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

Martha Nell Smith
Department of English
University of Maryland at College Park

Kenneth M. Price
American Studies
College of William & Mary
109 Holcomb Dr.
Williamsburg, VA 23185

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 resources.

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 resource.

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 edition?

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.