similar decisions affecting historical sources and research.

But a counterclaim disturbed the unanimity. Within and around the Commission an argument about the relative merits of granting funds to archivists or editors simmered and occasionally boiled over. Editing was under fire from archivists as an archaic way to preserve documents. The dispute worked its way into the conduct of the study itself, injecting an ulterior purpose of casting a definitive vote on the future of documentary editions at the Commission. History's chief lobbyist in Washington thought it her duty to make a case to the project director against further Commission support for editions. People routinely posed questions that staked out their own position in the argument; will the study succeed in showing that a) no one uses editions, or b) editorial scholarship is vital for knowledge and research? The advisory group, composed of representatives of the organizations authorized to appoint Commissioners, contained the same divisions.

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Dec 8 2021