From Anthology to Archive
What are the differences and similarities between exhibits and archives?
In March, this topic aroused a lively discussion in our class. “Public versus private” and “presentation versus preservation” were the main points made when delineating between exhibits and archives. We decided that an exhibit has a very specific purpose and audience. An exhibit is sometimes temporary but is always created as a collection of items for the public to view. Meanwhile, an archive’s main purpose is to preserve specific items. These items are sorted and organized by a librarian and often owned by an organization, such as a library or institution. The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary definitions of exhibit and archive validated our discussion:
1: to make (a painting, sculpture, etc.) available for people to see
2: to show or reveal (something)
1: a place in which public records or historical documents are preserved; also : the
material preserved —often used in plural
2: a repository or collection especially of information
In order to gain evidence that supported our conclusion, everyone in the class adopted a digital archive. Each member of the class explored a specific archive and then reported its strengths and weaknesses to the entire class. These archives ranged from the 19th century to the 21st century. The specific archives and links are listed below in choronlogical order:
- Emily Dickinson Archive
- Walt Whitman Archive
- Rosetti Archive
- Shelley-Godwin Archive
Early 20th Century:
Mid to Late 20th Century:
The Walt Whitman Archive is a digital collection that strives to make Walt Whitman’s works, life, and other resources available to the public. Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price, who still edit and direct, as well as update and maintain the archive monthly, conceived the idea for The Walt Whitman Archive in the 1990s. This dream became a reality when the archive was published online in 1995 with the funding and support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the U.S. Department of Education, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the University of Iowa, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia. The Walt Whitman Archive is published by the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln under a Creative Commons License. It also contains various contributions from other editor-scholars, students, information professionals, and technologists. Over two decades later, the goal of producing “a scholarly edition of Whitman on the web” because “his work defies the constraints of a book” is still at the crux of the on-going and constantly growing project.
The primary contents of the archive are broken down into categories that are listed on the left hand side of the homepage. These categories are: “Published Works,” “In Whitman’s Hand,” “Life & Letters,” “Commentary,” “Pictures & Sound,” “Resources,” and “About the Archive.” Each category is then broken down further into at least three subcategories that are listed beneath the category name in smaller text on the welcome page. The Walt Whitman Archive functions very effectively as a user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing archive for scholars and novice readers alike.
The main goal of The Walt Whitman Archive is "to create a dynamic site that will grow and change over the years." This goal is not only commendable but also important to the life and value of the archive. Just as Walt Whitman was constantly editing and improving his work, The Walt Whitman Archive is successfully following in his footsteps.