Connell (2019 Congress)

Sarah Connell
(Northeastern University)

“ ‛How Dangerous — Sd Any Thing Be Ommitted!!!!’

Editing and Encoding the Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson”

Abstract of Paper
To be presented at the 54th International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Kalamazoo, 2019)

Session on
“In the Absence of Manuscript Evidence:  Considering Lacunae in Manuscript Studies”

Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Organized by Justin A. Hastings and Derek Shank
2019 Congress Program

[Published on 14 March 2019; updated on 2 May 2019]



This paper will discuss the editions by the Women Writer’s Project (WWP) of the Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson (1774–1863), a series of manuscripts that combine diary entries, religious and philosophical meditations, and commonplace books, among many other forms and genres.  Preserved among the Emerson family papers at the Houghton Library of Harvard University, the Almanacks (reproduced online) are fragmentary for various reasons:  their author circulated them to her friends and family as complete booklets and individual pages; subsequent editors reordered them; and, in 1872, when the home of her nephew Ralph Waldo Emerson caught fire, the manuscripts were burned and disarranged.  The WWP partners with Sandra Petrulionis and Noelle Baker to edit and encode the Almanacks according to the standards of the Text Encoding Initiative Guidelines, a markup language for representing humanities research materials, and to publish them as The Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson:  A Scholarly Digital Edition.

The manuscripts pose many challenges, requiring us to address Almanack entries in which only partial samples remain, alterations made by subsequent editors, and variations in the readings of those editors.  The damage to the texts ranges from individually obscured characters, through leaves which have been partially excised, to pages that are missing in their entirety.

This paper will discuss the practices that we have developed to encode these different kinds of textual lacunae.  It will explore how the encoding not only enables web publication that can surface the Almanacks’ textual complexities, but also allows for research that can provide a more detailed picture of the state of these texts.  For example, encoding allows us to survey the different textual uncertainties in the Almanacks — including text that is unclear but still present, text that can be supplied from other sources, and text that is irrecoverable — as well as the reasons for these uncertainties, such as illegibility, damage, and excision.  This paper will show how markup enables us systematically to examine the textual gaps and indeterminacies in this important manuscript collection.