Collaborations: Volunteer Researchers

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Very early in the Diary Project, it became clear that volunteers were needed to help with research. From the beginning, all agreed that William’s terse diary entries needed annotations to make their meaning clear.

In mid-September 1988, the editors met with the staff of the Smithsonian’s Visitor Information and Associates' Reception Center (VIARC)  to place a call for volunteers. VIARC has been the source of more than 100 highly-qualified researchers whose expertise has enabled the Diary Project to continue. The quality of the Washington-area work force and the abundance of suitable retirees has been a significant factor in this success.

In early 1989, the editors recruited John R. (Dick) Anderson as a volunteer. Anderson, who had assembled an impressive private collection of material relating to the New York piano industry during the 19th century, joined with enthusiasm and continues to this day. In March 1989, Anderson and a group of seven other researchers met to learn about the Diary Project, its needs, and areas of research each would be willing to cover. Assigned areas included health, government and politics, law, public transportation, the piano trade, family and society, and the business climate. Later, musical events, performance, and many other topics were added. Several researchers who knew German worked on the transcription and translation of Steinway family letters. 

The researchers met monthly; at the beginning, the emphasis was on compiling reports on their topics. One result was an outline for a comprehensive study of the American business climate from 1850–1900 written by Charles Orth III, a former Associate Dean of the Harvard Business School. Another was an annotated bibliography related to 19th-century family life and divorce. Henry Ziegler Steinway joined the group at several meetings—especially at the beginning—including September and November 1989; January 1990 when he brought along Dr. Richard Lieberman; and December 1991 when he brought his younger sister, Lydia Steinway Cochrane, from Chicago. Ted flew to Washington from California for most of the meetings before he moved to the Washington area in 1991.

The group prepared material to show to prospective publishers, concentrating on compelling extracts from various years. They reviewed other diary editions to see how others had approached a similar challenge. They debated whether annotations should break into the flow of the diary or should be grouped at the end. They heard the Editor of the Joseph Henry Papers present that edition’s precise guidelines for editorial policy. The editors consulted many scholarly publishers who found the project interesting but too large for a multi-volume project, even with a subvention. Hence, the prospect of a printed edition seemed dim. Even so, all were determined to keep working to make the Diary available. By October 1991 the meeting format had evolved into a review of the diary day-by-day to identify subjects that needed further research and to assign each to a researcher, a practice still used in current meetings.  

Through the years the volunteers have worked more than 25,000 hours researching and writing invaluable annotations that will be available not only through the Web but also through the Museum's Archives Center. They have helped not only in this capacity but also by helping with routine office work, tracking assignments, organizing chronological annotation files, proofreading, and many other tasks needed to keep the Diary Project moving. The number of volunteers has ranged from about 8 to over 30 at a time.