The story so far… (Feb. 16, 2017)

haymarket-logo• David and I are getting the last contract details finalized. There has been a rather shocking lack of disagreement between our vision and that of the publisher — we wanted to go big on this project or not at all, understanding full well just how much uncollected material there is out there and the pressing need for a really huge canvas to do the job right. Haymarket Books (a Marxist publishing house in Chicago associated with the International Socialist Organization) was by a huge margin our first choice of publishers. Our main point of contact there proved to be excited that someone was working on Debs and enthusiastic about our project. Our initial request for a commitment for 3 volumes of 800 pages (2400 pages total) caused very little wailing; we collectively decided that 4 volumes of 600 pages (2400 pages total) would aid periodization and make each volume less unwieldy. Bear in mind that Haymarket has done volumes topping the 1,000 page mark before so we weren’t proposing that they go somewhere they had never been…

• One of my drop-dead requirements was that there had to be a hardcover edition of some sort that didn’t cost libraries $200 a volume. Haymarket generally works hand-in-glove with a Dutch academic publisher called Brill, whose business model is shamelessly based on the production and sale of $250 volumes — perhaps subsidizing these hardcover versions with whatever paperback royalties they can extract. My previous book, edited with Paul LeBlanc, The “American Exceptionalism” of Jay Lovestone and his Comrades, 1929-1940 [2015] had started as a $250 Brill production (hopefully en route to a Haymarket paperback that normal people can afford). I found the process of working with Brill to be…… educational……. and wanted to deal with Haymarket directly this time around. David and I have been thrilled to have achieved this relatively painlessly. Haymarket’s publications are probably 99% paperback and it was a nice surprise that they have expressed a willingness to produce both formats themselves.

• One of our biggest challenges has been obtaining the “Works” section of the 1983 Papers of Eugene V. Debs microfilm, which comprises just 3 reels of a massively expensive 21 reel set of film. The original publisher back in 1983, Microfilm Corporation of America — part of the New York Times corporation — has subsequently bepapers-guideen sucked up by ProQuest, which used to be University Microfilms of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Let’s just politely say that ProQuest and Brill seem to make use of similar business models. It was a huge, protracted process even getting the ProQuest salespeople to return email with a price for the complete collection of film. They won’t even talk to individuals — they only want to deal with libraries, and it goes without saying that nothing comes cheap. I’ve bought “expensive” film before (my personal library has about 1,000 reels of film in all) and I figured if we could somehow purchase the three precious reels for $600, it would be a huge win. Final tab was $675, but at least we were eventually able to get them to take our money. (It actually costs something like $15 a reel to replicate microfilm, just so you know.)

• My primary task so far has been databasing Debs’ articles and speeches in a huge Filemaker Pro document. I actually started from the various published selections of his works, cross-referencing those (and learning in the process that almost everything you’ve ever seen has ultimately sprung from a single source, the 1908 Appeal to Reason book, Debs: His Life, Writings, and Speeches). The editor of that venerable volume, Bruce Rogers, was whipping up a presidential campaign document rather than a scientific collection and made zero attempt to cover Debs’ pre-1900 writings in any significant way. Clearly working fast, he keyed upon his writing for the Appeal to Reason itself, rather than delving into the dozens of other publications for which Debs wrote. Moreover, since his was a mid-1908 publication, it should come as no surprise that coverage of the entire 1908-1923 era by Rogers’ epigones has been something between pathetic and paltry. Just databasing the articles and speeches has proved a massive job, even working from the 40 page alphabetical listing by Constantine and Malmgreen as a starting point. As of this writing the database sits just north of 2,400 titles — which projects to something in the ballpark of 4,000 when the smoke clears.

• The other thing I’ve been doing is buying books, books, and more books. There are still a few more things to acquire, but the basic library is now in place.

That’s enough background for now.         —Tim

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