Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I Sing the Body Digital!

The Walt Whitman Archive

This archive is a joint project between Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price of (respectively) the University of Iowa and the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. These men could be called experts on Whitman, having recently co-written his biography, and they have included (or plan to include) all of the information and resources available to them. It is intended to be used as a resource for teaching and research of the vast written works of Whitman, including the 6 variations of Leaves of Grass.

The Technical Summary under the About Us heading gives complete details of the milestones and the intentions of this site as it changes but remains accessible over time. The authors are loyal to XML and EAD and have the most explicit and thorough encoding guidelines I have ever seen on a digital archive (even if it did ask me for a password a hundred times before I got to see it). There is also extensive management and curatorial information under the same heading in their Archvie Changelog.

Each typed poem saw has one or two images its original form; either the page in the book from which it was copied or the crowded periodical page with a separate zoomed and cropped image of Whitman's poem. The zoom is standard, but they are in the process of updating the zoom for all images on the site. The images are almost all under copyright, so they suggest that permission be sought before publishing any of the photographs or images of texts, but all of Whitman's words are out of copyright, as are many of the criticism on the site. Because there are biographies, manuscripts, published books/periodical publishings, criticism (new and old), letters, resources in external links and media all available on one site, the copyright laws are addressed simply and explicitly under About Us and linked in FAQs.

I had difficulty with the media from the beginning. My browser (Firefox) doesn't support the image zoom from the Archive website, however there is a working link to UNL's digital archive of Whitman photos. There is a 36-second clip of Whitman reading "America" available on the site but, again, it didn't work with my browser.

The search feature is more powerful than I would have expected. The custom Google search looks through every word of text on the site and returns results that are labeled and able to be refined by the different sections of the site. Within every written work there are several editorial footnotes that connect certain words, proper nouns, and phrases with other information (be it a reference to a previous letter, inspiration for a later work, or more information about a person or place). This site has undergone scholarly editing with exact citations and references. When certain metadata is unknown, they will speculate an educated guess.

The most interesting feature is the typed manuscript. Part of their future endeavors involve completing the digitization of images of his manuscripts, but often it is difficult to discern actual english in the script of a poet, so the typed manuscript offers an interesting perspective. It will be more valuable for research, however, when linked with the image.

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