Critical Edition Update

Critical Edition of Whitehead year-end update, winter 2019

A letter from John Dewey to Whitehead on the “chief divergence” of their philosophies. (click to enlarge)

It has been a momentous and somewhat exhausting year for the Critical Edition of Whitehead.

The “exhausting” part can largely be attributed to our work on the recently submitted second volume of Whitehead’s Harvard lectures, the completion of which consumed the bulk of our efforts for the year. Transcription of materials for the volume started way back in March 2014, and we began editing them together in early 2018. After two years of focused effort, the manuscript is now in the hands of Edinburgh University Press, where it still needs to go through a long process of copy-editing and typesetting before its publication in late 2020 or early 2021. With the second volume of Harvard lectures largely behind us, we can finally turn our attention back to some other projects, a few of which have been a little neglected lately.

One of these is the papers donated to WRP in January by Whitehead’s grandson and heir, George Whitehead. Some may have wondered at the fact that we reported that we had completed scanning the materials in a mid-year update, but do not seem to have done much with them since. There are a few points we feel we should clarify here.

First, while the physical scanning is complete, the cataloging process is not. Most of the items still lack robust metadata, including top-level descriptions, and we also have not converted the raw archival image files into more user-friendly PDFs. All of this takes time and resources, but we hope to complete most or all of it the coming year.

Second, we had said in our first quarterly update for this year that “Much of [the papers] is more of personal/biographical interest than it is of academic value, [though] there are certainly exceptions.” This statement still holds true. To expand on this a bit: the papers contain somewhat in excess of 350 letters (mostly of a personal nature), 120 reviews of Whitehead’s books, a dozen newspaper articles, two dozen royalty statements, and about 150 other miscellaneous documents—some by Whitehead himself, either typed or handwritten, but many of them work by others, from his son Eric to his friend Felix Frankfurter.

Notably absent are any handwritten or typed manuscripts for Whitehead’s books. The closest that we get to anything like this are a couple of previously unknown Whitehead papers—“Freedom and Order” and “Religious Psychology of the Western Peoples”—which both come in multiple typed drafts with handwritten emendations. These were posted to the Whitehead Research Library in early February. In short, we have already posted what we regard to be the most academically interesting pieces from the Whitehead papers, while the rest will be of predominantly biographical value. Hence, we chose to prioritize the completion of the second volume of Harvard lectures because it is going to have more of an impact on our understanding of Whitehead’s philosophy than anything found in the papers donated by George Whitehead. We still plan to make the papers publicly available as time and resources permit.

But speaking of the Whitehead Research Library, its launch in February of this year is worth remembering and celebrating. It currently contains sixty items that range from letters, to student notes, to photos, to the aforementioned manuscripts, and we will continue to add to it. Of special note here is that we plan to post raw transcriptions of the student notes which make up the second volume of Harvard lectures concurrently with the volume’s publication, so that scholars are able to examine for themselves the various alternative accounts which do not appear in full in the volume.

Our anthology of essays on the first volume of Harvard lectures, Whitehead at Harvard, 1924-25, is now available for pre-order and will be published by Edinburgh University Press in January. Based on papers delivered at the 2017 WRP conference in Claremont, it is the first book to critically assess the impact of the publication of Whitehead’s first year of lectures, and includes chapters penned by leading Whitehead scholars on topics ranging from his philosophy of evolution as influenced by Harvard colleague Lawrence J. Henderson, to his thoughts on quantum theory, and his attitude toward and intersections with Kant. We dare to hope that readers will find it illuminating.

There have been a few new acquisitions over the year, including some letters between Whitehead and Xavier Léon (a French philosopher who founded the journal Revue de métaphysique et de morale) regarding his paper on “The Relational Theory of Space.” More recently, we acquired yet more student notes from Harvard, this time from 1932–33, taken by David Loeb Krupsaw.

With initial transcription complete for four out of six planned volumes of student notes, we have shifted our transcription efforts to Whitehead’s previously unpublished or uncollected essays (i.e., those which did not later appear in his monographs), with an eye toward editing two volumes of collected essays as a part of the Critical Edition. This will be another of our major focuses for the coming year.

We have completed and submitted an application for an NEH Scholarly Editions and Translations Grant. If funded, the award would provide support for three years, starting in the spring of 2021. Grant funds would be used to transcribe the handwritten materials for the fifth and sixth volumes of the Harvard Lectures (HL5 and HL6), the verification of transcribed handwritten materials for HL3, and the verification and critical editing of two volumes of “collected papers.” 

The work of searching for, transcribing, and editing archival materials is time-consuming and costly. If you are able to support our work with a donation, it would be much appreciated. Just follow this link.

Brian Henning, Executive Editor
Critical Edition of Whitehead
Joseph Petek, Assistant Editor
Critical Edition of Whitehead