In December of last year, Founders Online finally added the Thomas Jefferson Memorandum Books (hereafter TJMB) to its collection of over 175,000 primary sources related to the founding era of the United States. While some digitized versions of the original handwritten books are available through the Library of Congress or the Massachusetts Historical Society, the two-volume annotated and edited edition had only existed in print. This scholarly edition, published by Princeton University Press, is an excellent window into Jefferson’s life through his financial history. It also contained some notes on his early legal history as well as his early observations of daily weather in Virginia. The print edition has been out of print for some time, however, and was expensive to buy third-hand. While we had previously made the TJMB available online at Rotunda’s Founding Era Collection earlier last year, our work in digitizing them was always meant to reside for free on Founders Online as well.
Because the foreword we created to describe our work is only available through the subscription-based Founding Era Collection version of the TJMB digital edition, let me briefly explain our process here and how the finished product we created in digital form varies in some cases from the old print edition.
Digitizing the TJMB was no small feat. We did our best to recreate the print edition’s formatting conventions (including reproductions of TJ’s drawings and his unique method of abbreviation) and painstaking alignment of thousands of entries with dates and braces. With the help of Stephen Perkins at Infoset, we were able to take the TJMB out of an old coding system into a customized form of XML based on the Text Encoding Initiative guidelines currently used by editors of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson (henceforth PTJ). This digital version of the text did not reflect a number of editorial changes made in the last phase of producing the print volumes, however, so we laboriously checked the digital files against the two published volumes and updated our XML accordingly. In so doing, we also found a few errors in the print edition which we sent to the PTJ editors for review, and they likewise corrected a handful of errors they had found themselves since the edition had been published.
Most importantly, we painstakingly created active links in the digital edition’s footnotes. This involved linking to references to Jefferson’s personal letters contained in the published volumes of the PTJ Main and Retirement Series. We also made many internal links within the two volumes of the TJMB as there were frequent allusions to previous or future entries throughout the TJMB’s many footnotes.
We hope that we have produced a faithful and highly useful digital adaptation of the original edited, annotated, and scholarly print edition. Digitizing Jefferson’s memorandum books was the last major project that I managed in my four years of working at Documents Compass on Founders Online, and I believe it to be one of the most significant contributions our staff made to the site. It would not have been possible without the hard work of our staff at Documents Compass, the generous help and support of the editors at the Main and Retirement Series, and the technical assistance of Stephen Perkins of Infoset and David Sewell of UVA Press.