From the Letters to the Editor column of the April 2008 issue of Perspectives on History

Letters to the Editor: Founders' Papers

Warren F. Kimball, April 2008

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To the Editor:

A comment on Lee White's column, "Pushing the Pace on the Founders' Papers," Perspectives on History 46:3 (March 2008). Massive, and massively expensive, letterpress editions of the founders' papers smacks of Ludditism. It will not make them accessible to high school students (a major audience). It will not make them accessible to the general public (public libraries cannot afford them). It will not put them in the hands of college or graduate students (they will be noncirculating reference books). The project has taken a disgracefully long time to get things done—perhaps because of limited funding (though it appears there is more to it than that). But is funding likely to increase in an era when the federal government teeters on insolvency and the economy is wobbly? Digitization and web access is the only sensible approach. Abandon the letterpress dream or find a publisher that believes it can make a profit. Focus on the goal—public access, not books to be fondled by a few.

And where, pray tell, has the NHPRC been all these decades? It is time to sunset that operation and come up with what Rebecca Rimel (Pew Charitable Trusts) hints at—a new and effective oversight group.

—Warren F. Kimball