The Walt Whitman Archive: Archivist-Scholar Collaboration in Description and Representation

  1. 1. Kenneth Price

    University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  2. 2. Katherine Walter

    University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  3. 3. Terence Catapano

    Columbia University

  4. 4. Daniel Pitti

    University of Virginia

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Archivists, librarians, scholars, and technologists are
collaborating to build The Walt Whitman Archive, an
emerging digital thematic research collection that sets out to
make Whitman's vast work easily and conveniently accessible
to students, researchers, and the general public. This massive
undertaking is complicated in part by the physical dispersal of
Whitman's manuscripts, which are located in more than seventy
repositories in the United States, the United Kingdom, and in
France. The sheer volume of materials produced by Whitman
has required the current project team to narrow its focus,
initially at least, to a more manageable subset of the manuscripts
- namely, the poetry manuscripts.
While network and computer technologies have made it possible
to build a virtual archive, the intellectual and technical
complexities in creating and maintaining the collection in
accordance with archival and scholarly standards require an
unusual and close collaboration across professional communities
and among multiple institutions. Several institutions are
intimately involved in the project including the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln, the Institute for Advanced Technology in
the Humanities at University of Virginia, the New York Public
Library, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas
at Austin, and Duke University. The project as a whole has
contributed to a clearer understanding of technical issues
relating to standards that are still in development, and especially
to the integration of those standards. The poetry manuscripts, which have been the most recent focus
of the Whitman project team, are scattered in over thirty
repositories. At the 2002 ALLC/ACH conference in Tübingen,
Germany, a preliminary report on the project entitled Ordering
Chaos: A Virtual Archive of Whitman s Manuscripts was
presented by Mary Ellen Ducey, Andrew Jewell, and Kenneth
M. Price. Subsequently, the Whitman EAD project team has
successfully created An Integrated Guide to Walt Whitman's
Poetry Manuscripts using Encoded Archival Description
(EAD). XSLT stylesheets are used to harvest information from
various repositories' finding aids so as to create an integrated
finding aid with links back to the original versions. As the
project comes to closure, participants have found it both exciting
and revealing on many levels. Representing the different
community perspectives (scholar, archivist, librarian, and
technologist), the speakers will explore both the opportunities
and the challenges of working together and will discuss the
implications of such collaboration for the future of each
Kenneth M. Price, Co-Director of the Walt Whitman
Archive and recently named Co-Director of Digital
Research in the Humanities at the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln, will describe the widely distributed Whitman
manuscripts, the complex history and publication of Whitman,
and the history and objectives of the Archive. He will discuss
the reasons behind the decision to use item-level EAD as a
means of bibliographic and editorial control and of user access.
Our project is demonstrating the power of EAD to pull together
dispersed collections and create a single, scholarly-oriented
view or collocation of the materials. We are also addressing an
unresolved issue in digital scholarship, namely how best to
integrate description and transcription (EAD and Text Encoding
Initiative [TEI] files).
Katherine L.Walter, Chair of Digital Initiatives & Special
Collections and, with Price, Co-Director of Digital Research
in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, will
describe collaborative efforts to provide integrated descriptive
access to Walt Whitman's poetry manuscripts. In some cases,
our EAD files are based upon encoding previously done by the
holding repositories themselves; in other cases, we have created
EAD files based upon paper records. We invariably add
scholarly information to records, and we offer this additional
information back to the individual repositories. Whitman
scholarship is complicated by the fact that the poet only
occasionally titled his manuscripts, and when he did, he often
used a title different from that employed in any of the six
distinct editions of Leaves of Grass. The project is ordinarily
able to identify manuscripts that puzzle non-specialists, and
we also supply date range, uniform title, and Whitman work
IDs within the files.
Terence Catapano, Librarian at Columbia University, will
discuss the complementary use of current technical standards,
in particular EAD, EAC, METS, MODS, and TEI. It is still an
open question how these overlapping standards - created by
various communities - can be best integrated and used
effectively in this kind of highly detailed collection. The
Whitman Archive is sufficiently large, ambitious, and visible
to make it a good case study for testing the integration of
metadata standards. We have made significant progress in the
use of TEI and EAD; we have recently begun to employ METS
in relation to EAD and TEI; we plan soon to work on METS
in relation to MODS as well. The periodical printings of
Whitman's poetry will be used to research the use of MODS
and its integration with the other metadata standards. One
challenge is to figure out what role each standard is to have,
and how they are to interrelate. For example, descriptive
metadata resides in EAD (its primary purpose), in TEI headers
(a secondary purpose), and in METS. Which of the three has
the authoritative data, and which data should be derived from
this authoritative source?
Daniel Pitti, Associate Director of the Institute for Advanced
Technology in the Humanities of the University of Virginia,
will moderate the session and, in conclusion, will discuss the
implications of collaboration for the future of digital
scholarship. Digital thematic research collections are valuable
resources being developed through collaborations between the
library/archival and scholarly communities. One of the points
that has been made regarding such collections is that the
essential standards shaping the infrastructure for these
collections are being developed primarily in the library/archival
communities. The Walt Whitman Archive is demonstrating that
a strong collaboration with equally important contributions
from different professional communities working together offers
another important model for the future of digital scholarship,
and for the development of standards.

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Victoria

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

June 15, 2005 - June 18, 2005

139 works by 236 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double checked.

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (25), ALLC/EADH (32), ACH/ALLC (17)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None