The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 13, Number 8
Dec 1989

An Ancient and Honorable Form of Preservation

Richard A. Jacobs, Executive Director of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC, the same organization that it supporting NAGARA's project to develop a preservation planning program for archives), writes in the August 1989 Annotation on the subject of documentary editing ad how it is more than just making new copies of old documents:

Even in the ancient world there were sometimes scholarly and elaborate editions that did more than simply duplicate the documentary information and make it available. Readers may know about the Greek scholars who reconstructed the texts of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and about the industrious St. Jerome who, with a herculean effort, established the first Latin version of the Bible from variant Hebrew and Greek texts....

Numerous documentary works published over the years have displayed little or no scholarly methodology.... Over the past 40 years, however, documentary editing has undergone a remarkable change. It has become an increasingly sophisticated branch of historical research and publishing, usually undertaken by professional historians in a university setting.

The errors that can creep in over time when mere copying is done are apparent to anyone who has studied the history of manuscript texts in the Middle Ages. And historical bibliographers, by comparing different editions and printings of the same title, help establish authenticity of texts.

Documentary editing is also called for when films are restored, as described in the account of the restoration of Lawrence of Arabia in Library Conservation News, April 1989. Sometimes, as in the restoration of the 1951 film, Alice in Wonderland, now being restored by the Museum of Modern Art, the authentic version is considered to be the one that came from the Rank Organization, rather than the drastically re-edited version distributed in this country. The F/TAAC Newsletter (F/taac=Film and Television Archives Advisory Committee) for Fall 1989 says: "One print made by Rank survives and, although it is incomplete, will provide the basis for preservation. The film was photographed in a combination of Technicolor animation and Ansco Color, and the surviving prints show extreme dye-fading which will have be corrected during preservation."

Documentary editing of single works is rarely, if ever, necessary if the original has been preserved, even if it is too fragile to use in the usual way.

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