Focus on Documentary Editing: The Papers of John Marshall

It has been fifteen years since the publication of the 12th and final  volume of The Papers of John Marshall (published by the Omohundro Institute with partner the University of North Carolina Press). Revolutionary officer, congressman, and secretary of state before his appointment to the Supreme Court, Marshall served as the Court’s fourth Chief Justice. In this capacity, he helped define the role of the Court and elevate its status, as he interpreted the Constitution from the bench.

The Papers of John Marshall collects the Justice’s correspondence, papers, and legal documents–including selected judicial opinions. The work of many years and several editors, the twelve volumes include introductory material and notes, and shed light not only on Marshall’s life and thought but on the evolution of American jurisprudence as well.

But how did the editors decide what to include and what to leave out? How did they go about answering questions the archive posed to them in terms of both items found and items missing? The Papers of John Marshall is a prized example of documentary editing but what exactly do documentary editors do–and how do they do it? Join us for a conversation between OI editor emeritus Charles Hobson and Sara Georgini, series editor for The Papers of John Adams at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

This event is co-sponsored by the Omohundro Institute and the John Marshall Center for Constitutional History & Civics.

About the speakers

Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Sara Georgini earned her doctorate in history from Boston University in 2016. For over a decade, she has worked for the Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society, where she is series editor for The Papers of John Adams. Committed to the preservation of and access to rare primary sources, Sara has worked on the selection, annotation, indexing, and team production of more than a dozen scholarly editions drawn from the Adams Papers (Harvard Univ. Press, 2009– ), covering the history of American political life in the era from the Declaration to disunion. As a historical editor, she publishes authoritative editions of the founders’ words; leads student and teacher workshops; curates manuscripts and artifacts in thematic exhibits; and brings Adams expertise (spanning three centuries) to the broad audiences of groups like National History Day. Thanks to the Historical Society’s trove of Adams and Jefferson manuscripts, she teaches frequently on constitutionalism, founding-era thought, and the course of Anglo-American empire. Sara is the author of Household Gods: The Religious Lives of the Adams Family (Oxford Univ. Press, 2019), and she writes about early American history for Smithsonian.

Charles F. Hobson is a retired historian and documentary editor, affiliated for many years with the Omohundro Institute at William & Mary. He also served as resident scholar at the William & Mary School of Law. From 1979 to 2006, he was principal editor of The Papers of John Marshall, a twelve-volume edition of Marshall’s correspondence, papers, and selected judicial opinions. His one-volume edition, John Marshall: Writings, was published by the Library of America in 2010. After the Marshall project, he prepared an annotated edition of St. George Tucker’s Law Reports, published by the OI (with partner University of North Carolina Press) in 2013. Hobson is the author of The Great Chief Justice: John Marshall and the Rule of Law (1996) and The Great Yazoo Lands Sale: The Case of Fletcher v. Peck (2016).  




The portrait of John Marshall was painted by Henry Inman in 1832.