Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943


William and Mary Quarterly

Guidelines for Preparing Historical Documents

  • Purpose. The purposes of publishing a document are to make available sources that will add to historians’ understanding of some episode, movement, idea, or interpretation, to open up new areas of historical inquiry, or both. Discussion of the document should consider the context of the document’s creation and dissemination, the intrinsic importance or uniqueness of the document, the document’s relation to similar documents, if any, and the new understanding the document engenders. In general, the document should be new to readers, although a new interpretation or translation of a known document is possible.
  • Permissions. A document that has been published more than 75 years ago is likely in the public domain and thus does not require permission, but authors are advised to consult knowledgable authorities to confirm that this is the case. A document that has been previously published but within less than 75 years probably will need permission from the copyright holder. A document never before published will require permission of the owner and the copyright holder (the author or the author’s heir or assignee). Possession of the physical document is not always coterminous with copyright ownership.
  • Illustrations. If at all possible, please supply an image (color, if possible, for the online version) of each page of the entire document. The next best choice is to provide a photocopy of the entire document. If one or more pages of the document in photographic form is/are included in the Quarterly, you will probably need permission from the owner or copyright holder and in addition may need to pay a fee for the photograph itself.
  • Format. The Quarterly will make every effort to reproduce the actual appearance of a document, supplemented where possible by illustration (see no. 3). Technical matters such as columns, strikeovers, ragged margins, orthographic peculiarities, and the like will be handled on an ad hoc basis while keeping in mind the need for readability and understanding.
  • Peer review. Documents with their accompanying annotations and explanations are subject to a peer review similar to what article submissions undergo.
  • References. For excellent guides to editing historical documents, see Mary-Jo Kline, A Guide to Documentary Editing (Baltimore, 1987), and Michael E. Stevens and Steven B. Burg, Editing Historical Documents (Thousand Oaks, Calif., 1997).