The Walt Whitman Archive
Created and maintained by Kenneth M. Price and Ed Folsom
The Walt Whitman Archive is a research and teaching tool for both scholars and the
general public. It was created in the early 1990s by Kenneth M. Price of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Ed Folsom of
the University of Iowa, both of whom continue to serve as the site's directors and editors, and first made accessible online in 1995.
Since its original publication, the Archive has received several grants, among others one from the U.S. Department of Education,
two from the National Endowment for the Humanities and one from the Institute for Museum and Library Studies, which have been
instrumental in maintaining and expanding the Archive. As an ongoing project, the Archive is currently working on adding
facsimiles and e-text of Whitman's poetry manuscripts, eventually presenting all of Whitman's manuscript notes for poems
in Leaves of Grass, as well as all known versions of poems in the collection.
In addition to providing the public with a research and teaching tool, one of the goals of the Archive is to produce a scholarly edition of Whitman using digital technology. Whitman's work readily lends itself to this medium, because he revised his work throughout his life, meaning it was constantly in flux. T he Archive, then, aims to provide a collection of all of his published work along with manuscripts, revisions, notes, photographs, and letters. Indeed, the websites greatest achievement has been collecting these materials, transferring them to digital form, and making them accessible to scholars.
The user's navigation through all of these resources is clear and easy to use. Every webpage has a navigation bar with fourteen links which allows the user continued access the entire website throughout their search. The Introduction link provides extensive information on the Archive, its history, and its future. Most importantly, it is easy to browse and provides a thorough and useful introduction to the site. The bulk of the material is available through the Manuscripts and Works links. While the Manuscripts portion of the project is under construction, some transcriptions with images of the manuscripts are present, offering an exciting glimpse at where the project is going. Currently, all six American editions of Leaves of Grass published in Whitman's lifetime are available in the Works link. Each work can be viewed as a whole or by individual poems, and includes facsimiles of the printed book. While the editions are presented with introductory articles, the editors note that the articles are dated and the writing of new introductions and textual histories is underway. In addition, the Archive offers a biography and chronology, complete contemporary reviews, selected current criticism, all known photographs of Whitman with annotation, and an audio recording of "what is thought to be" Whitman's voice reading four lines from the poem "America." The Archive also shows some attempt to collect the biographies and works of a selection of "Whitman's Disciples," namely a few writers he influenced. While the directors of the Archive present a link to Teaching Materials, it is obviously not the editors' priority: two syllabi are listed - the editors' - along with a link to "The Classroom Electric: Dickinson, Whitman, and American Culture." Lastly, one of the websites most useful "tools" is a complete, searchable bibliography of articles, books, chapters of books, and poems about Whitman published from 1975 to the present, most of which are annotated.
While The Walt Whitman Archive is an ambitious and, as least in terms of content, successful website, it does have a few drawbacks. First, the website's interface looks 1995: while it is simple, easy to use, and accessible, it is uninspired and in some ways a drawback to the users experience. Secondly, the website claims to be for scholars and the general public, but it offers little to entice the curious browser. It seems that creating an interactive chronology/timeline or further developing the teaching links would help make the website more accessible to the average viewer. That said, the Archive is a testament to the possibilities for digital literary archives in that it has collected Whitman's material in a way that is not limited to the constraints of the book.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Reviewed: February 2007