Publication of the Almanacks in Women Writers Online

Our digital edition of Mary Emerson’s Almanacks is serving as a pilot document for the Women Writers Project’s (WWP) initiative to develop procedures and Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) specifications to support collaborative editorial projects within its digital collection of early modern women’s writing, Women Writers Online (WWO), where the first twenty Almanacks are now available. Six Almanacks can also be viewed in an experimental prototype interface, free to the public and accessible on both the WWO and our edition’s official website. The prototype interface provides an initial model of what the future Women Writers Online interface can do with our editorial work. It allows us to explore provisional alternatives for displaying the informational facets of Emerson’s manuscripts: deleted text, revisions and substitutions, illegible passages, letters and words supplied by other transcribers, abbreviations, alternate spellings, and references for which we have supplied detailed annotations. Because the WWO lab space was created as a short-term, proof-of-concept space that could mock up some of the encoding features not currently available in WWO, it is not architected (at the infrastructural level) in a durable way and will not be developed further. Additional open-access information about the edition includes a visualizing interface, “Intertextual Referencing in the Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson: Visualization for Close and Distant Reading,” and “Mary Moody Emerson as Reader and Reviewer.”

The edition adheres to editorial reporting standards established by the Modern Language Association’s Committee on Scholarly Editions and is conformant with TEI Guidelines for XML markup and encoding. A foundational text in WWO—representing the collection’s first manuscript series—The Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson complements the works of other women writers in the database, which reaches an international audience of scholars, students, and the general public at nearly 220 subscribing institutions, with free research access to the source data granted on request.

In addition to the entire collection being freely available to the public for one month each year, in celebration of Women’s History Month in March, materials from WWO (including published exhibits and experimental views of the collection) are also available at no charge. The WWP also offers extended free trials for teaching and research in case of financial need. It is fully self-sustaining but also has long-term archiving and publication arrangements with the Brown University Library, which ensures that the collection remains accessible and referenceable. Manuscript images will ultimately accompany the edition, thus assisting to preserve the document, and, importantly, providing users with the essential visual means to appreciate the complexity of Emerson’s text as well as to enable them to challenge our editorial decisions.

Digital publication allows us to address two of this project’s most significant challenges: the Almanacks’ lack of chronology or pagination, and their extensive damage—resulting from fire, water, and mildew, often all three on a given leaf. Added to lost text is the complicating fact that Emerson rarely or idiosyncratically dated her entries, thus resulting in the need for considerable research to offer informed speculations as to each Almanack’s chronology. Moreover, most Almanacks have been dismembered and are now encapsulated in protective mylar as single leaves at Harvard University’s Houghton Library, obliging us to reconstruct their original binding and order within the individual fascicles by identifying common water marks and the traces of Emerson’s practice of fascicle making, such as needle marks and thread stains or remnants.

Because of this extensive damage, we make use of two scribal witnesses, George Tolman and Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose partial transcriptions of the Almanacks report text either not extant or no longer discernible. Since at times these transcriptions inaccurately render Mary Emerson’s words and occasionally posit different readings for the same passage, we report these variations, which often offer rich interpretive material for scholars. The editors consistently report and clearly identify these non-authorial readings, but in non-intrusive ways. This approach helps resolve the ethical question confronting an editor of fragmentary texts, since as Burghard Dedner rightly suggests in “Editing Fragments as Fragments,” “on the one hand, [the editor] wants to preserve and demonstrate the fragmentary nature of” the “text, and, on the other, through the very act of editing he creates a glossy product and thus manipulates the reader” (Text 16 [2006]: 102).

Our editorial theory and methodology regarding textual witnesses and annotating Emerson’s text reflect the editors’ priority to recover a remarkable, early American woman’s distinct voice, as it was transmitted within the contexts of her manuscripts’ compositional, cultural, and preservationist history. In considering the importance of the manuscripts’ positioning within these histories we align in part with “the new textualism,” an editorial school that attends to material features of manuscripts, as well as authorial and “secondary authorial” (scribal witness) agencies, and evidence of dissemination. Our interest in both Emerson’s unique voice and the varied histories of the Almanacks governs our decision to report the transcriptions of George Tolman and Ralph Waldo Emerson only when they supply text that no longer survives, or in the case of Waldo Emerson, text that varies substantively from Mary Emerson’s. In this editorial methodology, we regard Mary Emerson’s voice as primary; neither Tolman nor Waldo Emerson’s transcriptions are articulated as discrete textual entities or versionings. Nonetheless, and as is the case for other early modern writers whose manuscripts routinely display literary paraphrasing, imitation, and translation, the Almanacks’ thoroughgoing intertextuality (due to Emerson’s copious commonplacing) undermines the model of single author agency upon which 20th-century textual scholarship established its editorial methodologies. As Danielle Clarke observes, the “dispersal of agency” in early modern women’s manuscripts necessitates a new set of concerns for editors and textual critics (“Nostalgia, Anachronism, and the Editing of Early Modern Women’s Texts,” Text 15 [2003]: 206).

As a result, we are particularly attentive to the significant role that annotation plays in manuscripts replete with quotation, paraphrase, and a creative distillation of—and often argument with—commonplace source texts. One of our chief editorial objectives is to make Emerson’s voluminous commentary intelligible both to scholars and to non-specialist readers, a goal that, again, a digital edition usefully enables. From Plato and Aristotle to David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and Isaac Newton; to Johann Wolfgang von Goëthe and Louis Agassiz; to Germaine de Staël and Mary Wollstonecraft, the Almanacks assemble an astounding range of individuals. Almost ad infinitum, digital publication allows us to identify Emerson’s copious references (e.g., historical, literary, philosophical, theological, biographical, political) and, simultaneously, to provide readers with the bibliographical details for these sources. In addition to annotations, our editorial interventions include Textual Notes, which describe manuscript anomalies, and cross-references to Waldo Emerson’s writings.

Our methodology attends to specific features of an early American woman’s unpublished manuscript, taking care to avoid modernizing, “correcting,” or “flattening of historical distance” in the cases of Emerson’s spelling, punctuation, and word choice in our editing and encoding choices. (See Danielle Clarke, for example, on the dangers of such “flattening of historical distance” of Renaissance women’s texts in “Nostalgia, Anachronism, and the Editing of Early Modern Women’s Texts,” Text 15 [2003], 204). We therefore provide regularized readings for frequent misspellings only in cases where misreading would result for college-level undergraduates; Emerson’s idiosyncratic punctuation and capitalization are not regularized.

Many of our encoded editorial interventions, including original and regularized spellings, abbreviations and their expansions, manuscript revisions and substitutions, illegible passages, alternate spellings, and text supplied from other sources (i.e., scribal witness transcriptions, commonplace sources, editors’ judgment), are not currently available in WWO. Beginning in January 2015 with the release of the new WWO interface, WWO readers will have access to interface tools that support a more robust and dynamic engagement with the Almanacks, not only for reading but also for assembling the Almanacks’ scattered leaves. Text manipulation and analysis tools will offer sophisticated ways to engage with both the rich intellectual and the fascinating material construction and content of these manuscripts. These tools will also entice general readers to visually experience and then conduct more nuanced experiments with manuscripts whose length, recursive structures, linguistic and intellectual density, and physical disorder might otherwise seem daunting, especially to students. Within WWO, the Almanacks are situated in a user-friendly space where, as Matt Cohen suggests in regard to Web 2.0 archives, “knowledge is produced, not just stored or displayed” (“Design and Politics in Electronic American Literary Archives,” The American Literature Scholar in the Digital Age, ed. Amy E. Earhart and Andrew Jewell [Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2011], 231).


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