In the past few months, MITH has been developing software for a project related to the Walt Whitman Archive. The Walt Whitman Archive is an electronic research and teaching tool that sets out to make Whitman’s vast work, for the first time, easily and conveniently accessible to scholars, students, and general readers. Working in collaboration with the University of Texas at Austin, as well as the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, the project team is focusing on Walt Whitman’s annotations and commentary about history, science, theology, and art being discussed during his time. These annotations survived in many forms, either as marginalia and underlinings on books, or as collages of newspaper clippings, or as separate handwritten notes. Studying this material can further our understanding of the poet’s self-education and his compositional methods.
The documents containing Whitman’s annotations have been transcribed and encoded by the project team according to the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) standard, which allows scholars to precisely describe complex texts with paste-downs, doodles, mixed printed and handwritten content, etc. In the case of Whitman’s marginalia, it has also been possible to encode the editors’ understanding of what exactly the poet highlighted, annotated and commented on.
MITH is now building a digital publication around these precisely encoded data. To do so, we are adapting the tools developed for our own Shelley-Godwin Archive. The Shelley-Godwin Archive provides the digitized manuscripts of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, William Godwin, and Mary Wollstonecraft, bringing together online for the first time ever the widely dispersed handwritten legacy of this uniquely gifted family of writers. The archive makes use of Linked Open Data principles and emerging standards such as the Open Annotation and the Shared Canvas data models in order to open the contents of the archive to widespread use and reuse. The Linked Open Data drive our rendering engines and is generated directly from the TEI files. By adapting our Shelley-Godwin tools for Whitman, we found that Open Annotation was particularly suited for modeling Whitman’s own annotations, as the data model offered a basic and open system to represent generic annotation acts (for example by relating a piece of Whitman’s commentary to the specific portion of text that it annotates).
The final digital publication will allow users to read semi-diplomatic transcriptions of the texts alongside facsimile images, as well as visually distinguish regions of text annotated by Whitman. We are also building a search system that indexes the text according to several categories, so that users may search on text annotated by Whitman as opposed to text written by the author, etc.
We are busy finalizing this work – watch our blog for a project launch announcements in a few weeks. Meanwhile, feel free to write to Raffaele Viglianti if you have any questions.