Sociologies of the Dickinson & Whitman Projects at Jefferson Village: Digital Texts and Print Companions

  1. 1. Martha Nell Smith

    Department of English - University of Maryland, College Park

  2. 2. Kenneth M. Price

    American Studies - College of William & Mary

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Sociologies of the Dickinson & Whitman Projects at
Jefferson Village: Digital Texts and Print Companions

Department of English University of Maryland
at College Park

American Studies College of William &


University of Virginia

Charlottesville, VA





Literary productions and their distributions are deeply affected by social
contexts, and this talk explores the sometimes congruent and sometimes divergent
purposes of two projects, the Dickinson Electronic
Archives <> and the Whitman Hypertext Archive <>, their relationships in
their FIPSE-sponsored co-production involving eleven American literature
scholars from around the United States <>, and
their relationships to print predecessors and contemporary print companions.
These two projects are committed to reediting the writings of the two most
celebrated nineteenth-century American poets and also to developing pedagogical
tools from these research projects. The projects are linked by a shared belief
that previous editions have distorted basic features of the work of these poets.
Moreover the projects are linked institutionally through common sponsorship by
the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of
Virginia <> and through
three-year renewable grant support from the U.S. Department of Education (the
grant will enable us to build a third site, a pedagogically oriented tool
entitled The Classroom Electric: Dickinson, Whitman, &
American Culture). Our talk, an analytical dialogue, will initially
clarify the nature of the Dickinson and Whitman archives by contrasting them
with their major print predecessors and contemporary print companions (in the
case of the Dickinson project, the new variorum of The Poems of
Emily Dickinson, ed. R. W. Franklin, and new edition of her writings
to her primary correspondent, Open Me Carefully: Emily
Dickinson's Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson, ed.
Martha Nell Smith & Ellen Louise Hart). We will then discuss some of the
challenges and opportunities we have encountered in our effort to use two
scholarly editing projects as the basis for developing an interlinked
pedagogical tool and report on the first and second years (of three, hopefully
more) of bringing eleven American literature specialists from around the U.S.
together to develop the joint project. These specialists are not necessarily
Whitman or Dickinson scholars nor have they had much experience with digital
Throughout much of the first century of producing books of Dickinson's poems,
editors have labored to establish the identities of particular poems and to make
authoritative--most faithful to the poet's original or final intentions and/or
most aesthetically, sensibly pleasing--printed translations of Dickinson's
holographs, though question after question has been raised about what
constitutes "most authoritative." Generally, editors have worked to translate
Dickinson's holograph into easily legible typeface. Not surprisingly, how poems
are conventionally typeset has framed perceptions of her lyrics and thus
dictated conceptions of accurate representations of Dickinson's poems, of what
does and does not count as a constitutive part of the poem and as the techniques
and forms of its expression. Thus, following routine procedures, editors have
debated which variant is preferable and have chosen one to make a conventional
reader's edition instead of imagining that presenting all variants and leaving
the choice up to readers' improvisations might be Dickinson's "ideal reader's
edition," making her poetic project more fully available to her readers. Smith
will demonstrate different approaches of the Dickinson Editing Collective's
production performances in the Dickinson Electronic
Archives by focusing on how "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers" (one
of only 10, out of 1800, poems to be printed during the poet's lifetime), which
Dickinson repeatedly revised but never conventionally "finished" (i.e., by
deciding on a "final, fixed" version) can be used to display and investigate
Dickinson's revisionary process. In this, Smith will analyze her roles producing
this for both electronic and print media. Bibliographic biases, making the
production of the printed book, have centered Dickinson studies for the last
century, but the Dickinson Electronic Archives places
Dickinson's own production and circulation of her writings (by sending poem and
letter-poems out in letters, by making her poems available for reading in the
parlors of the Dickinson families and their acquaintances, and by making 40
manuscript volumes of her poems) at the heart of critical, pedagogical inquiry.
The Dickinson Electronic Archives presents all of
Dickinson's writings to 99 different correspondents and will feature digitized
databases of all print translations of her work from the nineteenth-century to
the present, as well as various biographical, geographical, bibliographical, and
cultural resources (e.g., Atlantic Monthly articles read by Dickinson and
especially pertinent to her poetic endeavors).
Smith's presentation will focus on "Emily Dickinson Writing a Poem" (in Access
Restricted part of the site, <>;
login: dickinson; password; ink_on_disc; login is case
sensitive), probing in depth how using one tiny part of the entire
archive can revolutionize coursework and classroom interactions. From Archives in the Classroom, Smith will show "Emily
Dickinson in the Youth's Companion," a hypertextual
critical investigation of the poet's work in a best-selling late
nineteenth-/early twentieth-century periodical. She will also briefly show
various outreach components of the Dickinson Electronic
Archives--e.g., the Contemporary Youth's
Companion edited by a teenager and featuring young people's
responses to the work of Emily Dickinson as well as their own creative
endeavors. And she will also briefly show the critical online edition of Writings by Susan Dickinson <>, featuring
papers that have been lost to literary history for the past century, and will
describe how this is being used pedagogically as well as for scholarly
Like the Dickinson project, the Whitman project is prone to disperse attention
widely. The major print predecessor, The Collected Writings of
Walt Whitman, in contrast, privileges the final edition of Leaves of
Grass, the 1881-82 edition. The Whitman Hypertext
Archive <>
differs from the NYU edition in dispensing with the Deathbed edition as a
"center." The Whitman project presents the full text of every edition of Leaves of Grass plus prose writings, letters, reviews, a
secondary bibliography, photographs, and a range of contextual material.
Hypertext makes obvious a truth that print culture discouraged us from
acknowledging: all texts are potentially useful depending on what questions one
wants to ask. Whitman's poetry is a proliferation of versions, and such fluidity
is ill-adapted to the rigidities of print presentation.
However much the Whitman editors question some basic assumptions of the NYU
edition, they also recognize that it is a major achievement, that it is the
conventional source for scholarly citation, that much of its editorial work need
not be redone, and that electronic editing, by its nature, is capable of
incorporating past editorial efforts. Yet our relation to the NYU edition brings
with it a host of knotty problems. When forty-plus years have been devoted to
the creation of a print edition, what obligations and responsibilities do
electronic editors have to maintain the integrity of such an edition, even if it
is now incomplete and sometimes in error. How should electronic editors deal
with inconsistencies built into print editions? To what extent should they
strive to maintain the original print pagination and annotation (so as to make
the electronic edition, at least for a generation, easily translatable to the
print editions embedded in the scholarship). Is one goal of the electronic
editor to create a version of the printed monumental that allows users, through
hypertext, to unweave the edition back into its constituent parts (facsimiles of
the manuscripts of each letter, for example), so that the electronic edition in
effect offers users the materials out of which they could construct their own
edition of the letters or the notebooks--a counter-edition to the original print
edition--if they so desired? Is the role of an electronic edition, then, in some
way to deconstruct the very monumental print edition that might serve as the
organizational center of the electronic edition? Does the print edition offer
orderings and understandings that should be resisted in the hypermedia
Price will then demonstrate some of the College of William & Mary and
University of Maryland student-produced projects using the Whitman Hypertext Archive--a critical/editorial interrogation,
"Walt Whitman: Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking"; a study of influence and
the transmigration of texts, "Whitman and Opera"; a project contextualizing the
poet's work in nineteenth-century "science," "Whitman and Phrenology"; and a
project contextualizing the poet's work in nineteenth- and twentieth-century
ideologies of sexuality and propriety, "Genders and Identities in the Poetry of
Walt Whitman" (all available under The Archive in the
Classroom at the Whitman site; <>.
The editors of the Dickinson and Whitman projects will close their talk by
reflecting on the pedagogical and scholarly implications of their joint
undertaking by showing some of the sites produced by the FIPSE
participants--Whitman and New York; Dickinson, Whitman and Temperance;
Dickinson, Scraps, and Late Stages of Composition; Dickinson, Whitman, and
Slavery; Dickinson's Confederate Uncle <> and Civil War Publications. Thus Smith and Price will review some of the
ways that the Dickinson Electronic Archives and the
Whitman Hypertext Archive engage the sociologies of
editing these poets' works for various media and critical/pedagogical needs,
their critical dialogues with print editions, with one another, and with their
joint endeavor, raising various questions about the goals, challenges,
disappointments, and serendipities of these undertakings.

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia, United States

June 9, 1999 - June 13, 1999

102 works by 157 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ICCH (19), ALLC/EADH (26), ACH/ALLC (11)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

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