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.”

Whitman’s Marginalia and Annotations — round 1 — published!

I’m excited to announce that our first installment of Whitman’s marginalia and annotations has been published at the Walt Whitman Archive: <http://www.whitmanarchive.org/manuscripts/marginalia/>

This installment features over 100 different documents, with notes on a fascinating range of texts and figures including Henry David Thoreau, John Milton, J.W. Goethe, Sarah Siddons, John Dryden, Thomas Carlyle, William Shakespeare, Frances Wright, William Blake, and Oliver Goldsmith, as well as annotations about the cultures and literary histories of Asia, Africa, and India. There are also an introduction and a description of our main editorial principles.

Full credits and acknowledgments are available at the links above, but here I’d like to thank first the many students whose work is published (but also often invisible) in the edition. From tracking down and assembling lists of these documents to obtaining scans, transcribing, and editing them, the labor of this project was immense and largely accomplished by graduate and undergraduate researchers. Also to be thanked are the general editors of the Walt Whitman Archive, Kenneth Price and Ed Folsom, and the project’s funders: gratitude goes to Elizabeth Cullingford of the University of Texas Department of English and to our peer reviewers at the National Endowment of the Humanities for their support and vision. And thank you to our editorial board members–Michael Winship, Terry Catapano, H.J. Jackson, Steven Olsen-Smith, and William Sherman–who were of great and strategic help along the way.

Plenty of work remains. This is the first time an attempt has been made to gather and publish all of Whitman’s notes on his reading; the task is an enormous one, involving thousands of pages of notes and marginalia, currently held at a dozen institutions. We’ve got hundreds more documents to encode and transcribe, as well as a growing handlist of texts Whitman read that we are still trying to format and display. These will be made available as time and resources permit, so stay tuned. And if you are a researcher and there’s a document you suspect us to have knowledge of that does not appear here, drop us a line of inquiry.

Reading the First Books OCR Project

Congratulations to the collaborators on the “Reading the First Books: Multilingual, Early Modern OCR for Primeros Libros” project, on receiving funding from the NEH. I’m privileged to be on the board of this initiative, which tackles the complex problems associated with automated text preservation in the context of early colonial texts that involve multiple languages, including indigenous ones. One of the leads on the project, Hannah Alpert-Abrams, is a doctoral student in Comparative Lit at the University of Texas. Read more about this fascinating undertaking here: http://www.utexas.edu/cola/insts/llilas/news/9649.