One of the comments we sometimes hear about living in the “digital age” is that texts are in a state of constant revision. For better or for worse, website content can change from one day to the next, and unless there is some sort of tracking in place (as on Wikipedia), the user won’t know what changed.

Yet this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Print books change in content, from one revised edition to the next. Sometimes the changes are clear, in the form of an added chapter, or documented in the new foreword by the author. Sometimes they are more elusive, woven into the original text like the near-invisible darn which restores a sweater.

C. Vann Woodward’s The Stange Career of Jim Crow (Commemorative edition) falls into the latter category. The content originated as three consecutive lectures given at the University of Virginia in 1954, edited by the author with some help from colleagues and published in 1955. For the paperback edition of 1957, the content was revised and a foreword added. Ten years later the book was again revised, not only with additional material in chapter form but worked back into the original text. A final revision, with yet another chapter, took place in 1973. The extent to which the main text was again revised is unclear.

It would, of course, be possible to hunt down all four editions and compare the content. With the help of a good scanner and quality OCR, it might not even take that long. Website revisions can be retrieved through caches, if one is lucky. The iterations of historical writing are (sometimes) discoverable.