Project Reviews

The Willa Cather Archive
Created and maintained by Andrew Jewell and the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities

The University of Nebraska's Willa Cather Archive is an ambitious endeavor to create a digital medium for the study of the writing and life of Willa Cather. Edited by Dr. Andrew Jewell and a large staff composed of faculty from the university's English department, Special Collections, and Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, the website primarily provides digital editions of Cather texts and scholarship. Yet, the Archive has several "works in progress" that suggest the Archive has more than an interest in merely presenting digital forms of Cather texts.

Currently, the Archive offers digitalized editions of a selection of Cather's novels. The Scholarly editions of O Pioneers! and My Àntonia are encoded in XML, and, while there is not yet a tool for searching the texts, they have been encoded for that purpose. In addition, XML encoded first editions of April Twilights, The Troll Garden, Alexander's Bridge, and One of Ours are presented complete with digital images of the cover, spine, and every page of the printed editions. Like the scholarly editions, a searching tool has not been created to make these texts searchable. While these texts are but a handful of all Cather's work, copyright restrictions have limited the Archive to publishing digital versions of the first editions published only before 1922.

Of the Cather texts the Archive has digitalized, perhaps the most interesting is the work previously relatively inaccessible: her short fiction, nonfiction, journalism, and student writing. If the Archive realizes its plan to make the large mass of this work available online, it will be the first complete publication of these works. This material, largely overlooked by Cather scholars of date, will indefinitely create new avenues for Cather scholarship. Currently, much of this is a "work in progress," but it is coming along.

In addition to Cather texts, the website offers substantial supplemental materials. An ongoing collection of Cather's letters is set for publication in June of 2007. These letters will include the summaries of previously published letters, plus letters from new collections and will be a key attraction for the Archive. Furthermore, the Archive offers a searchable and zoomable collection of over 600 images of Cather and related subjects. While the Archive is primarily directed toward scholars, these features will also be of interest to the general public.

Overall, The Willa Cather Archive is easily navigated, especially useful to scholars and increasingly to the general public, and reveals the enthusiasm which its editor and staff infuse in it. While it should not detract from the overall quality of the site, it is worth noting that, while easily navigated, the toolbars terms could be sharpened (Aren't "Manuscripts and Letters" also "Writings"?). In addition, the website could benefit from a more expansive collection of scholarship.

Amanda Kuhnel
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Reviewed: March 2007