A. R. Wallace Correspondence Project Reaches Important Milestone

By George Beccaloni (Director of the WCP), 27th July 2020

Today the Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project (WCP) reached a very significant milestone, and in doing so it has made an important contribution to Wallace scholarship. The milestone in question is that the project has finally finished transcribing ALL of Wallace's surviving correspondence (5,680 letters, of which 2749 are from him, 2153 to him and 778 are third party letters), thereby unlocking the information they contain by allowing them to be more easily read and information in them discovered using electronic searches for words and phrases. This huge task began in 2010 and was made possible largely thanks to the hard work of c. 170 volunteers (see a list of these kind people HERE). Our volunteers have generously contributed countless hours of their time to this work and the project is extremely grateful to all of them.

To get a mental picture of how large an amount of text this is, imagine that if all the transcripts were published in books the size of those of The Correspondence of Charles Darwin: they would fill about 11 volumes of 750 pages each, i.e. 7700 pages in total. If the volumes were side by side on a bookshelf, they would take up about 1.5 feet of shelf space.

It should be noted, that before these transcripts can be published they have to be meticulously edited and scholarly endnotes written by researchers to help the reader better understand their content. The editorial process will take place in two stages: 1) researchers will edit the transcripts and write endnotes (700 transcripts have been edited so far); 2) a Wallace specialist (the WCP's Director) will check and edit the transcripts and endnotes. This is labour-intensive work, which will take many times the number of person hours that were spent in producing the initial draft transcripts. We estimate that it will in fact probably take more than 10 years with 2-3 people working on the project full-time. Consider that the Darwin Correspondence Project will have taken more than 40 years (when it ends in 2022), to publish Darwin's correspondence of 15,000 letters (in 30 large volumes), and that it has 11 full-time staff.

Note that our transcripts of Wallace's letters will soon be available online on Epsilon - the WCP's new digital archive. Watch this space!

In addition to our volunteers, I would like to say a very big thank you to all WCP staff and the many others who have worked on the project past and present, plus the organisations which have hosted the project (currently The Charles Darwin Trust) and our funders (currently The John Templeton Foundation). Without all of you the Wallace Correspondence Project would not have been possible.

For an general update on the WCP's progress please see https://www.wallaceletters.myspecies.info/content/homepage

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