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Mark Twain Letters go online

 Mark Twain
Mark Twain
 

– Author Samuel Langhorne Clemens - a.k.a. Mark Twain - may have been only as high-tech as the typewriter, but the University of California, Berkeley'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 in a page-by-page format via Palo Alto-based "ebrary," 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.
Many of the more than 700 letters in the new electronic edition have never been in print in book form before.

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.

"Moving into the electronic arena is a big, big step for us," said 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 than we have our print edition."

On file for scholars' review at the Mark Twain Papers inside The Bancroft Library are 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 follows fast on the heels of the latest print volume, which was issued last November.

"Chronologically, this edition continues where our print edition of 'Mark Twain's Letters, Volume 6,' leaves off," Bui said.

Online publication of Twain's letters makes them available sooner than possible with the annotated, print versions. Because they are searchable, using them is not as clumsy as maneuvering through the project's microfilm records, she said.

"It doesn't have any of the editorial bells and whistles that the print versions do, so it's not ideal," said Bui. "But you don't need to wait years to see the latest letters."

Robert H. Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Project, also said that the electronic edition will reach more readers.

"Electronic publication allows us not only to publish more rapidly, but also to reach a far larger audience than our books are likely to reach otherwise," he said. "We know that the world is eager to have more of what Mark Twain actually wrote, and we're confident that it will be glad to have these letters - now carefully transcribed and dated - available."

Mark Twain Project editors will be interested, Bui said, to see if users of the online feature are willing to spend money for access to the latest bare bones batch of letters, and if they get frustrated by reading a letter without being able to read its editorial explanations.

The electronic edition of "Mark Twain's Letters, 1876-1880" is the first of several major digital undertakings planned by the project.

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.

The Mark Twain Project has a $500,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to electronically transcribe all of Twain's letters and encode them in an open-source encoding scheme, then find a way to present them digitally along with annotation and commentary. The ebrary and e-book project uses some of the transcriptions made for the NEH task.

The Mark Twain Papers includes the world's largest collection of Twain's letters, notebooks, pictures, literary manuscripts, documents, scrapbooks and an autobiography of Twain's, along with about 150 books from his personal library. This fall, the project is scheduled to publish a scholarly edition of "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," the first ever based on Twain's original, complete manuscript.