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. Whitman, America's most influential poet and one of the four or five most innovative and significant writers in United States history, is the most challenging of all American authors in terms of the textual difficulties his work presents. He left behind an enormous amount of written material, and his major life work, Leaves of Grass, went through six very different editions, each of which was issued in a number of formats, creating a book that is probably best studied as numerous distinct creations rather than as a single revised work. His many notebooks, manuscript fragments, prose essays, letters, and voluminous journalistic articles all offer key cultural and biographical contexts for his poetry. The Archive sets out to incorporate as much of this material as possible, drawing on the resources of libraries and collections from around the United States and around the world. The Archive is directed by Kenneth M. Price (University of Nebraska–Lincoln) and Ed Folsom (University of Iowa).
Our goal is to create a dynamic site that will grow and change over the years. We have made available all six editions of Leaves of Grass. Also available is an extended biography of Whitman, written by Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price; this biography contains links to short essays about Whitman's friends and associates, historical events, and, eventually, will contain links to photos and maps of Whitman-related locations. All known contemporary reviews of Whitman's work are currently available, as are all known photographs of Whitman, complete with annotations. Introductions to each edition of Leaves, reprinted from Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, edited by J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, are available through an agreement with Garland Publishing Company. And, in conjunction with the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, we offer an up-to-date bibliography of books, essays, notes, and reviews about Whitman; this is the only comprehensive current bibliography of work about Whitman. We also provide access to a growing number of Whitman's notebooks.
One of our ongoing projects is to edit Whitman's poetry manuscripts, which have never before been systematically collected and studied. Eventually we plan to present all of Whitman's manuscript notes toward and versions of every poem in Leaves of Grass and of every poem that, for whatever reason, never made it into any printing of his masterpiece. Work on the poetry manuscripts has been supported by two grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, one from the Research Division (2000–2003), and one from Preservation and Access (2003–2005). In order both to advance this editing project and to increase understanding of Encoded Archival Description (EAD), we undertook a complementary project, An Integrated Finding Guide to Whitman's Poetry Manuscripts. This project received start-up funds from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and later a major grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS, 2002–2004). Our goals were to create an overarching virtual collection that pulls together items from the various repositories; to establish best practices for Encoded Archival Description (EAD) implementation across collections; to test EAD adaptability to the special needs of the scholarly community—especially scholarly editing projects; to develop a model for scholar-archivist collaboration; and to build a search interface adapted to the particular nature of Whitman manuscripts and the special needs of their users. In 2006 our work on the Integrated Finding Guide to Whitman's Poetry Manuscripts was honored with the C.F.W. Coker Award from the Society of American Archivists. We received an additional grant from NEH (2012–2015) that enabled us to extend our EAD to cover Whitman's prose manuscripts as well.
In 2008, the Whitman Archive began work on editing Whitman's Civil War writings with the goal of making them all available in time for the sesquicentennial of the outbreak of the Civil War. Funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC, 2008–2009) supported editorial work on Whitman's incoming and outgoing correspondence. Funding from the NEH (2008–2011) supported editorial work on Whitman's Civil War notebooks, daybooks, literary essays, journalism, poetry manuscripts, and his so-called Blue Book (a personally annotated copy of Leaves of Grass that cost him his government job). Funding from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) in 2009 provided a fellowship for Price to help direct these editorial efforts. Work on the Civil War materials is ongoing, as the Archive brings to completion this massive undertaking.
The Archive contains a large and growing body of letters. These include both the first complete record of the poet's personal correspondence—both incoming and outgoing—and the letters written in Whitman's hand during his years as a clerk in Attorney General's office. With the support of NHPRC (2010–2011; 2011–2012; 2012–2013; 2013–2014; 2014–2015; 2015–2016; 2016–2017), the Archive is treating Whitman's Reconstruction, post-Reconstruction, and old-age correspondence, as well as the approximately 3,000 scribal documents Whitman produced between 1865 and 1873.
Recent work on the Archive has also focused new light on how Whitman transformed himself from a good journalist and a middling writer of fiction into an extraordinary poet. NEH funding (2013–2016) supported "Whitman as an Author before Leaves of Grass," a project to digitize Whitman's pre-1855 journalism, fiction, prose, and notebooks. From 2017 to 2020, NEH is also funding work on "Unearthing the 'Buried Masterpiece' of American Literature: A Digital Variorum of the 1855 Leaves of Grass."
From 1995 until 2007 the Archive operated under the aegis of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) at the University of Virginia. In 2007, the Archive moved from a server at IATH to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln where it is one of the projects sponsored by the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities. We have enjoyed formal grant-based partnerships with libraries at Duke University, the New York Public Library, the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, Brown University, and the University of Virginia. A great many other libraries have cooperated with us in ways both large and small. We owe thanks to them all. The Library of Congress, the William R. Perkins Library at Duke University, and the Albert H. Small Special Collections Library of University of Virginia have been unusually generous and helpful.
We wish to thank the University of Iowa, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, University of Virginia, University of Texas at Austin, Duke University, Kent State University, and the College of William & Mary for their strong support. We also gratefully acknowledge grant support from the U. S. Department of Education and its Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Cooper Foundation, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS).