What do college professors do during the summer?

During most summers, I teach at least one course in addition to my research. But this summer I have received a Summer Research Grant (with pay equivalent to teaching two summer classes) so that I can spend all my time on my research, which is editing Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. For some professors summer work may mean travel or field research or time in lab (depending on discipline) and much writing and much reading, I am an editor and so my summer is somewhat odd.

Each weekday morning, I wake up by 7:30 or so, head to the library. At the IBE, I spend at least one and sometimes up to two hours proofreading Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I read aloud from an original copy of Jewett’s 1853 illustrated edition (almost done), Jewett’s 2-volume 1st edition (handful of straggling chapters now done), Jewett’s one-volume Million Edition (done), and the 1879 Houghton-Osgood Edition (starting this week). And I read aloud punctuation, dialect spelling, line breaks, special characters, unusual spellings, and character encoding. Cathy Tisch, the IBE assistant, follows along in a print out which has been sprinkled with one or two character errors per chapter. Those sprinkled errors are important lest one become overconfident in the accuracy of the text because all of these texts have been double-keyed and so are very accurate. Aside from variants between copies, each edition has different qualities. So one edition that was not not printed in great numbers and not altered significantly (1853 Illustrated edition) is rather easy. But other editions, which were reprinted extensively, are a mess. The one-volume Million edition, reprinted 10s of 1000s of times, has many type matters that are with few exceptions sticky and sometimes insoluble problems–matters of judgment about whether a hyphen is visible, a comma is a comma or a broken semicolon, or the like.

After that hour of proofreading I switch to the Lindstrand Comparator for another hour or so. During previous two weeks I done have collated two copies of the Thomas Bosworth’s British author’s edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This edition, of which Kent State has a copy and I have another copy, offers an interesting problem because Stowe, while preparing what she called the “Large Pictorial Edition” sent what she called a “corrected copy” to Bosworth. What did she send? What did she correct? That will have to wait a while as I’m not done. But I can say in preview “a lot” but one does not know whether a change can be attributed to Stowe (though some certainly can!) because I have learned that most of the changes are plain and simple corrections of error, most probably because previous Bosworth printing was proofread against a copy that Stowe sent. There’s too much detail on this–which might bog down what is intended as a short post–but the basic publication history of that edition is told in a long-forgotten unpublished dissertation by Harry Earl Opperman, who wrote “A Bibliography and Stemma Codicum for British Editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin 1852-1853″ while completing his PhD at Kansas State in 1971. Opperman collated over 30 British editions almost entirely from microfilm. In any case, if alterations between those two Bosworth copies match an American edition (such as the revised 2-volume edition, the Illustrated Edition or the Million Paperback edition), then it’s likely Stowe is responsible for the revision. But to figure out whether the preponderance of surviving evidence validates the thesis, those other editions had to be transcribed and double-keyed (see above).

So, after an hour or so of collating, while Cathy does some other work, then I go over to the computer and resume proofreading a set of letters that were written by Walt Whitman’s mother Louisa Van Velsor and sent to him. I have completed the letters at the Ransom Center and am now working on the largest set of letters from Duke’s Trent Collection, which are eventually to be published on the Walt Whitman Archive. I had a student assistant who work on initial transcription and first pass of annotation, but I’m responsible for the final pass of proofreading and final annotation, based mostly on Whitman’s and his family’s letters, news in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Brooklyn City Directories (both freely available from Brooklyn Public Library), and other scholarly sources like maps of Brooklyn, Joel Myerson’s brilliant bibliography of Whitman, and whatever else is necessary to figure out all the nicknames that belonged to Walt’s niece Jessie Louisa (“Sis” except when it’s her older Sis, “California” when it’s how Walt refers to her, and sometimes “Duty”). That hour of proofreading done I usually walk home for lunch. Sometimes I return in afternoon for another hour of proofreading, but I generally go to work in the home office until 5:00.

In the office I mostly work on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, correcting transcriptions, collating to double-check corrections, checking copies (I always check original copies), encoding variant states, writing PERL scripts for conversions, etc. Usually I also put in one hour on Louisa’s letters, mostly annotating. In the evening for another 1.5 hours I annotate. Ever since the end of the semester, I’ve been working 7 days a week on Uncle Tom’s Cabin (only about 5 or 6 hours per day on weekends) for about 60 hours a week. I’m now going to switch around a bit to try to get very close to finishing up Mother Whitman letters, about 30 hours a week on Uncle Tom’s Cabin with the remainder on Louisa Whitman letters.

Within a few weeks it’s writing up results as paper draft and back to class preparation and reappointment file preparation for the fall. So you see, a college professor does not sleep late, drink fine wine, travel to exotic vacation spots, etc. all summer. Actually, I’ve never done any of those things because I work, if not at a dedicated then at a ferocious pace, every day.

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