There’s an article in the Washington Post, “In the Course of Human Events, Still Unpublished.” It’s about how the papers of the founding fathers of the United States are still not available except in physical form, and the scholarly practice that keeps them there.
Many of the founding fathers’ letters have been transcribed and made available over the years, and the original documents can increasingly be found online. But it is the painstaking annotation of these thousands of documents — their detailed explanation — that takes so long. Scholars check and double-check each reference and then try to explain each one and put it in context. A page of the massive annotated tomes can contain a snippet of a document and then a long footnote of explanation.
It seems to me that, while useful, footnotes and explanations inevitably reflect the time in which they’re written. The writings of those brilliant men usually speak for themselves. There’s certainly context and explanation that adds to it, but for heaven’s sake, get the originals out there. They’re far more important than the footnotes.