TOPICS: Documentary Editing, Interview
by Katie Blizzard, Communications Specialist
March 9, 2018
Neither associate editor Benjamin L. Huggins nor assistant editor Adrina Garbooshian-Huggins could have anticipated the complexities involved in editing The Papers of George Washington’s Revolutionary War Series, volume 26. One such difficulty concerned the content of the documents, which included the communication of misleading or even false intelligence. And so, in anticipation of the volume’s publication later this year, I sat down with both editors—who collaborated on the volume—to examine the work behind the next installment of the series.
When Adrina began work on Revolutionary War Series, volume 26, which covers mid-May through early July 1780, she had hoped to call upon past experiences for insight into the material. Armed with a doctorate in French literature—specifically on the evolution of the enlightenments occurring in France, Britain, and the American colonies—Adrina had a strong understanding of the sociopolitical environment out of which the revolutionary ideals grew. Moreover, her experiences as an editor at The Papers of Benjamin Franklin—particularly on his papers during the year 1783—and as a project indexer for The Papers of George Washington had familiarized her with the events, people, and themes of the war. Despite such an informed contextual understanding, Adrina still found the volume 26 material challenging.
Co-editor Benjamin, who has long studied military history, encountered the same issue: the vocabulary from Washington’s Revolutionary War-era papers was obscure and particular. When editing past volumes in the series, for example, he had to learn how to discern between usage of the term “corps” in describing units of varying size.
Supplementary reading thus proved crucial to understanding the material. According to Adrina, she strove to learn more about those people, events, and terms with which she was less familiar and “looked into as many sources as possible until the job was done.” Obviously passionate about her work, Adrina poured over several primary and secondary sources in her free time in order to transcribe and annotate one of the most significant events for her portion of the volume: the surrender of Charleston, South Carolina.
Regardless of these efforts, certain documents took a considerable amount of time to annotate. For example, letters from Major General Robert Howe, which often included multiple items of intelligence, required research on each piece of news in order to contextualize and verify the information. Some of these rumors, Adrina found, could be corroborated by diaries from officers. Others could not be verified as the information was second- or third-hand, making it difficult to trace back to the original source. Occasionally, research confirmed that the intelligence was erroneous. In those instances, Adrina provided additional information as to why the intelligence had been shared with General Washington. And if all this does not sound difficult enough, Howe misspelled many of the names of individuals mentioned within these intelligences, adding an additional step to the verification process!
Faced with these cumbersome tasks, Benjamin and Adrina divided up the work by each assuming responsibility for the letters from one of the two months to be included in the volume. This required coordination of all research and annotation to ensure volume cohesion and to reduce repetition. Such logistics became particularly useful when Benjamin began writing editorial notes on the two battles that occurred in June 1780: Connecticut Farms and Springfield. In addition to working with Adrina to gather information from her half of the volume, Benjamin widened his scope of research beyond the documents and events included in the volume in order to get a broad perspective of the topics in question. According to Benjamin, he enjoyed writing these notes because they allowed him to use sources or extended quotes that typically would not be included in regular annotations. As a result, he could add commentary, such as “following this battle, the British never attempted an invasion of New Jersey again.”
Benjamin pointed out that preparing these documents for publication was rigorous and unforgiving. “It’s a complex endeavor,” he said. “The pace you have to maintain is probably even more so than a presidential volume. There’s more letters per day, and they’re sometimes very long.” Indeed, despite having only 19 days’ worth of letters, Adrina’s half of the volume alone included more than 200 documents. This is because some of those days had up to 10 letters, all of which she had to transcribe and annotate. Unfortunately, this intense production schedule was further complicated by unforeseen obstacles outside of the control of the editors, such as reduction in time allotted for editing as well as a delay in review of their volume.
Nevertheless, Benjamin and Adrina remained graceful under pressure. As Revolutionary War Series, volume 26 is slated for publication later this year, assistant editor Adrina Garbooshian-Huggins reflected on her experience: “Documentary editing is a lot like other things—the more you do it, you improve. I want to continue to improve and grow as an editor, [and] working on that volume did help me to grow, learn, and improve.…I’m grateful I had the opportunity to work on it.”
The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series, volume 26 will be published by the University of Virginia Press in late 2018. To learn more about the volume in the meantime, read a summary of the volume and see the editors’ volume dedication.