Projects Page | Walt Whitman's Annotations and Marginalia

Digitizing Walt Whitman's Annotations and Marginalia

Current staff:
Matt Cohen, Editor
Lauren Grewe, Assistant Editor and Project Manager
Ty Alyea, Editorial Assistant
Brett Barney, Consultant (U. of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Former staff:
Nicole Gray, Project Manager and Assistant Editor (Univ. of Texas at Austin)
Travis Brown, Assistant Editor (Univ. of Texas at Austin)
Elizabeth Frye, Editorial Assistant (Univ. of Texas at Austin)
Mike Speriosu, Developer (Univ. of Texas at Austin)
Erica Fretwell, Assistant Editor (Duke U.)
Kevin Webb, Consultant (Tackle Design)
Brian Pytlik Zillig, Consultant (U. of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Supported by Duke University Libraries and the National Endowment for the Humanities

Research Assistants:
Laura Beerits (UT Austin)
Lauren Trojniar (UT Austin)
Nathaniel Bilhartz (UT Austin)
Kristen R. Davis (Duke U)
Anna Dudenhoeffer (Duke U)
Melissa J. Miller (Duke U)
Start date: September 2007
Projected publication date: ongoing

Cohen Lab received a Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant in 2007-2008 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop software tools and protocols for digital representation of static multimedia documents. Using Walt Whitman's manuscript marginalia--his annotations and other scribblings on other writers' printed works--we have built prototype tools for marking up such documents as well as for displaying interactive search results for such documents using images and text.

The project unfolded in several stages. First, with the help of Duke University Libraries, we scanned and transcribed some of the most interesting documents in Duke's Trent Collection of Whitman materials. Whitman used pasted-on clippings, drawings, mathematics, annotations, and underlining in pencil and ink as he interacted with printed materials and even photographs and drawings. Research assistants transcribed all such information and generated descriptions of non-textual content. Then, using the Whitman Archive's Poetry Encoding Guidelines as a starting point, we began to encode these transcriptions. Brett Barney of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's E-Text Center came to Duke to help us create Encoding Guidelines for these static multimedia documents that extended the extant Whitman Archive DTD. These documents and standardized image scans of the originals were passed on to Tackle Design, a Durham, NC software design firm, for use in generating two tools: one to help encoders link images to XML files through a coordinate system that spatially locates each manuscript word or image element in a document; and one to help users search for such content online. It's a kind of "Google Earth" for documents that mix print, manuscript, and drawings or other visual elements.

The next phase of this project, funded by an NEH Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant (2011-2014) involves creating a demonstration site and obtaining images from the archives that hold large or particularly rich collections of Whitman's annotated material, including among others Duke University's Special Collections, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, the Library of Congress, and Middlebury College Special Collections. These are being transcribed and encoded according to an expanded version of the Whitman Archive's TEI-based schema.

Our advisory board members are Heather Jackson, William Sherman, Steven Olsen-Smith, Terry Catapano, and Michael Winship.

A white paper by Erica Fretwell, Matt Cohen, and Kevin Webb on the project, published at the NEH web site for digital humanities projects, can be downloaded here:


The coordinate capture interface is currently being adapted to the SharedCanvas platform; results from this part of the project will be available in spring 2014.

Our grant narrative for the NEH Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program can be found here:


Our preliminary encoding strategies--extensions and tweakings of the general Whitman Archive Encoding Guidelines--may be found here:


Conference presentations on the project may be downloaded here:

Society for Textual Scholarship, 2009: STS_09_CohenFretwell.pdf
American Studies Association, 2011: ASA2011DH.pdf


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Updated on 25 August 2013 | c. 2009-2013 University of Texas at Austin