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Berkeleyan

Mark Twain Project’s first electronic foray is a new volume of the author’s letters

| 20 August 2003

 

mark twain

In this vintage photo, Mark Twain, despite appearances, is almost surely not trying to remember his online password.


Sam Clemens may have been only as high-tech as the typewriter, but the campus’s Mark Twain Project is taking him into the 21st century by electronically publishing his letters.

The project, housed in the Mark Twain Papers of the Bancroft Library, is making five volumes of Twain’s letters from 1876-1880 available online via Palo Alto-based ebrary (a service providing access to various text databases), and as downloadable e-books through the University of California Press. UC Press is making the e-books available this month through Amazon.com, and eventually through other outlets.

“Moving into the electronic arena is a big, big step for us,” says Anh Bui, associate editor with the Mark Twain Project. “The electronic edition departs from our print edition in significant ways that allow us to issue it more quickly.”

The Mark Twain Papers include approximately 11,000 letters by Twain or members of his immediate family, plus more than 17,000 letters written to Twain or his family members.

Through UC Press, the project has published (at two- to five-year intervals) six heavily annotated print volumes of Twain’s letters, starting with those written in 1853 and continuing through 1875. The electronic edition — which includes more than 700 letters, many of which have never been in print in book form before — follows fast on the heels of the latest print volume, which was issued last November.

Because they are searchable, using the online letters is not as awkward for scholars as maneuvering through the project’s microfilm records, says Bui.
Robert Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Project, says the electronic edition will also reach more readers. “Electronic publication allows us not only to publish more rapidly, but to reach a far larger audience than our books are likely to otherwise,” he notes.

Viewing Mark Twain’s Letters, 1876-1880: An Electronic Edition through ebrary’s website discover.ebrary.com is free to account holders, but there is a 25-cents-per-page charge for printing. The
e-books cost $9.95 each.

This fall, the project will join with UC Press and the California Digital Library to announce a collaborative effort to make the best Mark Twain resources available digitally online. The upcoming Mark Twain Digital Project will aim to provide unprecedented access to Twain’s private and public writings, along with supplementary material about his life and times.