2016’s Institute for the Editing of Historical Documents was held New Orleans, LA, in a hotel on the corner of Bourbon Street and Canal Street. Its courses promised to educate those new to the field of documentary editing, as well as a chance to ask questions about our own projects. Just after classes ended, the Association for Documentary Editing held their annual meeting in the same hotel. And, with a generous grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the Institute offered a stipend for accepted students.
My very first question was – Where can I sign up?
After an application process and multiple emails with the Institute’s Education Director, the excitement of acceptance to the program gave way to agonizing anticipation. Finally, after months of biding my time and waiting until the night before my flight to pack, I was stepping off the plane into the hot and humid air of Louisiana.
The next day, we began promptly at 8am with breakfast, and at 8:30 transitioned straight into class time. I was one of 22 classmates, and initial introductions showed just how varied our backgrounds were: There were some, like me, working on a traditional project with a print edition of selected letters, as well as a digital edition on a website. But there were some working on solo projects, with many questions on how best an institute could help their projects. There were librarians who had enough of helping with research, and had decided to delve into their own projects. And there were some still in school as Ph.D. candidates who had become swept up in the world of editing historical documents.
Classes were taught by experts in their fields, and those experts were Amanda Gailey (Scholarly Editing), Cathy Moran Hajo (Jane Addams Papers), and Jennifer Stertzer (Washington Papers). We were educated in a range of topics, from encoding text to better represent a transcription on the web, to preparing to fund your project through your home institution and private donors. There were classes on publishing digitally vs. publishing in print, as well as the best method for indexing and annotating those published documents. And the week of classes wrapped up with a thought on the future of documentary editing.
But there were things we couldn’t learn from our “experts”, and could only discover by talking to the other Institute participants. Each one had their own obstacles to overcome, such as funding and staffing, and their own experiences with editing documents. But with each hurdle, they had their own slightly unique solution, and those collective exchanges definitely helped facilitate discussions for the keys to solving unanswered questions.
At the end of our stay, many of us knew how to get to Café Du Monde by heart, and some had walked the length of Bourbon Street multiple times. But each of us who attended the Institute found ourselves no longer identifying as a singular project, but rather as one documentary editor with a network of peers, never truly alone in our shared quest to preserve and interpret history.