The Walt Whitman Archive – McGonagill 3
3What about the digital form—as opposed to working with the materials in analogue form, for example—works well for you, and what does not? How does this site’s digital form contribute to the archive’s strengths and weaknesses?
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 As the Archive is very aware, the Whitman corpus presents a particular set of linguistic challenges to the reader that seem to appeal for a more open and flexible form than what is offered by their original editions of print. Digital forms often work well for such challenging texts because they provide a-linear approaches of exploration and analysis, but in my opinion the Archive has not yet developed into a format that takes full advantage of this possibility. Though I was able to navigate around the site easily from any point with the aid of the menu across the top of the page and the breadcrumb links, my general experience of the Whitman archive was that it remains limited by linear arrangements of data. The structure of the database, which is dominated by a hierarchical folder system, can make it difficult to stir up new configurations of information: the volume of the repository is still impressive, but in this case a physical archive might allow better non-linear entry.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 2 And yet, the hierarchical folders and the linear browsing process they suggest also garnered my praised in an earlier question, due to their “clean” and “intuitive” qualities. While limiting to the agile Whitman scholar, these features are very advantageous in one’s initial foray into the Archive because they present easier options and clear delineations.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Physical archives fit well into folder systems while maintaining an element of the random and a-linear because each page is a potential entry-point. Web pages, however, favor top-view and selection rather than the act of flipping through or diving in at a random point. The Walt Whitman Archive has moved past the limitations of print in many ways already; if there was a way to reincorporate some of the random browsability of the physical archive, without sacrificing the intuitive appearance, the experience might benefit. This might be accomplished by exposing more metadata on the surface of the site in order to cut new cross-sections through the repository; for example, making it possible to browse by year rather than type and title of work, or organizing clusters of data by theme or biographical reference. If the editors can find a way to take the information out of its silos across the site, their users might enjoy an even more fluid and organic approach to the text.
I like your provocative comment that the Archive doesn’t currently allow you “to stir up new configurations of information.” Could you provide an example of what you imagine these “new configurations” would look like? What would a non-linear scholarly archive look like? What kinds of results would searching non-linearly give you?
I really like the suggestion of browsing by year. It would be fascinating to see what Whitman was producing chronologically. Great idea!