The Walt Whitman Archive – Price 2
Kenneth M. Price
2What are its weaknesses? What do you wish it would let you do? What changes would you suggest?
Kenneth M. Price
Co-Director, The Walt Whitman Archive Hillegass University Professor of American Literature – University of Nebraska-Lincoln
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Some weaknesses of the Whitman Archive are a function of its stage of development. We haven’t had time to accomplish all that we have envisaged. For example, we would like to provide a good introduction to the site, so that users at various levels of knowledge—and our users are quite varied—can get oriented quickly when they first encounter the site. In addition, given our scope, it is not surprising that many content areas are underdeveloped: we provide all known contemporary reviews of Whitman’s writings, but a person could legitimately ask why have we not, then, provided other essays about Whitman from the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, all out of copyright, which might shed even more light on Whitman than do these reviews. Only in the last few months have we made available any of Whitman’s prose, and we have done little thus far with Whitman’s journalism. We value his journalism and have made plans for editing it, but we have not had time yet to see significant results in this area.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Currently, the Whitman Archive also lacks sufficient integration of material across the site. For example, if Horace Traubel mentions a specific Whitman poem in With Walt Whitman in Camden, we should offer ready access to that particular version (and possibly also other versions of the poem). We could also link the poem to commentary, including contemporary reviews, books from the University of Iowa Press Whitman series, and articles from the full run of the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review. Individual essays from WWQR currently are linked from citations in the criticism bibliography, and we hope to integrate more fully this journal of record for Whitman studies with the Whitman Archive. This more complete integration of content, like most of the changes I would suggest for the Archive, will be undertaken as time allows.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 We are also currently investigating the application of Web 2.0 features and functionality for the Archive, in hopes of enabling collaboration and interaction with users of the Archive. Ideally, we would like to harness the enthusiasm and knowledge of our users. As a first step in this direction, Archive staff at the University of Texas at Austin are exploring user accounts for the Archive, accounts which would allow users both to contribute to the Archive as well as to create their own collections of materials. Early work is also under way on a database designed to track the what, when, and how of Whitman’s reading—that is, what did Whitman read, when did he read it, and how do we know that he read a particular text? We believe that our user community could help us populate the database. Similar resources could be integrated into the Whitman Archive and include user-generated information: accounts of Whitman appearances in films, television shows, advertisements, and novels, for example. Users might also participate in attribution studies. Whitman is known to have contributed to the Armory Square Hospital Gazette during the Civil War. No complete run of the newspaper exists, however, and no pieces bear Whitman’s signature. User-collaborators could help us track down scattered issues of this rare paper as well as generate a lively and informative debate about the authorship of unattributed essays in the paper. As a scholarly site, we must strike the right balance between openness and scholarly rigor, and a fundamental question for us is how to encourage participation while insuring that quality control checks remain in place. We also hope to allow users with accounts to work with the texts and data of the Whitman Archive in order to explore their own interpretations. Sophisticated users might access our XML and XSLT files in a work area where they could alter the encoding and stylesheets in order to pursue particular interpretive goals.
This is absolutely the right question to be posing: ” As a scholarly site, we must strike the right balance between openness and scholarly rigor, and a fundamental question for us is how to encourage participation while insuring that quality control checks remain in place.” The Whitman Archive is poised to set up a great model for a Web 2.0 application that is neither crowd sourcing nor a comments section but that takes advantage of the power of both.
I love the idea of users being able to create their own collections. I think that would really catch on, especially as people come to expect the cloud model of storage more and more: everyone wants a personal repository stored outside of their hard drive. The web is moving in the direction of curation by users, rather than site designers, as evidenced by the emergence of various bookmarking tools, feeds, and even Google docs. This function would also shift the Archive from a repository, a place to go get data before bringing it back to the worktable, to a workbench: a place where people could both gather and work with the information they find; more a site for active exploration. I like it.
The idea of finding out what he read has of course been employed on a large scale by the Reading Experience Database. I wonder if some kind of collaboration with this project might be fruitful in future. However, your plans for enlisting users in your reserach sound fascinating, and will probably meet with significant enthusiasm, if our experience on Transcribe Bentham is at all typical.