Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Internet, Whitman on the
Author:
Kummings, Donald D.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

When Walt Whitman hymned praises of the body electric, he sang of more than he knew. Although the electronic network known as the internet is not yet thirty years old, it already features hundreds of addresses at which information on Whitman can be found. At present, many of these addresses, or websites, are ephemeral in nature and of limited value to the serious student. Some, however, have an air of permanence and provide entrance to literary riches. An example of the latter is the Walt Whitman Home Page of the Library of Congress (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/wwhome.html). Stored here is information about the library's (and the country's) unparalleled collection of Whitman materials, some ninety-eight thousand manuscripts and books. Here, too, available in digital format, are four small notebooks and a cardboard butterfly that disappeared from the library's archives during World War II but which were recovered some forty years later, on 24 February 1995. Exciting it is, indeed, for student and scholar alike, to view in these notebooks Whitman's early pencil drafts of his poetry or his on-the-spot reflections concerning dying soldiers in the Civil War hospitals.

No doubt destined to become, in the years ahead, the foremost Whitman resource on the internet is the Walt Whitman Hypertext Archive, now being constructed by project directors Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price. Jointly sponsored by the College of William and Mary, the University of Iowa, and the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, the archive is a structured database which, in due course, will hold digitized images of Whitman's works (including first editions of Leaves of Grass), manuscripts, notebooks, letters, and reviews of his various books. Accompanying these materials will be a Whitman biography, photographs of the poet, commentary on his work, and a search engine that facilitates finding documents in the database. Finally, the archive will contain "teaching units," electronic files that consist of images, questions, and suggestions relevant to the exploration of various topics of study.

At some point, the Internet may become an essential tool in the discussion of Whitman in the classroom. In time, it may hold out a research potential unimaginable to scholars of earlier eras.

Bibliography

Clark, Michael. Cultural Treasures of the Internet. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1997.

Fineberg, Gail. "Whitman on the Web: Four Recovered Notebooks to Be Digitized." Library of Congress Information Bulletin 54.7 (1995): 139–144.

Green, Charles B. "Walt Whitman on the Web." Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 15 (1997): 44–51.

Stull, Andrew T. English on the Internet: A Student's Guide. Adapted for English by Barbara Johnson. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1997.


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