Over the past couple of years, I have written some 200 biographies for Wikipedia, mostly of women and people of color born in the 19th century. A good number of these people have an archive somewhere, often at a small college where they taught or at a local historical society or library. One thing I keep running across in my research is references to their unpublished manuscripts. I suspect many of these writings are orphans—unlikely to be published for any of several reasons: Because there is no commercial market for them. Because they may be under a copyright cloud. Because no one thinks they are worth the trouble or has maybe even taken the time to look at them closely. So they are left to languish in a numbered box. Yet many of those I have found sound intriguing, and I think they deserve a chance to be read by more than just the occasional scholar—indeed, they deserve a chance to be read by anyone at all who is interested in these authors or their periods or the fields in which they worked. There are plenty of lists of unpublished works and lost works by famous people, but there isn’t any list that I know of focusing on other kinds unpublished works.
For this reason, I am launching the Out of the Archive project with the ICI (and hopefully other partners to come). It has two goals: first to collect information about such unpublished manuscripts, and second to encourage their release as digital files or simple epubs. And I’m not talking here about trying to get these writings put out by publishing houses at the end of a long editorial and design process— even though there are some great lost books that have reached the public in just that way, through houses such as Virago and Persephone. I’m talking about plain-vanilla digitizing, maybe something as simple as a pdf or a collection of jpegs. Alternatively, someone with institutional affiliations may be prompted to include one of these manuscripts in the large-scale digitization initiative being organized by HathiTrust. The idea is to keep it as simple as possible so that the project doesn’t become daunting, and so that the results can circulate as easily and quickly as possible. A scanned typescript that you can actually read, flaws and all, is worth any number of printed books that might exist in some hypothetical future.
Anyone who cares to is welcome to participate. There are several ways you can take part besides actually copying and uploading a manuscript. Maybe you know of an unpublished manuscript from your own researches and will let us know so we can add it to the list. Maybe you’ll notice that one of these is in a nearby library and will drop by to check it out and let us know what you found, to help someone else take the next step. Maybe you’re a librarian and will help by digitizing a manuscript for this project. Maybe you’ll request digitization of a specific manuscript pertinent to your own research.
Anything in an archive is being held for all of our sakes, after all—for you and for me and for whoever comes along after us. So Out of the Archive is a way for us to share what is, in a sense, already ours even if we have never seen it and did not know it existed.
Drop us an email via email@example.com if you want to volunteer in any way, on your own time and at your own pace. Meanwhile, below is an initial list of unpublished manuscripts that I’ve come across in the past couple of years, with links to their authors’ Wikipedia pages.
Potential Out of the Archive Manuscripts alphabetical by last name
Margaret Brackenbury Crook (1886–1972): a suffragist and professor of religious studies, her last book (on the Apostle Paul) remains unpublished. Archives at Smith College, Princeton University Library (archives of the John Day Publishing Company), and Andover Harvard Library (Beach Press archives).
Kathleen Farrell (1912–1999): a British novelist; her unpublished writings are held by the University of Texas, Austin.
Mary Hallock Foote (1847-1938): an author and illustrator of the American West whose extensive correspondence has never been published though it was used uncredited by the novelist Wallace Stegner in his Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel Angle of Repose.
Eugene Gordon (1891–1972): an African-American journalist, his unpublished writings are held by the New York Public Library.
Hannah Griffitts (1727–1817): an American Quaker poet of the Revolutionary period; several hundred of her unpublished poems and many letters are held by the Pennsylvania Historical Society.
Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford (1829–1921): a minister and biographer, she wrote an unpublished memoir, “Old Time School Days in Nantucket.” Location to be determined.
Edwin Harleston (1882–1931): an African-American painter, he is the subject of an unpublished biography by his daughter and granddaughter. Archives at Emory University.
Deborah Norris Logan (1761–1839): an American Quaker historian and memoirist; her 17-volume diary is unpublished apart from excerpts. Archives at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Edith Morley (1875–1964): a British literary scholar, she wrote an unpublished memoir, “Looking Before and After.” In University of Reading archives.
Deborah Griscom Passmore (1840–1911): an artist for the early USDA, she wrote an unpublished illustrated book, “Flowers in Water Color.” In USDA archives.
Margaret Fulton Spencer (1882–1966): a painter and architect, she wrote an unpublished memoir about running a dude ranch, “Dudes and Dopes.” Location to be determined.
Ruby Pickens Tartt (1880–1974): an American folklorist, she wrote a collection of unpublished stories based on Southern folklore. Location to be determined, possibly destroyed.