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.


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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