Five Facets of Silence

by Matt Cohen

This is a longer version of a contribution to the roundtable “Silence in the Archive” at the June 2015 Society of Early Americanists / Omohundro Institute conference in Chicago, Illinois.

LUCY: Echo of thuh first sort: thuh sound. (E.g. thuh gunplay.)
–Suzan-Lori Parks, The America Play

Good citizens, the Romans loved history, as we do, and commemorated their dead. Did they hear the rumbling emanating from that hole better than we do?
–Michel Serres, Biogea

LUCY: Echo of thuh 3rd sort: thuh body itself.
–Suzan-Lori Parks, The America Play

The erasures and absences of the archive of slavery whisper to us that there come times when the creation of possibilities, when the animus of our inquiry, must be drawn from other sources than the known, the spoken, our discipline, even if in the end we decide that our story is not one to pass on. Five facets of silence: a series of cuts, as Fred Moten might say—potentialities at the conjunction of the aesthetic and of history’s pain.
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Reprintings of Whitman’s Poetry

by Matt Cohen and Ashley Palmer

Here at Cohen lab we have begun what might be an unending task: making a bibliographic hand list of the reprints of Walt Whitman’s poetry that were issued during his lifetime (1819-1892). The list will include first appearances of his poetry in periodicals, as well as reprints in newspapers, magazines, advertisements, reviews, anthologies, occasional publications, and other venues. We are collaborating with Stephanie Blalock of the University of Iowa, whose work on the reprints of Whitman’s short fiction inspired our own. As Blalock’s scholarship shows, Whitman’s fiction traveled into fascinatingly diverse and little-understood contexts by way of what Meredith McGill has termed nineteenth-century America’s “culture of reprinting.” The same is true of his poems, and we hope this effort to gather the instances of poetry reprints will both afford scholars an opportunity to consider the big picture of Whitman’s career and reputation by way of the landscape of his poetry’s circulation, but also to elucidate individual instances of reprints and their social and political meanings.

Walt Whitman's poem commemorating Red Jacket, reprinted next to Mohawk poet E. Pauline Johnson's piece on the same occasion, in the Obsequies of Red Jacket at Buffalo (Buffalo: 1884).

Walt Whitman’s poem “Red Jacket, (From Aloft.),” reprinted next to Mohawk poet E. Pauline Johnson’s “The Re-Interment of Red Jacket,” written for the same occasion, in the Obsequies of Red Jacket at Buffalo (Buffalo: Buffalo Historical Society, 1884). For a discussion of this reprint, see Lauren Grewe, “‘To Bid His People Rise’: Political Renewal and Spiritual Contests at Red Jacket’s Reburial,” NAIS 1.2 (2014).

Much of the work on the reprints project has started with the wealth of resources the Whitman Archive makes available. Following citations collected on the site, we worked through Elizabeth Lorang and Susan Belasco’s list of Whitman’s Poems First Published in Periodicals to create entries for known appearances of Whitman poems in periodicals. Along the way, we have noted distinguishing information, such as the ways different publications print (or do not print) Whitman’s name, the section of the newspaper in which his poems are printed, and whether the poem is printed whole or as a fragment, in the hopes that this information will be of value to future scholars who might utilize our work.

Another vein of research we have perused through the Whitman Archive comes from its collection of Contemporary Reviews of Whitman’s work. Combing through these reviews, we have been looking for lines of poetry offset within the text that might have attracted a reader’s eye. Many of these offset quotations are brief fragments from longer poems, though we have also found whole poems reprinted within or after reviews. These reviews have come from periodicals with readerships across the United States (from New York and Philadelphia to Cincinnati and Topeka) as well as the world (including London, Glasgow, and Melbourne).

Finally, we are also utilizing databases of nineteenth-century periodicals to uncover instances of Whitman’s poetry reprints. Turning to such resources as Chronicling America, America’s Historical Newspapers, Newspaper Archive, and the Hathi Trust, we are searching titles of and key phrases from Whitman poems in the hopes of locating additional reprinted fragments or whole poems.

For more information, please see our page dedicated to the project.

The Wonderful World of Whitman’s Daybooks

By Ashley Palmer

If you wanted to purchase a copy of Two Rivulets from your local independent bookstore today, it could cost you around $28.95; in 1886, Walt Whitman might have traded you the book for 10 ¼ yards of Halifax tweed. Such a trade, in fact, occurred on July 29, 1886 when Whitman’s friend and biographer Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke sent Whitman the Canadian fabric, and Whitman turned right around and sent him Two Rivulets, an estimated value, Whitman decided, of “$10 or 12,” as repayment. This biblio-textile factoid is one of many gems I’ve gleaned from scouring Whitman’s daybooks on a project for the Walt Whitman Archive.

The aim of this research has been to cull as much data as we can from the daybooks about Whitman’s book sales: to whom did he sell? Where did they live? How much did he charge? For this project, we are especially interested in the geographic locations of his buyers—I’ll talk more about that below—but what has surprised me most in this process have been the minutiae of Walt Whitman’s life that it illuminated. As a student of American literature, I came to the Whitman Archive with a general knowledge of and appreciation for Walt Whitman. I’ve always enjoyed the way he uses language both playfully and powerfully, and I admire his work on the material side of his publications. Books are not only filled with ideas but they are a craft in and of themselves. In fact, his close work with printers in assembling his books brought with it such careful oversight that he might even have directed the shaded enhancement of his own crotch bulge in his image for the frontispiece in a reprint of Leaves of Grass (see figure 5 in this essay for visuals). Details like that keep me excited about the unexpected and amusing surprises of research.

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The Basic Humanities

By Matt Cohen

I PROPOSE two concepts, to the end of shaping material, institutional consequences. These emerge from the last few years of conversation I have had with folks running digital humanities projects and centers. The first is that of a “humanities training grant,” in part–but only in part–based on the training grants for cohorts of graduate students in the sciences funded by various federal agencies. The second term, which is related and the motive for the first, is that of the “basic humanities.”

In the sciences, they’ve got phrases–“pure science” or “basic science”–for that risky, sometimes theory-driven, sometimes inspired and to all standard notions zany research, research not obviously oriented toward the acquisition of grant funding or the execution of an already existing grant project. The history of these phrases is doubtless fascinating, and there’s a good discussion of the related cluster of terms (fundamental, applied) on Wikipedia. Basic science as I have heard the phrase used speaks both to the broadest envisionary potentials of science–insights that change whole fields’, or many fields’, ways of seeing–and to a kind of work that simply produces new and unanticipated directions in a researcher’s path. It is a check, in the sense that thinking about basic science helps a researcher step back from the heat and focus of the specific problem to rethink its place in the larger set of experiments, or its significance more broadly. At the same time, it’s the golden ring.

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Form, Theme, and the Challenge of Encoding Marginal Tangents

By Jonathan Cheng

Given that someone else will better handle the marginalia’s historical payload, I thought I would discuss some of my experiences involving the digital markup of Whitman’s marginalia. For myself, one of the most rewarding aspects of the project is negotiating how to prioritize the marginalia’s content in relation to that of the printed text.

In very broad terms, I encode Whitman’s annotations and the printed texts into XML (eXtensible Markup Language) documents so that we can use XSLT (eXtensible Stylesheet Language Transformations) to interface the marginalia documents for online viewers. The encoding process largely entails transcribing text from photos of the original document and then wrapping the text in particular tags describing the content. As per the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) guidelines, these tags are often used to outline the formal structures of a text (eg. <p></p> denote that the text within the tags is a paragraph). However, in working with marginal content that is both connected to text’s form and simultaneously beyond it, it’s hard not to consider the incongruences between formal encoding and the marginalia documents. In particular, I find it interesting to consider the use of <div> tags with Whitman’s manuscripts and their relationship with his marginalia.

Principally, <div> tags are useful for delineating when Whitman’s own work shifts from one form to the next. After all, given the playful manner Whitman’s manuscripts transition from prose, to verse, to collage, such divisions make it possible to represent when his work shifts from one form to the next. Even while encoding his marginalia, these tags allow us to organize the variable composition of the larger texts that Whitman annotated. For example, when marking up Edward Roth’s translation of The Art of Reading, it makes sense to divide the book so that the content of each chapter is separated from paratextual elements (eg. publication information, table of contents, dedications etc.). That being said, if the goal is to produce tools that help online viewers navigate the marginalia, separating the text formally might prove to be problematic and I imagine there might be alternatives.

Whitman on Leigh Hunt

Photo courtesy Middlebury College Libraries. Whitman returned to update his first marginal annotation on Hunt’s well being at least two years later.

In order to make sense of when formal markers might be unrelated to Whitman’s annotations, we can take a look at his annotations of Leigh Hunt’s essay “What is Poetry.” I particularly enjoy this example, partly because Whitman’s notes are largely tangential to the text’s content, yet also because it captures a sense of when annotations are more thematically organized than formally so. As you can see on the first page of Hunt’s essay, the question of “What is poetry?” is somewhat secondary to Whitman’s concern of whether or not the author is currently alive. Surely Whitman was, to some extent, intellectually involved in the conceptual conversations regarding poetry, but it may be interesting, if not a bit comical, to note Whitman’s departure from Hunt’s content into thoughts about Hunt’s liveliness. I might be lingering on Whitman’s tangential annotation a bit much, but it does point to the relationship between the annotations, the text, and how we choose to represent their connection digitally. I usually find myself asking, “does it matter that these annotations occur around the essay’s foreword notes, or should we categorize / characterize these notes as biographically concerned?”

The question of digitally marking up a text from the perspective of theme versus form is not a new one, but I do find it a useful question to keep in mind when encoding the marginalia. If we consider the potential users interested in navigating Whitman’s annotations, it may be important to delineate whether the user is likely to search annotations in terms of theme or of form. More practically, we might still use <div> tags to organize the printed texts that Whitman annotates, but it might be worth discussing the creation of tags for recurring themes that are apparent in the annotations themselves. Of course, the problem one is likely to run into is that creating thematic tags (eg. <margin_authorBio>) involves constructing quite arbitrary themes. Alternatively, it might be useful to use <div> tags to broadly divide a text based on theme rather than form. Once again, this runs into the issue of having to construct more specific <div> tags (<div_ authorBio>) that are still arbitrary. With the obvious difficulties and potential users in mind, I suspect that there must exist a tagging framework that can delicately negotiate the two, and I’m interested to see how the field of digital markup tackles this question.

Jonathan Cheng is a doctoral student in English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In 2014-15 he is an editorial assistant with the Walt Whitman Archive.

Whitman’s Annotations partners with MITH

The magnificent developer (and University of Maryland doctoral candidate) Raffaele Viglianti–who is responsible for creating our interface for Whitman’s marginalia and annotations documents–has posted about his work on Whitman’ Annotations at the blog of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities:

We are deeply grateful to Raffaele for his excellent work on our project.