Messrs. Washington, Jefferson, and Gates: Quarrelling About the Preservation of the Documentary Heritage of the United States

Richard J. Cox


Within the past six months a debate has ensued about the utility of documentary letterpress editions in the late twentieth century as a means for preserving archival records of the United States. The catalyst for this debate was the decision by the U. S. National Historical Publications and Records Commission to revise its funding priorities away from the documentary editions in favor of state regrant projects and research and development in electronic recordkeeping systems. Much of the debate about this proposed change focused on the value of traditional printed sources in the Information Age. This essay looks at this debate in three contexts: the nature of documentary editing; the relationships and respective missions of historians, documentary editors, and archivists; and the nature of records and recordkeeping technologies. My perspective is that of an archivist, and my conclusion is that documentary editing needs to re-orient itself to using new technologies to provide access to the archival documents managed by the editorial projects.

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