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Signature of James L. Dusenbery and several photographs artistically combined.

Editorial Practices for the James Lawrence Dusenbery Journal Site

Erika Lindemann

Editorial Practices

1. Project Goals and Significance

Verses and Fragments: The James L. Dusenbery Journal (1841–1842) is a joint project of Documenting the American South (DocSouth) [1] and Professor Erika Lindemann. It draws on DocSouth's expertise in digitization, Web architecture and design, electronic publishing, and long-term preservation of digital assets. In creating this digital scholarly edition, we had four principal goals:
  • To present an accurate, reliable text of the entire Dusenbery journal, with notes that explain whatever information would be unfamiliar to modern readers.
  • To provide users open access to a collection of documents, sound files, and images for understanding the college experience and the literate practices of white southern males attending an antebellum university.
  • To gain a better understanding of what a scholarly edition can be in a digital environment.
  • To explore standards for creating and presenting a complex, multimedia scholarly apparatus for such a scholarly edition.
James Lawrence Dusenbery was not "famous" in the ways that our culture assigns such prominence. He also may not have been a "typical" college student during the antebellum period. Nevertheless, like many students today he enjoyed his senior year at the University of North Carolina (UNC). He appreciated his friends; enjoyed sports, music, and dance; and despite an active social life, completed his studies successfully, received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and spent the rest of his life as a physician in Lexington, North Carolina. His was an ordinary upper-class life. A digital environment has the power to contextualize and fully document this ordinary life, proving, as Nell Sigmon put it, "You don't have to be famous for your life to be history." [2] Though Dusenbery's journal forms the heart of this site, it is enriched by thoughtfully selected supporting materials that explain who his family was, explore his taste in literature and music, describe antebellum student life at UNC, chart the activities of the debating societies to which every student belonged, and detail how mid-nineteenth-century physicians such as James and his brother Fayette received their professional training. These materials deepen our understanding of the ways in which the culture of the antebellum South, including its educational institutions, shaped such young men.
Verses and Fragments extends work begun with the digital publication of another DocSouth collection, True and Candid Compositions (, which makes available the work of white males attending college in the antebellum South. The voices of students are almost never heard in traditional histories of American higher education. As John Brereton observes, "the lack of [student] papers in the histories is something of a scandal; . . . it seems crucial to know what students were writing, what examples of student prose nineteenth-century scholars and administrators were discussing, and how the writing itself was represented to contemporary eyes" (The Origins of Composition Studies in the American College, 1875–1925, xv). Dusenbery's journal represents an important primary source for understanding the college experience from the perspective of a native North Carolinian living in the antebellum period.
Dusenbery's life, as explicated through the journal and its scholarly apparatus, also illuminates the role that UNC, the state's and the nation's first public university, played during this important period. Enrolling its first graduating class in 1795, the institution became the fourth largest college in America on the eve of the Civil War. Most of its students were from North Carolina and represented families of farmers, planters, politicians, educators, and religious leaders important to the growth and development of the state. Dusenbery himself was the son of a planter who owned 23 slaves. While he returned to Lexington, North Carolina, after earning his medical degree, other students mentioned in his journal participated in the great migration westward before and after the Civil War. Still others, including Dusenbery's brother Fayette, lost their lives in that conflict.
Verses and Fragments also contributes to the study of private and public literacy and to an understanding of how literary and musical canons are formed. In addition to Dusenbery's journal, the site includes his academic papers and those of his brothers as well as Dialectic Society library circulation records for these young men. As someone who appreciated poetry, Dusenbery provided substantial evidence for the reading habits of an antebellum young man, copying into the front half of his journal 27 poems and popular song lyrics as well as descriptions of major characters in Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake. These pages give insights into Dusenbery's literary and musical tastes and testify to the transatlantic appeal of popular Romantic writers such as Felicia Hemans, Byron, and Scott as well as writers less well known. For Dusenbery these poems were contemporary works of literature. He did not encounter them in college courses but rather through his reading in the library amassed by the Dialectic Society. Though many of the poets are familiar, the popular song lyrics preserved in the pages of Dusenbery's journal are largely unknown to a contemporary audience. One of the project's goals has been to highlight some of the music of the period for which sheet music survives.
Dusenbery's journal, then, provides multiple opportunities to extend his text by creating a multimedia scholarly apparatus that, when combined with interpretive essays, illuminates the academic and social forces that shaped his world. The journal is a valuable source of information for those interested in antebellum culture and the day-to-day events that ordinarily fall through the cracks of history. Edward L. Ayers, southern historian and one of the pioneers of digital libraries, points out that new forms of digitization and spatial display enable scholars and students alike to "see things that are invisible otherwise" (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 10 November 2006: 33). Visitors to this site can both see and hear a slice of nineteenth-century American history. All of the materials are accompanied by scholarly annotations, biographies, and essays that provide an analytical framework for the site and forge connections between the disparate materials (and disciplines) represented. As a fully realized, searchable, multimedia, scholarly edition of Dusenbery's journal, Verses and Fragments presents manuscript materials, digital images, songs, artifacts, maps, published documents, court and judicial records, and important related resources drawn from a variety of repositories, especially the University Library's special collections; the North Carolina State Archives; North Carolina public libraries; and the private collection of a family descendant, Colonel William B. Hankins, Jr.

2. Selection Criteria

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In 2006, when this project was initiated, the University of North Carolina's Southern Historical Collection housed 12 journals written by antebellum students. They are all described in online finding aids, publicly accessible. Prior to this project, none of the journals had been published in its entirety. In evaluating these journals for possible inclusion in this project, five criteria were most significant.
  • The journal had to be written by a student attending UNC during the antebellum period. Student writing of this period had been the focus of the True and Candid Compositions site, but most of the documents selected for that project were relatively short. An antebellum student's journal, we hoped, would provide a more extensive view of college life for white males in a southern university, a sparsely covered topic in historical discussions of intellectual life in the region. Moreover, a journal would allow us to address the editorial and technological challenges involved in preparing a longer, more complex document for digital publication.
  • The journal had to be an original document, not a photographic copy. We sought an original autograph manuscript that could be transcribed accurately and reliably.
  • The journal had to be largely complete, the original document showing no significant amounts of missing or damaged text. Though loose bindings, detached and torn pages, fragile paper, and faded ink are typical conservation issues for these documents, the journal selected for this project needed to be substantially complete, readable, and able to be scanned and transcribed if handled carefully.
  • The journal had to cover a sufficient period of time, ideally nine months or more, to permit following students through a two-semester academic year, including vacations. We sought a sustained account of college life, developed over a significant period of time.
  • The journal had to present specific details about the student's academic work and social life. It was also desirable that the journal provide sufficient information about what the student was reading to judge the writer's literary preferences. The journal also needed to be engaging, giving evidence that the writer cared about the experiences he was recording and came across as a student we might enjoy meeting.
Three journals satisfied all five criteria. Dusenbery's contemporary, William S. Mullins (BA 1842), showed a keen interest in sustaining the relationships he cultivated with fellow students, especially members of his debating society. Edmund D. Covington (BA 1844), on the other hand, considered his journal a repository for comments on his reading and for drafts of his own compositions. Dusenbery's journal was selected because it seemed to combine the virtues of the other two. Dusenbery (BA 1842) clearly valued his relationships with classmates but also provided, as no other student writer of the period did, a substantial insight into his literary preferences by copying poems and song lyrics into the pages of his journal.
The manuscript is further discussed in the About the Dusenbery Journal section of the site.
Having chosen Dusenbery's journal as the source text, we then sought media and materials that might enhance a reader's understanding of Dusenbery's work and his world. These materials were selected with two questions in mind. The first question was, "What information was known to Dusenbery that visitors to the site might not know now?" The majority of the images, documents, sound files, maps, and other materials used to enrich the site respond to this question. Obviously, Dusenbery knew well the members of his family, but we do not. Investigating his family background uncovered a diversity of genealogical resources (including a living descendant) that helped us build a "module" on the Dusenbery family for the site. Dusenbery also would have taken for granted the activities of the campus debating societies and other routines of college life; the site presents two collections of documents and other materials that explain what it was like to be a UNC student in the 1840s; they can be found under the "His World" tab and are titled Student Life and Debating Societies.
The second question we asked of the journal was, "What do we know now that Dusenbery could not have known?" Answering this question can illuminate the outcome of certain events, highlight the significance of the topics Dusenbery addressed, and place the journal in broader contexts than Dusenbery could have understood at the time. For example, Dusenbery could not have appreciated how devastating the Civil War would be for him and his classmates, or how significantly the practice of medicine, his profession, would change during his lifetime. He also could not have known that the contemporary (for him) authors he admired would one day take their place in the canons of British and American literature. To address such issues, the site includes several interpretive essays together with images and sound files that explicate larger cultural movements in medicine, literature, and music. These modules take us into Dusenbery's world even as they deepen our understanding of how we got from "there" to "here."
In addition to 150 page images of the journal, then, Verses and Fragments includes, under the tab "His World," six interpretive essays, together with additional images and documents, focused on six topics: Family, Student Life, Debating Societies, Literature, Music, and Medicine. A tab labeled "Documents" provides 37 additional primary sources in four categories: Family Papers (14), Student Compositions (6), Debating Society Documents (7), Faculty Documents (2), and Commencement Documents (18).
The possibilities for constructing a digital scholarly apparatus cover not only a broad range of topics but also multiple media, including text, photographic and digital images, sound files, graphics, and recorded presentations. Furthermore, users interact with these media in increasingly complex ways, choosing not only which information to access in what ways but also how to "read" one medium against another. Inventing, organizing, and shaping text, audio, and images purposefully is a craft or art whose principles are still being written. The goal for this edition, however, was to identify and elaborate on opportunities that Dusenbery's journal and digital media present for deepening our understanding of the words of his text. We are fortunate that Dusenbery left many "hooks" in his account of his senior year on which to hang a rich selection of supplementary material.

3. Editorial Goals

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The primary purpose of this electronic edition of James Dusenbery's journal is to present a text that is easy to read, intelligible, and as faithful as possible to the original. Because Dusenbery's journal and its ancillary materials are based primarily on documents written by students, they offer a model and a method for editing such materials. Student writing, regardless of its subject matter, presents unique problems for an editor. Unconventional spelling and punctuation and frequent revision sometimes make determining an author's final intention troublesome. Devising the best way to present such materials challenges even experienced editors. By explicitly describing how these documents were prepared for electronic publication, we wish to assure readers that the evidence of the edited texts is reliable and to share with others procedures that might be useful in editing the unpublished writing of other students.
Most of the documents presented here appear both as a digitized image and as an edited text. The digitized images preserve most of the details of the documents and appear in parallel with and just to the left of the edited text. For each page of the journal, a 600 dpi uncompressed TIFF file was created, and the TIFF images were then saved as JPEG 2000 images at 600 dpi for Web access. For ancillary documents, 400 dpi uncompressed TIFF files were created and then saved as JPEG 2000 images at 400 dpi. The images serve as a useful counterpart to the edited text but can be difficult to read, primarily because the original manuscripts are written in different hands or have faded over time.
Each document is presented in what is known as a diplomatic edition. A diplomatic edition provides a readable text that is optimally reliable. A diplomatic edition attempts to preserve not only the author's wording, but also the spelling, punctuation, capitalization, page breaks, deletions, and insertions appearing in the original. Though the transcription of the journal preserves line breaks, they are not preserved in ancillary documents. Other details, such as drawings, flourishes accompanying signatures, and alignment in some tables also are lost. However, readers can consult the digitized page image for such features. The page images also can be enlarged to capture other details of the document and corroborate the transcription. The edited texts presented here, then, retain most of the characteristics of the originals without requiring readers to become experts in nineteenth-century handwriting or in the specialized editorial symbols used in scholarly editing.

4. Transcriptions

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All documents have been transcribed using a modification of the system of notation developed for the Mark Twain Letters [ed. Edgar Marquess Branch, Michael B. Frank, and Kenneth M. Sanderson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987– )]. This system results in what the editors of Twain's letters call "plain text" and depends as much as possible on "familiar conventions of both handwriting and typography in order to transcribe what has tended to be problematic, or else simply ignored, in more traditional kinds of transcription" (1:xxvi). Because the documents included here are neither as numerous nor as complex as Twain's letters, it has been unnecessary to use all of the features devised for the Twain project. Some elements of the system were modified without compromising either the reliability or readability of the edited documents. Moreover, because the Dusenbery journal and some of the ancillary documents represent student writing, some of it intended for oral presentation, the system appears ideally suited for transcribing material that contains several kinds of errors, unusual ways of presenting a text, and evidence of hasty composition.
A form of diplomatic transcription, plain text uses no angle brackets, arrows, or many of the other conventional symbols of traditional editing. It also avoids using carets by simply super- or subscripting insertions, whether or not the writer marked them with a caret. Most traditional devices for transcribing a text can now be imitated in type, making edited documents easier to read because the text appears as type-identical with a handwritten counterpart. With plain text, readers are able to focus primarily on the page before them. They do not need to keep in mind a complex translation table for editorial symbols that says, "Arrows indicate material written above or below the base line" or "Angle brackets represent words that have been deleted" (though they obviously appear in the edited text). The edited text simply enacts that these conventions. Typographical conventions that have more or less exact equivalents in manuscript are large and small capital letters, a line through crossed-out material of one or more characters, single and double underscoring (used whether the original underscoring is in straight or wavy lines), and super- or subscripted characters for one or more characters written above or below the line.
The transcribed journal preserves original lineation, but in documents included among ancillary materials, line breaks are lost, though they can be confirmed by consulting the digitized image. Also not preserved are false starts of less than one character, catchwords, flourishes appearing with signatures, and most end-of-line hyphens. The transcription of the journal preserves double hyphenation (a hyphen at the end of one line and another at the beginning of the next), but hyphens occurring at the ends of lines in other documents have been removed, and the trailing part of a word has been joined to the preceding line. By convention, the solidus (/) indicates line breaks in addresses, inscriptions, or endorsements discussed in endnotes.
Transcriptions preserve dittography, shorthand ("&c." for example), the repetition of words or punctuation, and occasional apostrophes that appear on the line rather than above it. Authorial revisions and self-corrections are transcribed where they occur in the manuscript; however, words and characters superimposed on each other are transcribed to reflect the writer's presumed final intention, with an endnote describing the emendation. The paragraphing of prose and poetry is preserved but emended to appear flush left, without indentation. Whenever a sentence ends at the right margin and the next sentence begins flush with the left margin, the transcription continues without a paragraph break, even though the sense of the material might have prompted the writer to begin a new paragraph.
The writers of these documents punctuate the ends of declarative sentences in four ways. Some use a conventional period, though the next sentence may begin with either a capital or small letter. A few authors end grammatical sentences with commas. In both cases, the transcription retains the writer's punctuation and capitalization, leaving one space between the period or comma and the beginning of the next sentence. Other writers end sentences with a period and a dash; the transcription preserves this convention by rendering the original dash as an en dash, regardless of how long a dash appears in the original manuscript, and leaving one space between the dash and the beginning of the next sentence. A fourth kind of terminal punctuation for declarative sentences omits the period altogether and uses a dash instead. Such dashes are transcribed as em dashes, with no space between the dash and the beginning of the next sentence.
To insure the reliability of all transcriptions, the word-processed typescript of each document was visually collated twice with a photocopy of the original. Several months later the typescript was visually collated a third time against the original document, or when original documents were not available, against a photocopied or microfilmed source. Subsequently, as part of the process of encoding the typescript for publication on the Documenting the American South Web site, the project coordinator and a research assistant, working independently, visually collated the typescript and the digitized images of each original source. They then exchanged sets of encoded documents and verified each other's work, visually collating the encoded document and its digitized image. Finally, the project coordinator and a research assistant, working indpendently, visually collated the online transcription and the page image.

5. Emendations

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The documents have been emended as little as possible both to avoid introducing errors or ambiguities that are not in the originals and to provide readers with an experience reading the edited documents that is comparable to reading the original manuscripts. For this reason, authorial errors are not emended when they can be transcribed. Some errors, superimposed characters or words for example, are emended, but endnotes explain the emendation. Occasionally it has been necessary to insert a word in brackets where the writer has inadvertently omitted something. Such interpolations appear where they seem absolutely necessary to make sense of the text and are used sparingly. Damaged texts also are emended in brackets where it has been possible to reconstruct words from such evidence as fragments of original characters, syntax and grammatical context, and the writer's habits of spelling, punctuation, and word choice.
When damaged originals offer insufficient clues for restoring missing or illegible words, the edited document shows [unrecovered]. The word [unrecovered] may signify several kinds of difficulties in transcribing the original: a hole or tear in the manuscript, a blob of ink or smear over a word, or an inability to decipher what has been written. The word [unrecovered] denotes illegible characters or words that the author has struck through. Though using [unrecovered] and [unrecovered] obscures how much material may be missing or illegible, documents included in this collection show only infrequent damage, and most readers will be able to gain the gist of a sentence from the surrounding context or by consulting the digitized image.
The format of original documents has not been emended. The placement of titles, salutations, headings, signatures, and datelines resembles as closely as possible their position on the original page. The paragraphing of prose and poetry is preserved but emended to appear flush left, without indentation.
Brackets appearing in the edited documents and headings always indicate editorial intervention. They may indicate [unrecovered] material, reconstructed and interpolated words, emendations in nonoriginal copy-texts, and material that the editor has excerpted [. . .]. They also are used to identify briefly people and places that do not need to be explained in an endnote. Though Dusenbery customarily dated each journal entry at the end, bracketed dates appear flush left at the beginning of the entry so that readers can orient themselves to each new entry.

6. Annotations

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Consistent with TEI guidelines, each edited document is preceded by editorial and publication information in a section called "About this e-edition." Clicking on this header provides details about the author, editor, project funder, transcriber, and who scanned, encoded, and published the document. The header also identifies the source of the document; its title, author, and date; and how many pages and page images appear on the site. Encoding information is also provided. A second header, "XML Source," presents the source code for the document.
All documents are annotated by means of endnotes. For many documents, the first endnote following the document also provides information about its source, but it may include other information as well. It may include a physical description of the document, particularly if it appears in a bound volume or is damaged or otherwise unusual; it may describe endorsements (such as "Senior speech") that appear on the document; if necessary, the note discusses difficulties in dating or transcribing the document.
Biographical information for a person whose name appears in an edited document can be retrieved by clicking on the name. These pop-up biographies provide information for over 300 individuals mentioned on this site. Unless otherwise indicated by parenthetical documentation in the biographical note, biographical information for University of North Carolina students and faculty members is drawn from four published sources: Kemp Plummer Battle, History of the University of North Carolina, 2 vols., 1912 (Spartanburg, SC: The Reprint Company, 1974); Daniel Lindsey Grant, Alumni History of the University of North Carolina, 2d ed. (Durham, NC: General Alumni Association of the University of North Carolina, 1924); Weeks, Stephen B., ed., Register of Members of the Philanthropic Society, Instituted in the University of North Carolina, August 1st, 1795 (Raleigh: Edwards, Broughton, 1887); and A Catalogue of the Members of the Dialectic Society (Baltimore: Isaac Friedenwald, 1890). Another significant source of biographical information is William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 vols. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979–96). Biographical information for members of the Dusenbery family derives primarily from census and estates records, tombstones, obituaries, marriage bonds, and two published sources: Henry Dusenbery and Jean Porcaro, The Dusenbery Story (Orem, UT: n.p., 1989) and William B. Hankins, Jr., "Samuel B. Dusenberry and Some of His Descendants," The Heritage of Rowan County, North Carolina, Vol. 1, ed. Katherine Sanford Petrucelli (Salisbury, NC: Genealogical Soc. of Rowan County, 1991): 309–310. These and other biographical sources are listed in the site's bibliography, located under the "About" tab.
In addition to source notes and biographical notes, other notes provide readers with reasonable help in understanding the material without overwhelming them with excessive detail. The annotations are of two types, depending on their relationship to the edited document: editorial notes and informational notes. Editorial notes describe features of the original document that cannot be transcribed conveniently. For example, if characters or words have been superimposed, a note will indicate that fact. Editorial endnotes also may describe drawings that are part of original documents, writing in a second hand, the location of endorsements, and damage to original documents.
Informational notes identify terms, people, places, and events known to the writer of the original document but perhaps obscure to a modern reader. Not annotated, however, are terms, people, places, and events that can be found in a standard desk dictionary or a desk encyclopedia such as The New Columbia Encyclopedia. Informational notes provide translations for foreign phrases and college slang and give sources for quotations when it was possible to locate them. (Students of this period generally did not cite their sources, nor did faculty members appear to expect them to.) Informational notes also furnish publication information for books mentioned in the documents; such notes cite the year in which the book first was published. Brief informational notes—a first name, a single word, or a short phrase—appear in brackets in the edited text.


^1. Documenting the American South is an open-access, digital publishing program developed in 1996. Initiated and maintained by the University Libraries, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, DocSouth is part of the Digital Publishing Group of the Carolina Digital Library and Archives.

^2. Jacqueline Dowd Hall, interview with Nell Putnam Sigmon, 13 December 1979 (H-143), Southern Oral History Program Collection #4007, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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