Voices and Ideas

Transcribing Henry James: The Work of the Center for Henry James Studies

By Caitlyn Ewers

Headquartered at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, the Center for Henry James Studies houses an impressive library of works related to the prolific American author. Multiple editions of his many novels, short stories, travel essays, and more line the walls, and scholarly texts analyzing his life and works are available for researchers’ use. The most precious artifacts within the James Center’s library, however, are his thousands of personal letters available as transcriptions or copied from the originals, obtained from libraries, universities, and personal archives worldwide.  

The James Center’s mission is to transcribe, annotate, and publish the more than ten thousand extant letters of Henry James, thereby making an invaluable contribution to James research at all levels. Greg W. Zacharias (ФBK, New York University, 1982), Professor of English at Creighton University, is the center’s director as well as co-general editor of each volume of The Complete Letters of Henry James. The first was issued in 2006, and to-date, eight volumes co-edited by Pierre A. Walker, Professor of English at Salem State University, have been published in print by the University of Nebraska Press

Each book comprises approximately 75 to 150 letters transcribed according to the plain text system of transcription, a method created by the editors of the Mark Twain letters. Plain text transcriptions denote crossed-out words, over-writings, indentations, and other marks which allow researchers to read not only the words which James wrote, but to gain some insight into the thoughts and processes behind them.  

All the volumes are meticulously annotated and cross-referenced with one another. The project’s thoroughness has been commended by the Modern Language Association many times over, as every published volume has received the seal of the Committee on Scholarly Editions of the MLA.

Several more volumes of The Complete Letters of Henry James are underway, with Zacharias and Michael W. Anesko (ФBK, Pennsylvania State University, 1976), Professor of English and American Studies at Pennsylvania State University, as co-general editors and Katie Sommer of Creighton University as the project’s associate editor. In accordance with its commitment to promoting James research among scholars and students at all levels, the project has also employed a number of graduate and undergraduate assistants part-time. 

Henry James (1843-1916), himself an honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa (Harvard University, 1872), embodies the excellence in liberal arts the organization rewards and promotes. He greatly influenced the Western world’s perception of fiction writing as an art form and, although famously an expatriate, his works significantly impacted the direction of American literature in the late nineteenth century and beyond. His personal letters reveal other facets of the author, and his recollections, observations, and occasional biting social criticisms make his missives a valuable resource to many. Through The Complete Letters of Henry James, the Center for Henry James Studies will continue to compile and publish these letters to the benefit of historians and literary scholars alike.

Caitlyn Ewers is a senior at Creighton University majoring in Latin and Art History. Creighton University is home to the Beta of Nebraska Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

(Posted on 12/23/2015 )