On October 13th, the Lit+DH Working Group welcomed Christopher Ohge of the Mark Twain Project.  He spoke about the challenges of archival work, drawing up an instance of editorial conflict between Mark Twain and his editor that led to the omission of 56 pages of material from chapter 16 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which were discovered in 1990. While restoring the omitted pages would improve the flow of the chapter, doing so would be at odds with Mark Twain’s expressed editorial preferences.

Ohge also noted the difficulties in organizing Twain’s personal correspondences. While he engaged in an ongoing dialog with George Bernard Shaw, for example, it is difficult to recreate two-way conversations from multiple archives, due to overlapping publishing rights.  Further complexity arises from a lack of categorical clarity.  As Ohge notes, “it is not always clear when a letter is a letter.”


Additionally, since the project moved to a digital, XML-based edition, the priorities for the archival staff have changed. Researchers want to see texts in their often messy pre-publication forms, but such editions may diminish the appeal for broader readerships. A digital workflow allows the editors both to preserve the early drafts and to present a readable edition, but digitally encoding the “messiness” of an original manuscript brings additional challenges. How do we best translate a handwritten manuscript, full of annotations, into a digital XML-encoded text? The editors of the Mark Twain Project face this challenge every day.


Ohge concluded that editors and archivists whose work involves digitizing and encoding archives must carefully consider their digital encoding practices, so as to reconcile archival responsibilities with editorial responsibilities. Digitization techniques have challenged them to rethink traditional editorial projects.