There is a long tradition in South Africa of publishing private and public documents, beginning with Donald Moodie's The Record, which first appeared in 1838. At the turn of the century the seemingly indefatigable Geroge McCall Theal published a number of collections that have become standard references for South African historians: Belangrijke Historische Dokumenten verzameld in de Kaap Kolonie en Elders (3 vols.); Basutoland Records (3 vols.); Records of South Eastern Africa (9 vols.); and the massive thirty-six-volume edition of the Records of the Cape Colony. The Van Riebeeck Society has just published the seventieth volume in its series of edited diaries, journals, and letters.3 And every student of contemporary South Africa has referred to the four-volume collection of African political documents edited by Gwendolen Carter and Thomas Karis.
In this essay I want to discuss the evolution of my own work with the papers of the South African missionary John Philip. I do not intend to delve into the intricacies of transcribing these papers but rather to discuss them in the broader context of documentary editing and the publication of multi-volume editions. The recently organized Association for the Publication of African Historical Sources has rightly identified the need for a coordinated effort to make African historical documents and source materials more readily available to the scholarly community. If the first of these sources to be published is an indication of what may be expected from this series, then all Africanists should join together to give the association their full support.5 But documentary editing is not a simple or inexpensive undertaking, as I hope to show in this paper.