The Walt Whitman Archive – Greene 1
Mark A. Greene
1What are the strengths of this archive? How would you use or refer to this site in your own work?
Mark A. Greene
Director, American Heritage Center – University of WyomingPast President – Society of American Archivists
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 There are some fascinating strengths of this archive behind or beyond its more obvious assets. The more obvious include: a) bringing together in one “place” historical sources whose originals are widely scattered geographically; b) providing scans of sufficient density and size to permit scholars to examine at least some aspects of the original paper and photographic emulsion, a degree of quality that most digital archives do not have sufficient wherewithal to capture and maintain; c) producing an edited “publication” of Whitman’s papers in such a manner that researchers gain access to gradually increasing content rather than having to wait until the entirety of a printed volume is produced; d) “free” access from anywhere, rather than the purchase or travel expense to use a print edition or to visit various repositories.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Some of the less obvious strong points can be uncovered only by reading the “About the Archive” sections exhaustively, something I suspect relatively few site visitors do. For example, in Matt Cohen’s “Transgenic Deformation: Literary Translation and the Digital Archive” (2006), the author identifies a subtle but important parallel between the increasing understanding within the archival profession that archivists’ work can no longer pretend to be objective, neutral, and invisible and the necessity from an editorial standpoint of “articulating stylesheets and XML markup [to users]…. In turn, translation seems to demand that archives explain their interface designs along with their markup strategies.”[ref]From The Walt Whitman Archive website (hereafter TWWA), http://www.whitmanarchive.org/about/articles/anc.00165.html. For those not familiar with the parallel archival concerns, particularly as they relate to arrangement, description, and cataloging, please see Michelle Light and Tom Hyry: “Colophons and Annotations: New Directions for the Finding Aid,” American Archivist 65 (Fall/Winter 2002): 216-230.[/ref]
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Cohen’s article also represents a broader strong point of the archive, which is the extensive “about” section, including more effort at self-analysis, elucidation of goals and values, lessons learned and challenges faced than the vast majority of other sites I’ve visited. Moreover, in the “Articles and Interviews” subsection the pieces contain an admirable blend of technical discussions,[ref]For example, Brett Barney and Kenneth M. Price, “‘What I Assume You Shall Assume’: The Whitman Archive and the Challenge of Integrating Different Open Standards,” TWWA (2004).[/ref] more traditional scholarship, [ref]For example, Geoffrey Saunders Schramm, “Whitman’s Lifelong Endeavor: Leaves of Grass at 150,” TWWA (2005).[/ref] and what I think of as philosophical musings.[ref]For example, Kenneth M. Price, “Edition, Project, Database, Archive, Thematic Research Collection: What’s in a Name?” TWWA (2009).[/ref]The simple fact that there are 12 years worth of articles and interviews relating to the archive gives a glimpse into the evolution of technology, priorities, and philosophies.[ref]Compare, for example, the Cohen article already cited to an earlier analysis of textual markup in the Archive, Brett Barney, “‘Each Part and Tag of Me is a Miracle’: Reflections after Tagging the 1867 Leaves of Grass,“ TWWA (2001).[/ref] This relatively rich context to the project and the archive is increasingly necessary, I believe, not only because of the increasing imperative for archivists, particularly, to make their work transparent to their users, but also to spread the value of such projects as far beyond the particular scholarly community being served as possible.
Cohen’s recent essay in Earhart and Jewell, The American Literature Scholar in the Digital Age extends the arguments he makes in “Transgenic Deformation.” It’s worth looking at, if for nothing else than to include as a footnote.