Editorial Methodology

Editorial Methodology

The primary goal of The George Washington Financial Papers Project (GWFPP) is to make Washington's business and household records accessible. In order to achieve this goal, traditional documentary editing methods are utilized—selection, organization, transcription, annotation—and a robust digital publication platform developed to facilitate semantic data structures, displays, and search/browse features.

Transcription: The transcriptions of the documents remain as close to a literal reproduction of the original manuscripts as possible. If a word has been mistakenly written twice in the document, it is rendered once by silent correction. Except as noted below, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling of all words are retained as they appear in the original document. Dashes used as punctuation are retained, except when a dash and another mark of punctuation appear together or when a dash is used to keep text in line. Contractions and abbreviations are retained as written, except that a period is inserted after an abbreviation when needed. Tobacco marks—a mark or label used to identify an owner—are not considered abbreviations and are retained as written. If the meaning of an abbreviation or contraction is not obvious, it is expanded in square brackets: “H[is] M[ajest]y.” Editorial insertions or corrections in the text also appear in square brackets. Clarifying information is added in square brackets when deemed helpful, for example: [Total]; [pounds tobacco]; [acres], and; [Maryland currency] or [Pennsylvania currency]. Angle brackets ⟨ ⟩ are used to indicate illegible or mutilated material; when there is a basis for doing so, conjectural text is supplied within the brackets. Material deleted by the author of a manuscript is ignored unless it contains substantive material, and then it appears in the annotation. The ampersand is retained and the thorn (Þ in Old English, but by Washington’s day essentially indistinguishable from the letter Y) is transcribed as “th.”

Format: Structurally, the documents are regularized to allow for ease of use and readability. The ledger books of accounts are structured to retain date (year, month, day), account holder, entry, and totals (pounds, shillings, pence, and eventually dollars and cents). As a result, unusual and non-standardized formatting within the entry columns is not retained; instead, the user can see these inconsistencies and irregularities by looking directly at the manuscript images (in the page view). In cases where the formatting indicated something substantive, it is noted in the line-level annotation. Line numbers are added to every transaction line in the ledgers so that annotation can be associated with specific entries.

Annotation: Though annotation was beyond the initial scope of this project, the platform invites experimentation with new ways to annotate documents. The GWFPP features not only traditional annotation, including a glossary and line-level notes, but also content types and taxonomies, page overviews, and visualizations. Line-level annotation is indicated with a “[*]” next to the line number and displays in the annotation view, to the left of the transcription. This format allows for specific textual notes as well as links to Rotunda and Founders Online and references to related Papers of George Washington (PGW) series or volumes. To help readers decode the various references, shorthand, and abbreviations in these documents, a glossary provides definitions as well as expansions of common abbreviations and shorthand.

Content Types: The people, places, and ships mentioned in the documents are categorized by content types. Each content type includes a specific group of potential attributes. For example:

  • Person: name, name variations, ID, birth/death dates, gender, occupation/title, related names, related places, related ships, citation, links to ID in Rotunda and Founders Online, list of related PGW series/volumes, and links to account pages and related documents.
  • Place: place name, ID, geo-location, county, state, country, place type, related places, related people, citation, links to ID in Rotunda and Founders Online, and links to related documents.
  • Ship: name, ID, name variations, related people, citation, links to ID in Rotunda and Founders Online, and links to related documents.

Taxonomies: Other types of information, including occupations and titles, services, food and beverages, agriculture, and place types, are organized in taxonomies. Taxonomies structure information hierarchically, like a traditional index. Each term can include a description, citation, and links to related book pages. Both types of annotation—content types and taxonomies—are displayed on the page overview.

Bibliography: The bibliography contains articles, blog posts, books, chapters, and websites related to the history of accounting, economics, and bookkeeping. The short title list contains shortened titles of bibliographic sources used in the annotation.

Platform Design: Searchability and browsability are key to accessibility. Taxonomies and content types provide access points to the document’s content, but how the documents are structured in the system also matters. In terms of document selection for this edition, the initial focus was on GW’s three ledger books of accounts, which were chosen because they are the top-level records, where all financial transactions eventually were accounted for. These three texts form the top-level navigation and display. Each ledger consists of several hundred folios—two pages, with debits on the left and credits on the right. Every page consists of several transactions, and every transaction consists of a date (explicit or implied), an entry, and totals (in pounds, shillings, pence, dollars, cents). All data has been fielded at an incredibly granular level—essentially, these documents are broken into the smallest components possible so that their data can be reassembled for display, searching, and browsing.

Documents and Data: An extension of this view of documents as data also helped shape the development of a behind-the-scenes clear text transcription for searching. The incompleteness of literal transcriptions posed an initial challenge. Financial documents rely on an economy of text, resulting in the use of dittos and abbreviations, limited dates and amounts, and partial headings. As a solution, the GWFPP developed the “docs vs data” approach. Essentially, the platform includes two different versions of the documents: literal transcription (document) and clear text (data). On the data side, dittos, abbreviations, and shorthand have been expanded; these include everything from abbreviations for tobacco and locations to shorthand for names mentioned in the transactions. Other editorial additions were designed to clarify archaic practices for the modern reader: When possible, dates are added to most transactions, as it was an accepted accounting practice to list a date once and not again until a date change occurred. The word “Contra” on the right (or credit) side of the folio is replaced by the name of the person or entity associated the account. The header terms “Dr” (debit) and “Cr” (credit) are added to every line on the left and right side of the ledger respectively, as which side of the folio something is on is meaningful. While this clear text allows for effective keyword searching, users may also be interested in searching on either the document or the data, or on both. This can be accomplished on the advanced search page: “entry” searches the document (literal transcription), and “entry regularized” searches the data (clear text transcription).

How to Cite the Edition:

  • In Notes: [Ledger title], [Folio page, left or right side], The George Washington Financial Papers Project, ed. Jennifer E. Stertzer, et al. (Charlottesville: Washington Papers, 2017).  For example: General Ledger A, 1750-1772, Folio 2, left, The George Washington Financial Papers Project, ed. Jennifer E. Stertzer, et al. (Charlottesville: Washington Papers, 2017)
  • In Bibliography: The George Washington Financial Papers Project, ed. Jennifer E. Stertzer, et al, Charlottesville: Washington Papers, 2017.