The Walt Whitman Archive is undertaking an ambitious project to provide unprecedented access to the famed literary figure’s prose manuscripts and to “illuminate his creative process” with the help of a $275,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Whitman’s prose manuscripts, including drafts of essays, fiction, memoranda, notebooks and other writings, are housed in more than 70 repositories around the world. The expense and time involved in finding and examining such documents has proven a daunting challenge for everyone from scholars interested in studying the development of Whitman’s writings, to those casually interested in exploring Whitman’s working habits.
The NEH grant will support the creation of finding aids that will include item-level descriptions and digital images for all the prose manuscripts organized not around their physical location, but the conceptual work that they contribute to. The project also proposes to create an extended integrated guide that will provide access to all of Whitman’s known literary manuscripts, both poetry and prose.
The effort builds on a similar undertaking to create and aggregate finding aids for Whitman’s poetry manuscripts. That project won the 2006 C.F.W. Coker award from the Society of American Archivists, which recognizes innovative archival projects that in some significant way, set national standards, represent a model for archival description, or otherwise have a substantial impact on descriptive practices.
The current project is expected to take three years to complete.
The Walt Whitman Archive, established in 1995, is an electronic research and teaching tool that sets out to make Whitman’s vast work conveniently accessible to scholars, students, and general readers. It is co-directed by UNL’s Kenneth Price, Hillegass University Professor of American Literature and co-director of UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, and University of Iowa’s Ed Folsom.
The Whitman Archive can be found online at http://www.whitmanarchive.org.