Edited Manuscripts: The Big Picture

The purpose of the Darwin Manuscripts Project is to produce Charles Darwin's Scientific Manuscripts, which is a historical, textual edition of all Darwin's extant scientific documents. The edition is organized in thematic units that follow both CD's principal publication efforts and his major research practices. Our themes have been selected because they constitute the support pillars of Darwin's archive of scientific manuscripts. Since the overall intent of the edition is to make the structure of the archive come alive as the workplace of Darwin's scientific mind and energy, our thematic organization seems the most natural approach for this project. There is another fundamental reason to proceed in this way. In many respects Darwin's work is, as he wrote, 'one long argument' for and about his theory. To be clear, the thematic units of the archive do not of themselves bespeak that argument. Rather, they mostly represent the materials for clusters of books, which in the case of the post-Beagle biological clusters are each components of the evolutionary argument. As the specific documents are put into place in the edition, the ramified, indeed reticulate, growth of Darwin's argument—his view of nature, will be evident. Therefore, the edition will be built to completion by adding thematic units.   

Manuscript Genres

There are many genres of scientific manuscript. Unlike, for example, letters, which are basically all of one type or genre, the notion of scientific Mss, since it includes all documents produced in the course of Darwin's work as a naturalist includes several genres. The categories are: 

  • Notebooks (experimental, field, reading, theoretical)
  • Portfolios of accumulated loose notes written by CD over time and sorted by him for use in writing books. CD used the portfolio system for most of his books, at least from Origin onward.
  • Marginalia and Abstracts. These together with Reading Notebooks are a large component of the record of CD's reading.
  • Drafts for articles or chapters, includes revised drafts & fair copies.

Each of these genres has its own textual story, which is all the more reason to build the edition around Darwin's own functional, and predominantly thematic organization of his archive.

The Importance of Letters

Given our thematic definition of the scope of scientific manuscripts, as well as our emphasis on Darwin's scientific practice, the reader must understand that many of Darwin's letters are of a scientific nature and are in truth as much a part of his scientific manuscripts as any of the other 'genres' we are publishing. Letters, (often cut up & distributed topically) are one of the standard elements of the portfolios system. Moreover letters form the principal component of an essential Darwinian scientific practice, namely: Communication. For when notes recording Darwin's  conversations at a scientific society meeting are found in the same portfolio as letters, it is evident that they both reflect communication as a scientific practice. But the Darwin Correspondence Project has been publishing The Correspondence of Charles Darwin brilliantly for many decades. Rather than republish these documents, we work collaboratively and make references and cross links where possible.


Art of Transcription in the Digital Age

The Darwin Manuscripts Project is a born-digital edition, a circumstance that has had a strong impact on our presentation of manuscripts. Take, for example,  the fundamental fact that our transcriptions are accompanied by digital images. Working with these images, we have come to the conclusion that textual comments on faithful transcriptions need no longer strive to be verbal facsimiles. The ability to refer to a digital image offers an important advance over letter-press editions, and we have seized that opportunity. Another example is the Full & Clarified options, which not only square the traditional conundrum of clarity vs completeness, but do so without obliterating the developmental nature of manuscripts, particularly drafts that represent stages in the preparation of published texts. The ability to toggle between optional views is intrinsically digital and yet unlocks an element of the richness of Darwin's manuscripts.

But we have also concluded that all that is digital is not gold. Letter-press editions achieve a beauty and simplicity that comes from accepting the harness of traditional typography. We accept that constraint and will not go the way of online editions that employ the 1990s gimmickry of word-processing conventions like strike throughs for deletions and superscripts for interlineations to create pseudo facsimiles. Our view is that interface design for manuscript editions should offer contextual models of the handwritten page rather than literalist facsimiles. This is the way to produce something that is usable and yet faithful.

Full Text & Clarified Text           

Full Text allows a reader to see how CD composed & revised what he wrote. Clarified Text makes reading easy & shows the end result of CD revisions.  Full is the default.                

     Full Text transcription shows: textual notes,  deletions ‹ ›, interlineations « », additions               

     Clarified Text transcription retains:  interlineations « », additions

                                                 drops:  textual notes, deletions ‹ ›

Full Text, in the technical parlance of editors, is a diplomatic method. The editor attempts to capture textual features & physical characteristics in detail. But diplomatic transcription does 'normalize' or standardize features when they are deemed empty of meaning. Frequently this means that features like archaic punctuation may be simplified and used uniformly, when in fact there may be scores of variants in the manuscripts. For example, in most cases we do not preserve CD's literal line breaks. The text is, as it were, left to wrap. Usually the author's line breaks are imposed by the width of the writing paper. To preserve them is not just to be slavishly literal, it is to create and elevate an artifact. But in some cases, line breaks do matter. Editors need to exercise discrimination and judgement on such matters. Thus, for Darwin's many lists, we preserve line breaks because wrapping would in fact destroy meaning. Another normalization concerns the word 'the', which CD frequently abbreviates as 'th'. Depending on how low he makes his 'h' and how long he makes the crossing of his 't', the abbreviation 'th' can look like 'to' or 'tt'. But careful inspection at high zoom will reveal he is just writing 'th' or perhaps 'he', with the 'e' highly condensed.  Other than for comparable issues, DMP Full Text gives you a detailed and faithful rendition.          

Clarified Text answers the real need of both students and researchers to get as quickly as possible to the heart of the matter: what was Darwin saying. Editors usually do this by employing what is called 'clear text', where the textual features are removed and the reader is offered the plain vanilla endpoint of his writing. What is lost in clear text is any trace of the revisions, reorganizations, and development that the text may have gone through. In a word, the history of the text is erased. So if the diplomatic method often gives us too much, clear text often give us too little. DMP clarified text tries to balance textual history and clarity. The text is perfectly clear, but  interlined text and added text are retained. If we think of Darwin writing a sentence, part of the process would be to delete some words and another part would be to place new words into the text. In clarified text we drop the deleted word because it isn't part of the final text and leaving it in would slow down many readers because it interferes with the flow. Obviously we keep the new word, but DMP's innovation is that we keep the new word in « », our symbol for new text. Therefore, this part of the history of the text is not lost. Likewise we of course keep any passages we have good reason to think were added after the initial writing. These passages are bolded in the full text and we keep that bolding in the clear text. Again a part of the history is retained and if some wants the whole history, well that's just a click away.