Phrenology2018 Projects and Project Staff

Cohen Lab has moved to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln! We are excited about our new home, though we will miss the good folks at Texas and maintain several collaborations there.

The main projects this coming year will be expanding Walt Whitman’s Annotations under the power of an NEH grant and adding to the Whitman’s Poetry Reprints handlist. We will also be preparing the manuscript of a collection of essays, The New Whitman Studies, for Cambridge University Press.

This year’s staff for Walt Whitman’s Annotations:

  • Dr. Caterina Bernardini, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of English, UNL
  • Caitlin Henry, MA Candidate, Department of English, UNL
  • Regan Chasek, Undergraduate Research Assistant, UNL

Whitman’s Drift is Published

Whitman’s Drift: Imagining Literary Distribution has been published by the University of Iowa Press! It’s a book about Whitman and his work, but my hope is that it will also be read as a methodological reflection on how we think about the effect of literary distribution on reading and on literary interpretation. Here’s a little bit about it:

The American nineteenth century witnessed a media explosion unprecedented in human history. New communications technologies seemed to be everywhere, offering opportunities and threats that resonate with us as we experience today’s digital revolution. Walt Whitman’s poetry reveled in the potentials of his time: “See, the many-cylinder’d steam printing-press,” he wrote, “See, the electric telegraph, stretching across the Continent, from the Western Sea to Manhattan.”

Still, books neither sell themselves nor move themselves: without an efficient set of connections to get books to readers, the democratic media-saturated future Whitman imagined would have remained warehoused. Whitman’s works sometimes ran through the “many-cylinder’d steam printing press” and were carried in bulk on “the strong and quick locomotive.” Yet during his career, his publications did not follow a progressive path toward mass production and distribution. Even at the end of his life, in the 1890s as his fame was growing, the poet was selling copies of his latest works by hand to visitors at his small house in Camden, New Jersey. Mass media and centralization were only one part of the rich media world that Whitman embraced.

Whitman’s Drift asks how the many options for distributing books and newspapers shaped the way writers wrote and readers read. Writers like Whitman spoke to the imagination inspired by media transformations by calling attention to connectedness, to how literature not only moves us emotionally, but moves around in the world among people and places. Studying that literature and how it circulated can enrich our readings of Whitman’s works and times–and help us understand what is happening to our imaginations now, in the midst of the twenty-first century media explosion.

Whitman’s Drift and an End-of-Semester Thought

By Matt Cohen

My book Whitman’s Drift: Imagining Literary Distribution is on the horizon! It will be out this summer from the University of Iowa Press, in their “Iowa Whitman Series.”

A thought:
Next semester’s message for graduate students: “Someone, at some point in the history of human thought, has been annoyed by the same kinds of ideas you’re annoyed by.” This is taken from a thoughtful piece at ArtForum, generously passed along by Katherine Field.

Presentation on Whitman’s Annotations

Out of the Restless Marge: Walt Whitman’s Annotations
A presentation by Lauren Grewe and Alejandro Omidsalar

Harry Ransom Center, Prothro Theatre
9:00 – 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, April 13

Walt Whitman’s manuscript annotations consist of thousands of loose pages, clippings, pamphlets, books, newspapers, bank notes, and the like, all scribbled upon by America’s most renowned poet. These documents show the process by which Whitman came into writerly being. They are also fascinating witnesses of nineteenth-century reading practices, and thought-provoking in their own right. In his poetry, Whitman famously depicts himself as a “rough,” whose writing is an organic expression of the American land and way of life. Yet as his annotations reveal, from classical rhetoric to the poetry of Tennyson, from Persian mysticism to nineteenth-century phrenological journals, the influences on Whitman’s work were historically deep and culturally diverse. They are an astonishingly rich resource for students of Whitman, of nineteenth-century American literature, and of textual studies more broadly.

In this presentation, project managers Alejandro Omidsalar and Lauren Grewe will discuss the first installment of the Walt Whitman Archive’s edition of Whitman’s annotations, published this past winter with the support of the NEH, the UT Department of English, and the University of Nebraska’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities. This edition was designed and realized largely by graduate students here at the University of Texas, and the Ransom Center has been an essential partner. We will offer an overview of this group of documents, the difficult choices we made in developing our approach to preserving and presenting them, and what remains to be done.

A Talk on Whitman’s Reprints

On Wednesday, February 24, the Bibliography and Textual Studies Interest Group in the Department of English at the University of Texas at Austin will host a talk by
Alejandro Omidsalar, titled “Walt Whitman’s Midnight Visitors: Authorship and the ‘Culture’ of Reprinting.”

Omidsalar, project manager for the Walt Whitman Archive’s UT branch, will talk about the Archive‘s ongoing effort to track the thousands of reprints made of Whitman’s poetry during the poet’s lifetime, and some of the lessons that effort might hold for how we understand authorship, poems, and the role of the digital in doing literary history. Whitman’s “The Midnight Visitor” will be featured.

The talk will begin at 4:00 p.m., in Parlin Hall, room 203.

New Installment of Whitman’s Reprints

The erstwhile team that is tracking the reprints of Walt Whitman’s poetry published during his lifetime has updated its spreadsheet and visualizations with hundreds of new entries. You can download the spreadsheet here, or visit the visualization site here.

Next week will see four new marginalia texts published at the Whitman Archive, including Whitman’s notes on Volney’s Ruins and the work of Robert Chambers and fascinating ruminations on race and history in his marginalia on a nineteenth-century article, “The Slavonians and Eastern Europe.”