The Wesley Works Archive, 1676-1996 and undated, bulk 1724-1791, 1960-1996, forms part of the working papers of the Wesley Works Editorial Project (WWEP). Formed in 1960, this international and inter denominational consortium of scholars is producing a complete critical edition of the works of John Wesley, the 18th century Church of England clergyman who was a primary founder of Methodism. The collection consists of that portion of the Project's documents gathered by Frank Baker during almost four decades of service as the WWEP's General Editor, Textual Editor, and main bibliographer, and consists of the correspondence, writings, research, printed materials, photocopied manuscripts, proofs, and other materials produced by Baker and the many other historians, theologians, and clergy who have participated in the Project. Because John Wesley preached, wrote, and published so widely, the content of the research materials required for a full edition of his writings necessarily contains much information not only about the founding and early history of the Methodist and Wesleyan Methodist Churches, but also much information about the history of religious thought and dissent in 18th century England, the Evangelical Revival, and the history of publishing. Beyond the ostensible purpose of the WWEP, however, the modern correspondence and scholarly debate contained in these papers also throws light on such topics as scholarly publishing and textual criticism.
The collection also sheds light on the history and mechanics of the transmission of texts. That is, while the reproduced printed materials here document the complex publishing and textual history of the thousands of editions of Wesley's writings to appear in his lifetime alone, at the same time the original writings of modern scholars involved in the WWEP document how older texts are researched and recovered from the past, all for the purpose of establishing a present authoritative text to be passed on to the future.
Series in the Wesley Works Archive are arranged to correspond to the unit structure of the thirty-five volume Bicentennial Edition. Described more fully below, the initial sixteen series of the archive and the sixteen units and thirty-five volumes of the Bicentennial Edition are as follows: Sermons (1-4); Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament (5-6); A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists (7); Worship (8); The Methodist Societies (9-10); The Appeals to Men of Reason and Religion and Certain Related Open Letters (11); Doctrinal and Controversial Treatises (12-13); Social/Political Tracts (14); Catechetical/Educational Works (15); Editorial Works (16); Medical Writings (17); Journals and Diaries (18-24); Letters (25-31); Oxford Diaries (32); Bibliography (33-34); and Index and Miscellanea (35). A concluding seventeenth series, General Files, gathers materials about the overall history and organization of the WWEP.
The history of the Wesley Works Editorial Project already extends more than fifty years, from its inception in 1960 to the 2011 publication of The Methodist Societies: The Minutes of Conference. This volume, as the seventeenth to be published, marks the halfway point of the entire Bicentennial Edition, which will comprise thirty-four volumes plus a concluding general index volume. Although the General Files are placed as the final series in order to avoid interrupting the parallel structure of series and volumes, they actually mark the best place to begin an overview of the collection, since their various folder groups document much of the administrative history of the Project. Overviews and details of the Project's inception, history, institutional support, and editorial guidelines are best found in the folder groups for the Board of Directors and the Editorial Board. The history of the actual content, intellectual structure, and presentation of volumes can be found in such groups as grouped under such categories as Editorial Procedures and Bulletins of the WWP. Most of the latter were issued by Frank Baker in the 1970s and contain much detail about the content and style choices that were being made for various volumes. The General Files also contain materials that may relate to more than one unit of the Bicentennial Edition, as well as some Wesley publications not selected for inclusion, especially his Explanatory Notes Upon the Old Testament.