Originally published in the Swedenborg Foundation’s newsletter Logos, in the winter of 2010.
By Stuart Shotwell
The New Century Edition of the Works of Emanuel Swedenborg (NCE ) extends to twenty-eight volumes. To date, six of those volumes have been published—Heaven and Hell, Divine Love and Wisdom, Divine Providence, True Christianity volume 1, and Secrets of Heaven volume 1, along with the essay volume that accompanies the set (also known as Scribe of Heaven). Our readers naturally wonder—where are the rest of the volumes? So here is a status update. But to explain that status, first we offer a refresher on some history that every American schoolchild learns.
In 1797, war with France was threatening, and the young United States was desperately in need of firearms. The government had been able to make only one thousand muskets in three years, and it needed forty thousand. A Yankee inventor, Eli Whitney (1765–1825), promised to provide ten thousand muskets within two years. At that time, each individual musket was handcrafted by a single gunsmith; it was a unique item. Whitney realized that he could speed production by redistributing manufacturing responsibilities: instead of each worker being responsible for every part of a musket, each worker would be responsible for manufacturing just one part over and over. The parts would be carefully designed to fit together.
A comparison between the NCE and Whitney’s muskets may seem incongruous. Unlike a musket, a given book is, more than almost any product made in such quantities in the world today, a unique item. But the editorial committee saw at the very beginning of the project that it did not want to laboriously produce one book at a time, then start over to laboriously produce another. By assigning a particular responsibility to an individual worker or team of workers, and having all workers develop their components simultaneously, the NCE could greatly increase its pace of production. For example, a team of four translators has worked simultaneously on the translations. Likewise, specific individuals or teams have been assigned to consult on the Latin, to write introductions, to craft annotations, to copyedit, and to proofread.
Our efficient method is paying off. We now have the draft translations complete for the entire series, excepting only the last third of Secrets of Heaven (the final five volumes out of fifteen in that title). We have in hand, or have contracted for, all of the introductions but one. We have annotation contracts with multiple scholars and are gradually gathering the notes we need. As a result, sixteen out of the twenty-eight volumes are substantially drafted, in addition to the six that have been printed. There is plenty of work still to do—editing introductions, translations, and annotations, and actually printing the volumes—so the books will not appear overnight. But as the chart on the next page indicates, twenty-three volumes in the series are either finished or are well embarked on the production line.
Nowadays, no one needs to be told that Whitney’s concept of distributing manufacturing responsibilities went on to revolutionize industry. But at the time there were reasons for doubting its value. It took Whitney over ten years to make good on his promise of ten thousand muskets. Fortunately, however, he was able to demonstrate a “proof of concept” for his new production ideas in 1801 at a now-famous gathering of officials in Washington that included President-Elect Thomas Jefferson. He urged the officials to choose from the parts of disassembled muskets and to reassemble a complete musket for themselves. These officials, even though untrained in gunsmithing, could easily put a musket together, and the demonstration was compelling. The government stuck with Whitney despite the many setbacks and delays he experienced.
The chart on this page is a similar proof-of-concept demonstration. We hope that NCE readers will understand that although delays are inevitable, our efficiencies will pay off in the long run. To pursue the analogy with Whitney’s innovation a bit further: No matter how successfully one produces parts, there will not be much of an increase in production if one has only one or two workers assembling the components into a whole. One of the primary aims of the current NCE fundraising campaign (known as the “Completion Campaign”) is to be able to increase the number of people “assembling” the books—performing the final editorial and production tasks necessary to get the titles into print. Donations above and beyond the $5 million goal originally set will go to speed our work and get new books into your hands as soon as possible.