Editing Historical Documents

by Joellen El Bashir

The editing of historical documents can be an important task for students of history. Documents are edited in order to illuminate their historical significance. In the process of historical editing, persons and events referred to in a particular document are identified and examined within the context of the era. Related events can also be discussed. Other editing tasks can include accurately transcribing handwritten texts, clarifying word usage, and pointing out errors of grammar, spelling and punctuation.

You can try your hand at editing by looking at a 1952 letter from Mary McLeod Bethune.

Click on the letter icon for an enlarged version then try to answer the following questions.


  1. Can you identify some of the people and organizations included in this letter?  Try ‘surfing the Web’ to see what information on them is available.


Mary McLeod Bethune
Eleanor Roosevelt
Edith Sampson
Flemmie P. Kittrell
National Council of Negro Women
Bethune-Cookman College



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  1. Why do you think a conference on world peace would be so important in 1952, nearly seven years after the end of World War II?
  1. What are some of the research strategies you could use to determine whether or not Mrs. Roosevelt actually attended the conference at Bethune Cookman College?


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May 2000