David Rogers Chesnutt, 74, died of throat cancer at home in Hardwick,
Vermont on December 15, 2014.
Born in Athens, AL in 1940, the son of Thomas Brice Chesnutt and Lena (Moss)
Chesnutt, he earned degrees from the University of Alabama, ’62, Auburn
University, ’67, and the University of Georgia, ’73.
Chesnutt spent 35 years as Research Professor in the History Department at
the University of South Carolina where he served as Associate Editor and
then Editor of the Papers of Henry Laurens, a 16 volume collection of the
letters of the leader of revolutionary activity in South Carolina during the
American Revolution. Laurens, a former president of the Continental
Congress, participated in the negotiations which led to the peace of Paris,
1783, which brought the war to an end. Chesnutt was one of the founding
members of the Association for Documentary Editing, in the late 1970s, and
he served as its President, 1991-1992.
In the mid 1970s, Chesnutt started to apply computers to scholarship in the
humanities when he developed the first program for creating a
back-of-the-book index. In the 1980s and 1990s he worked with a small group
of scholars from the US and Europe to develop the Text Encoding Initiative
(TEI), a protocol for publishing humanities documents on the infant World
Wide Web. His work in what is now called digital humanities culminated in
the Model Editions Partnership which demonstrated five different ways in
which fully edited documentary editions, such as the Laurens Papers, could
be served up on the Web.
For 23 years, Chesnutt served as a member of the South Carolina Historical
Records Advisory Board. In 2005, Governor Mark Sanford presented him with
the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian honor for
extraordinary lifetime achievement and service to the state and nation.
Chesnutt owned a small desk-top publishing business which published
scholarly books, and, for more than 35 years, he edited and published
Manuscripts, the journal of the Manuscript Society.
He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Dow, of Hardwick, VT, his son, James,
daughter-inlaw Allison Narver and granddaughter Kate, of London, England,
twin daughters, Catherine of New York City, and Elizabeth of Columbia, SC,
brothers Thomas B., of St. Petersburg, FL, and Samuel W. of St. Helena
Island, SC, sister Carol B., of Birmingham, AL, and six nieces and nephews.
He was a southern gentleman in the best sense of the word: genteel,
sympathetic, kind, generous, and wise. A memorial service will be held in
the spring. In lieu of flowers, donations in his name should go to Hardwick
Historical Society, PO Box 177, Hardwick, Vermont 05843 or the Manuscript
Society, 14003 Rampart Ct., Baton Rouge, LA 70810, or the Association for
Documentary Editing, c/o Ondine LeBlanc, ADE Treasurer, Massachusetts
Historical Society, 1154 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215.