I was honored to attend a wonderful reception on April 28 at the historic Anderson House in DC, in celebration of the completion of a great landmark in documentary editing and congressional scholarship, the 22-volume series on the First Federal Congress. This project, housed at George Washington University and published by The Johns Hopkins University Press, has been the life-long work of the chief editor, my dear friend of many years, Charlene Bickford. Along with her fabulous colleagues Ken Bowling, Helen Veit, and Chuck diGiacomantonio , all top professional editors and historians, this magnificent project collected, researched, edited, and annotated the full record of the First Federal Congress that met from 1789 to 1791. It was the Congress that launched our government and turned the words of the U.S. Constitution into the reality of a working government.
As a former documentary editor who spent almost 20 years working on the papers of the black educator Booker T. Washington, I know well the kind of long-term dedication a project like this takes. It was a struggle to keep the First Congress Project funded for so many years, beginning in the 1960s, but with never-ending tenacity on the part of Charlene Bickford and with the continued support of federal agencies the job is done and stands as a permanent record of the single most important Congress in the history of the nation.
There were no computers around when this project started. Typewriters and lots of filing cabinets were the tools of the day. But computers came into use eventually. The 22- volumes, each a gem of scholarship, have been published in book format. But before long they will be available online through a marvelous consortium at the University of Virginia called Rotunda, which brings together a variety of documentary editions of the Founding Era, both those created originally in book editions and those starting out as digital editions.
I extend my heartiest congratulations to the editors of the First Federal Congress Project for a lifetime of dedicated research and scholarship that will stand for all time as one of the great achievements in the field of documentary editing.