Build-Your-Own Damn Crash Course in Literary Theory

My areas of scholarly study are bibliography, editorial theory, and digital humanities. These areas of study inform my teaching practice and scholarship, but I do not expect graduate students to delve into my preferred area of theory to inform a paper in, say, an historical survey of American Literature, which I am teaching in summer 2015. Therefore, if you are an MA student and have not already chosen certain theoretical commitments that you want to continue working within, you need to quickly acquire mastery of “enough theory” to write a competent seminar paper. This post was written specifically for students in an early American literature survey, but I write it a bit more broadly so that it might serve students in other literary periods and traditions. This post was inspired by Natalia Cecire’s “Crash Courses for the Desperate” (more on that below).

First, let me specify what “enough theory” is not: it does not mean that you have identified an interpretive error in the reading of a canonical work of literature by three random critics, one that you in your seminar paper will correct by a close reading of several passages from the perspective an illuminating theoretical lens. The rationale for such a paper is that this fresh theoretical lens not yet been applied to the canonical text that you have selected. Don’t write that kind of paper. Why not? Because that is not likely to be better than a “B” paper. Yes, exceptional work of this type may be published as a brief item in Notes and Queries, which is roughly equivalent to a book review. Though valuable service, ambitious editors of literary texts often achieve as much with three of four annotation notes to an edition. If you’re interested in writing about 50 such annotations, talk to me about a different type of project than a paper. Scholarly service is valuable, but the purpose of a seminar paper is to write a strong draft of a paper that (after revision) could merit submission to a respected journal that would be received favorably enough to go to outside readers.

To aspire to publication (though it is not necessary to merit publication by end of semester: to earn “A” your paper need only to reasonably “aspire”), your paper needs to be strong in at least two of the following areas and competent in the third:

  1. Enough knowledge of an historical and cultural moment outside of the present, whether when work composed and first published or during a particular moment of reception. Sources include letters, contemporary reviews, author’s other works, other works in same genre, and scholarship that seeks to make sense of the work from such perspectives.
  2. Enough knowledge of the present as a particular moment in the critical heritage for the study of the text: Who are the major critics? Which are the major articles and books? What has been at stake when reading texts from this period? Sources include major scholarly monographs on related subjects (“major” is generously considered, from past 3 decades) and present-day (past decade of) scholarly articles, book chapters, monographs, calls for papers, dissertations.
  3. Enough theory.

The recommended readings in this course will provide many of the first two, but I will not provide direction on “enough theory” in a formal way. Therefore, you should devise a crash course for yourself within a contemporary theoretical framework, such as one of the following: Marxism, Feminist Theory, Cultural Studies, Queer Theory, Race Theory, Postcolonial Theory, Pyschoanalytic Theory, New Historicism, Formalism and Structuralism, Phenomenology and Hermeneutics, etc. Recall that I began by admitting that no one of these is my particular area of study. And yet, my names for theoretical schools were chosen deliberately: I opened the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (2nd ed., 2010), edited by Vincent Leitch, and copied out section titles–some shortened–from the alternate Table of Contents, which is labeled “Modern and Contemporary Schools and Movements” (xviv-xxii). If you buy (or acquire by interlibrary loan) the Norton Anthology, select one of the schools in which you have an interest, and spend three days in a crash session reading from texts and head-notes under each section, you are on your way to “enough theory” to write a seminar paper in my class. To be more assured that you have a fuller grasp, read fuller versions of one or two “major texts” that are referenced in the anthology’s head-notes.

Do you now have “enough theory” now? Maybe, but there is the risk that you have taken a flyer the definition of an area of theory under the recommendation of a single scholar (Leitch) and are not yet able to connect your theoretical knowledge with one of the two other areas in which I suggested you need to write a competent paper: 1) “historical and cultural moment outside the present,” or 2) “the present as a particular moment in the critical heritage” for the text on which you want to write. The three backgrounds of your paper must be integrated. And in fact, a “crash course” is not really a shortcut: you need to allow all three things to percolate in your mind a bit. So long as you remain far from a thesis that is theoretically informed and that will be a useful for the two other areas I suggested, continue enriching your understanding of all three areas. Boundaries between areas of theory are not rigid: they cross-pollinate, as even a schema like that in the Norton Anthology hints: Antonio Gramsci appears both in Cultural Studies and Marxism, Paula Gunn Allen appears both in Feminist Theory and Race and Ethnicity studies, etc. Such is unavoidable: major shifts in scholarship often disrupt previously accepted boundaries. Some areas of theory are rising in importance, drawing from multiple antecedents, and gaining energy, and some are beginning to seem dated. Scholars who are serious about literary theory right now are asking whether my basic distinction between study of text in historic moment and the critically sophisticated present is not a little naive. For acknowledging the importance of boundary crossing only in passing but not exploring it, I plead pedagogical usefulness and my own bias toward editing and philology. The purpose of this post is not to teach you to make a contribution to cutting-edge theory but to advise you on putting together a crash course that allows you to write a first-year seminar paper in a graduate course.

To continue expanding your study of theory, I suggest consulting one or more of the following resources: John Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism, ed. Michael Groden, Martin Kreiswirth, and Imre Szeman (2005), Continuum Encyclopedia of Modern Criticism and Theory, ed. Julian Wolfreys (2006), Literary Theory and Criticism: an Oxford Guide, ed. Patricia Waugh (2006). Again, these titles did not trip off my tongue. I consulted James L. Harner’s Literary Research Guide (Kent State Library, Online Copy) which has an entry on the John Hopkins Guide that mentions the Continuum Encyclopedia and the Oxford Guide as particularly valuable (and mentions other titles). Again, my purpose is not to advise how to make a serious contribution to theory: you only need “enough theory” to be recognized as aware of major texts that may inform your reading. If you wish to contribute to theory (or you wish to develop a better sense of how areas of theory may be divided or intersect) you would be consulting annual volumes from Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory, reading widely in major theory journals, and probably studying with someone else in the department.

If this sounds intimidating because your interests in advanced study in English don’t fit easily under literature and theory—because, for example, your interest in English is from composition and rhetoric or linguistics; or your interests are philosophy or religion—I only ask that any work that draws from your favored discipline make accommodations to address readers outside of that discipline. As noted, this post was inspired by a comment on Cecire’s Crash Courses for the Desperate. Cecire prepared three one-page crash courses in “Queer Theory,” “Modernism,” and “History of Science.” Cecire writes as an expert on the areas that she has selected. Each of her crash courses consists of 5 or 6 important articles or chapters (with one or two sly of-course-you’ve-already-read-that hints), a series of questions to consider, two or three prominent journals from which to consult recent articles, and an advisory on building your own more extended reading lists. As no good deed by a female scholar in a public forum should be allowed to stand without queries for assistance mixed with presumptuous insult, a commenter promptly asked her to prepare additional reading lists.

It takes genuine expertise to devise a crash course on Cecire’s model. When initially enamored with her crash course proposal, I envisioned spending 8 or 10 hours a piece preparing a crash course in each of the following subjects: Early American Literature, Bibliography, Textual Criticism, Digital Humanities. Why I did not do this is the same reason Cecire is not going to post crash courses on demand. Such work is most useful, when it is useful, when you take it up yourself. This post serves a different purpose: to offer a guide to some of the infrastructure that will allow you to prepare a crash course for yourself. Students in my classes should not be surprised if I try out asking them to develop a new crash course as a graded exercise.

To finish the job on Cecire’s crash course model, you will need to devise questions and pick important journals in an area of literary scholarship. Through the act of selecting and reading and consulting, you should have a reasonable grasp on the major journals. For more comprehensive work, see the MLA Directory for Periodicals if your library subscribes. If you do not have access to that service, the Humanities Journals Wiki does a pretty good job on its list of literary journals. On a particular general theory topic, pick six or eight articles from most prominent journals to read, from during last two or three years. Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory should again be consulted, as it may help you identify individual articles in the journals that regularly engage your area of study.

This is not career advice. But if it sounds like too much work for a seminar paper, then I do have career advice: quit graduate school. I welcome other useful hints and reference works for building up knowledge in a particular area. But for almost any scholar in English-related disciplines, Harner’s Literary Research Guide is an essential first-stop shop to gain your bearings in a new area of study.

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Running CollateX on your Macintosh OSX (Mavericks)

I had CollateX running on my Macintosh OSX (Lion, probably), but after installing Mavericks CollateX no longer ran. So I had to work through the steps for getting CollateX to run from the command line on this new OS. I had for a while satisfied myself with running it from Windows 7 PC, which still worked, but I need now to share these instructions for a graduate class anyway. These instructions are for newbies, and I welcome corrections if I use the wrong terms to describe what needs to be done from an OS or Java perspective, realms in which I have only achieved minimal literacy.

The basic steps are the following:

  • Download the application (a zip file with a directory structure) from and place it anywhere on your computer.
  • Designate the downloaded CollateX program (named collatex on Macintosh) as an executable file so that the operating system will permit it to run.
    1. You must install the Java Software Development Kit (not same as end-user Java or JRE for your browser, though the CollateX page says should work with JRE, but it did not for me).
    2. You must add the path to JAVA_HOME to your .bash_profile and re-start the terminal, so CollateX can find the Java SDK.
  • With CollateX designated as an executable and able to find Java SDK, you must issue the proper command to launch CollateX on the command line from within the “bin” directory of the unzipped CollateX directory. The command “./collatex” (do not omit period or forward slash) will indicate the version and provide a list of commands for CollateX.

Download CollateX

  • Go to and download ““. Open it with the Archive utility (or your other favorite unzip tool) and place it someplace where you can find it, such as “/Users/[your user name]/Documents/collatex-tools-1.5“.
  • When you unzip it, CollateX will create a folder with the version name “collatex-tools-1.5″, and inside that directory one will find a “bin” and a “lib“. To run CollateX, you will need to enter your Terminal (shell) and navigate to the “bin” directory. If you’re experienced and feeling lucky, open Terminal, navigate to CollateX bin, and try to run it with the command “./collatex“. If that didn’t work, continue with steps below.

Designate CollateX an executable

  • In the Terminal (shell), use Unix commands to traverse the directories (ls to display current directory, and cd with "folder name"/"folder name" (single or double quotes needed in paths if spaces in directory names, or escape spaces with backslash followed by spaces). You will not need quotation marks or escaped spaces if you used recommended path above, so go to following destination: /Users/[your user name]/Documents/collatex-tools-1.5/bin.
  • Within bin directory, type the following command: “chmod +x collatex“. The command chmod has now designated collatex file as an executable. By the way, if in Windows, you will use “collatex.bat” rather than collatex file.
  • If Java previously set up, the following command may work: “./collatex“. Tip: Don’t omit the period or slash before the command.
  • If CollateX fails to run and error message explains that your OS can’t find Java, continue with steps below.

Install the Java SDK

If you attempt to run CollateX and it fails with a Java message like below, you probably need to install the JDK (technically, you may have it installed but not mapped to JAVA_HOME, but you are a newbie with this, so probably not).

JAVA_HOME is not defined correctly.
We cannot execute /System/Library/Frameworks/JavaVM.framework/Versions/CurrentJDK/Home/bin/java

  1. Go to the download site for the Java Development Kit
  2. Click the button for the JDK Download.
  3. Accept the License Agreement.
  4. Download the appropriate one for your operating system: Macintosh OS X x64. If on Windows, select Windows x64 (Windows 7, 64 bit or Windows 8), or Windows x86 (earlier or Windows 7, 32 bit).
  5. Install the JDK.

Tell Macintosh OSX where to find Java

These steps are some kind of with-Java-you-must-work-with-the-force-not-against-it that I don’t actually understand, but they were necessary.

  1. Open your terminal.
  2. Enter the following command and press Enter, exactly as below:
    echo export "JAVA_HOME=\$(/usr/libexec/java_home)" >> ~/.bash_profile
  3. Why? I don’t know. But see this link and this link if you are interested in sussing out why.
  4. Then exit and close the terminal. If you don’t exit and close the terminal entirely, CollateX will continue to NOT WORK.

Run CollateX

  1. Re-open terminal (you closed it after mapping JAVA_HOME in previous step).
  2. Using the finder, place two files that you want to collate (wit1.txt and wit2.txt in the bin directory. I recommend plain one-sentence text files. wit1.txt would have one line: “This is witness 1 of the work.” wit2.txt would have one line: “This is witness 2 of the same work.”
  3. Using the cd and ls command, make your way to “/Users/[your user name]/Documents/collatex-tools-1.5/bin“. To make life easier for yourself, you can open the Finder and have a visual reminder of your location.
  4. To confirm that CollateX is functioning, enter the following command: :./collatex” (do not omit period or forward slash). Because you did not tell CollateX to do anything, it will do nothing more than to display the documentation.
  5. If wit1.txt and wit2.txt are in the bin directory, collatex is an executable file, collatex can find Java on your OS because you instructed it where JAVA_HOME is located, and the Terminal is running the command from within the bin directory, enter the following command: ./collatex wit1.txt wit2.txt > witness1and2compared.txt
  6. If that works and outputs a file witness1and2compared.txt, have at it. The full documentation is at

If anyone asks what kind of work you do, you may now say with a straight face that you are a philologist.

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The Trouble with Facsimiles: Jewett’s Illustrated Edition (1853) of Uncle Tom’s Cabin

In 2011, as I was about half-way finished with oral proofing my twice-keyboarded transcription of John P. Jewett’s Illustrated Edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1853), the scholar David S. Reynolds published two major contributions to Stowe scholarship almost simultaneously, Mightier than the Sword (Norton, 2011) and a facsimile reprint of Jewett’s Illustrated Edition (1853). Reynolds’s “Splendid Edition” (Oxford, 2011), named by Jewett’s advertising, elicited a thought, “Damn.” But that was short-lived emotion, as I remembered that the long view is all a textual scholar has. I was just getting started on transcribing and proofreading the New Edition (Houghton Osgood, 1879) of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and my detailed study of the text would probably allow me to make some contribution to the study of the Illustrated edition even after Reynolds’s publication. Textual editing is a slow business, and more nimble scholar-critics may get out ahead of us.

I had the advantage of a previous “Damn” moment, when shortly after I finished my dissertation in 2006 I imagined reframing a dissertation chapter for an article on the serialization of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the National Era. But while I was busy transcribing and collating the Jewett first edition and the Edition for the Million, Claire Parfait’s Publishing History of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852-2002 (2007) came out with a quite sharp synthesis of the publication history, which makes part (though not quite all) of my work on the serialization redundant. I could find stuff to quibble about, but I don’t wish to turn into the spot-on Dr. Seuss caricature, the Tweetle Beetles.

I have postponed sharing these thoughts on the Illustrated Edition (1853), but I can now offer some thoughts that may complicate Reynolds’s significant achievement. Two matters I aim to discuss: first, the reasonably obvious typesetting and type damage errors that are visible in the facsimile; second, the curious case of two alternate illustrations by Hammatt Billings, the less known of which seems to me to alter the ideological tenor of the novel.

I dislike the term “obvious error,” which elides an important qualification, “to whom?” Errors that seem “obvious” after they are pointed out by professors or by editors are seldom obvious to readers when making their first pass through a text. Those who transcribe (many scholarly editors) are more alert to errors than those who read. Your English professor does not notice more errors in a classroom anthology because she is smarter than you–though of course that’s possible too: she notices because she reads more carefully and may well have read the same text many times. I had transcribed Stowe’s novel four times and read it a dozen times and was proofreading it orally for the fourth time when I took up the proofreading of the Illustrated edition, and when proofreading orally I spell out longer words and dialect. So I am highly attuned to author and to compositor habits. For example, I even notice the approximate width of a space, or absence of such space, in a contraction like “it ‘s” because I’ve noticed and recorded some aspects of type space during transcription. Obvious only means, then, “to me,” from the perspective of the extravagant attention that I’ve put into the text as part of editorial labor. In any case, here is the list of the errors: Jewett 1853 Illustrated Edition List of Errors (PDF). You will see, for example, that on page 523, on the 16th text line on the page, the word “its” should be “it’s.” And maybe it’s worth nothing that in the Jewett Illustrated edition there are no spaces before apostrophes in contractions, though the first edition had such spaces. I would note that I do not include errors which might emerge as “obvious” during a collation against another text, which focuses the mind in a different way. In the latter case, what qualifies as an error depends on one’s editorial dispensation. I present the apparatus (which includes type damage on the second page) as an Acrobat PDF file because it employs a number of special characters (swung dash, parallel pipes, etc). Such typesetting fanciness is too much trouble to convert to a blog-compatible form.

OK, “So what?” Admittedly, to most people such details (the list of 30 “obvious” errors in the facsimile) matter not. And I need to complete a study of the stereotype printing to ascertain whether the type damage noted in the second list matters. Nonetheless, the errors in the facsimile–most of which will be obvious to any reader examines them closely–illustrate a point that bears repeating. A facsimile of one copy can only be as accurate as that copy. To determine the degree to which the copy is representative of the entire edition, one must compare multiple copies. An editor of a facsimile can, of course, identify the errors and other variants and list them for the reader. Most scholars who publish facsimiles don’t do that, because it’s a lot of work. Yet a facsimile reprint by a scholarly editor (as contrasted to one by a literary critic who also edits) should do the work of reporting variants in the text and illustrations. During my own transcription and collation of the text of three copies of this edition, I have yet to notice a significant variant aside from type damage (I have three more copies to collate before I’ll make that a more sweeping statement), but I have noticed a variant that seems to me significant, in an illustration.

In the Splendid Edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Reynolds offers an extended discussion of Billings’s illustrations, including those of heavenly beings, the angels. Reynolds points out that at least one reviewer complained about angels as human figures with arms, because (Reynolds’s words) “they profanely mixed the human and the heavenly. But it was precisely this mixture that Stowe wanted to emphasize” (xxi). I agree that Stowe intends for readers to recognize the parallel between the actions on earth and spiritual actions and that Billings does remarkable work in rendering and emphasizing that aspect of Stowe’s novel with his illustrations. The engravings based on Billings’s drawings are a striking “reading” of the novel. But the most intriguing angel in Billings’s illustrations is this one, which you won’t find in Reynolds’s facsimile.

John P. Jewett, Illustrated Edition, 1853, pg. 560

John P. Jewett, Illustrated Edition, 1853, pg. 560 (personal copy)

What angel is that, and what is it carrying? I suspect that this is the Archangel Michael, and that he carries a scourge. In Christian tradition, one of Michael’s tasks is “To call away from earth and bring men’s souls to judgment” (“St. Michael the Archangel,” Catholic Encyclopedia). This is a quite appropriate illustration given the context, as the sentence that closes the novel promises vengeance on a nation which will not turn from sin:

Not by combining together, to protect injustice and cruelty, and making a common capital of sin, is this Union to be saved,–but by repentance, justice, and mercy; for not surer is the eternal law by which the millstone sinks in the ocean, than that stronger law, by which injustice and cruelty shall bring on nations the wrath of Almighty God! (560)

So that illustration, of Michael descending with a scourge, is the personification of the Almighty’s wrath (also see Revelations 12) and a sign of the end times. I would note another glancing Michael connection in the novel, that he is often the angel who is said to have appeared to Balaam; Balaam’s ass may be one of Stowe’s biblical antecedents for the slave Sam’s interference with trader Haley’s horse, which aided Eliza’s escape (see this post). Biographer Joan D. Hedrick has documented Stowe’s fascination with the end times (see Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life 148-150). The threat and menace of Billings’s scourge-wielding angel is a fitting coda to Stowe’s novel. But in Reynolds’s edition (and in other copies of the first edition), one finds instead a fancy rendering of two words, “The End.”


John P. Jewett, Illustrated Edition, 1853, pg. 560 (courtesy of University of Virginia, Small Special Collections)

So why would we have two alternate closing illustrations in one edition of the novel? That is, both copies (the one I’ve noted, and the one that became the basis of Reynolds’s facsimile) were printed from the same stereotype plate. But in this case at some point the publisher directed the printer to switch out one illustration for the other. Such alterations are not done lightly, so I assume that the publisher did so in response to pressure. I suspect that the angel with the scourge is the earlier one (it’s less common than this one), that some readers found this angel to be particularly upsetting, and that it was replaced with “The End” as a revised illustration. Every online facsimile of the Illustrated Edition (or its British counterpart by Sampson Low, Son, and Co.) that I’ve located (this one on Google Books, this one on Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture [illustrations only], and this one on HathiTrust, also at the Internet Archive) has “The End” as its closing illustration. So I suspect the angel was an earlier illustration and “The End” the replacement for it, which is in most copies. It’s also intriguing that two copies of Uncle Tom’s Cabin that I acquired on the cheap from used booksellers are bound in boards but lack the final page. I now begin to wonder if more than one reader found the angel illustration a little too pointed. I had long thought that the two missing pages in my damaged volumes an unfortunate and coincidental accident, but I now think it’s possible that the angel with a scourge was seen as a bit too pointed a promise of vengeance, which in later printed copies was replaced with the more benign “The End” but in some surviving printed copies may have been excised by readers (this is speculation: how many examples of missing pages could help bolster the case I don’t know, but it would take a fairly large sample).

The conventional closing “The End” is actually an oddity among early American editions. It does not appear in the National Era version of the Stowe’s novel, nor the Jewett first edition, nor the Edition for the Million. In fact, if the angel illustration is present, there’s no “The End” in the Illustrated Edition either. But after seeing the angel, I no longer see Billings’s “The End” as a benign but stylized conventional visual coda to the novel. It can instead be read as another version of “The End” promised in the angel-bearing-scourge version. In other words, as John Bryant in The Fluid Text has advised about revisions of words, that variants retain the traces of alternate readings and inflect them when known, this “The End” is less a signal about the end of a novel and more like “The End” as the final and all-encompassing end of the world. You know, that “The End,” the Last Judgment.

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Restoring Fragile Remains: Two Louisa Van Velsor Whitman Letters

“Half sunk a shattered visage lies”[1]

To illustrate the tools and expertise that conservation demands, Duke University has highlighted the work of its Conservation Services Department on fragile materials. The letters of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, poet Walt Whitman’s mother, which were treated for preservation by Beth Doyle, Erin Hammeke, Rachel Penniman, and Grace White,[2] have emerged as a favorite example. Conservation is a background for editorial scholarship, and this conservation work is in the background to my own encounter with the same documents, as an editor. My edition of the letters, “walter dear”: The Letters of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Her Son Walt, may be conceived as a continuation or expansion of their conservation efforts, though it is other work as well. This short story concerns preservation, loss, and an editor’s reliance on the work of others, for two purposes: to preserve what promises to crumble away, to restore a part of what has been lost. I will close with a brief cloak-and-dagger note that in part explains my sometimes fraught relationship to previous scholarship.

To acquire a sense of the Duke conservators’ efforts, you can browse images of their labor on two of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman’s fragile letters in Aaron Kirschenfeld’s “Campus Observer: Loan Renewal” in Duke Magazine (Tip: Read the article on their work, of course, but to see the images, click “Show Full Article”). More images, also of her letters, are on the library’s flickr account (with higher resolution) at “Louisa Whitman letter, before treatment” and again (same title) and (though some repeated) in the online catalog for the exhibit Louisa Whitman Letters. The two most important ones for my subsequent discussion are reproduced below, at a lower resolution:

Louisa Whitman letter, before treatment

Figure 1: “Louisa Whitman letter, before treatment”
(Source: Trent Collection, Duke University)

Louisa Whitman letter, before treatment

Figure 2: “Louisa Whitman letter, before treatment”
(Source: Trent Collection, Duke University)

In the introduction to my edition, the conservators receive only faint and indirect mention, classed generally among the group “of collectors and archivists, and of scholars and funding bodies” and again, anonymously, as part of the collective known as “David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.” The mostly invisible efforts of library and archive personnel—who did the work and when they did so is no doubt recorded in work logs and project documents but invisible in catalog records—are effaced often in published literary and historical scholarship. I first encountered the handiwork of the conservators after their ministrations to these fragile documents were complete: only later would I notice and seek to reconstruct some of what had been lost. My editorial work has been complicit in silencing the conservators’ labor: only after the letters were published would I seek out their names.

Work on Mother Whitman’s letters was proposed by the Walt Whitman Archive and funded in part by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission as an editorial project, and for me it became work to be done after it was funded. Many removes occur between the letters as material objects and my editorial labor upon them, which can be summarized briefly as follows. Duke selected the Mother Whitman letters for digitization and provided the entire collection of images to the Whitman Archive, and the decision to digitize probably set the work of conservators in motion: they sought to reduce the risk of further damage. When the Whitman Archive received the images from Duke, Liz Lorang, senior associate editor and program manager at the archive (located at the University of Nebraska), patiently assembled digital images into letter units: each letter is assigned a Walt Whitman Archive ID and categorized as on “object” in the tracking database, though one letter may be represented by multiple image surfaces. The letters arrived to me (located at Kent State) through the tracking database interface, as a digital image of their material form, the reconstituted traces on the basis of which I and others would labor. About a third of the letters I transcribed myself from the tracking database interface, and assistant editor Felicia L. Wetzig completed the initial transcription and annotation for the remainder. Within the application Oxygen, we transcribed the text of the letters into an XML file that complied with the Whitman Archive schema. After two rounds of proofreading (one with assistance of Cathy Tisch or a student) and several rounds of annotation were complete, Ms. Tisch or I transformed the XML version of Duke letters into an HTML version and printed them. This previous summer, I headed to Durham, North Carolina, where I spent most of five days proofreading our transcriptions against the original documents.

Below (Figure 3) is a letter that you may recognize, from the Duke conservators’ work above (see Figure 1).

Cropped Section from Image 1, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [9–14] March 1863

Figure 3: Cropped Section from Image 1, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [9–14] March 1863
(Source: Trent Collection, Duke University, via Whitman Archive)

If you examine the words and the tear on the bottom of the image, the phrases “about 11 Oclock” and “[w?]ith his key” and the general outline of the tear confirm that this is an alternate perspective on the same letter. But because of the large triangle-shaped tear, a probable word that appeared between “came” and “in” has been lost and is irrecoverable, except through speculation. I declined to speculate in my editorial transcription, but we may conjecture that “on” completed the phrase “came on in.”

Louisa wrote on the opposite surface of the same page, and it is also photographed.

Cropped Section from Image 2, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [9–14] March 1863

Figure 4: Cropped Section from Image 2, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [9–14] March 1863
(Source: Trent Collection, Duke University, via Whitman Archive)

Notice the phrase “buckwheat cakes”—apparently also one of Walt’s favorite breakfasts—which appears also in part, as “buckwhea[t?]” mid-way up in the Duke conservation image (Figure 2). Because the phrase “as if” is below the word “buckwheat,” it’s the same letter. And you can also see that the two pairs of triangular tears in Figure 3 and 4 are mirror images of one another. But if you look closely at the Duke image, it includes characteristics of the letter as a material document that are invisible in the version of the images posted on the Whitman Archive. The paper of the letter separates along a line that runs vertically through the middle of the image: that is where the letter was mounted into the letter book along its margin. The adhesive that once held the letter in place has contributed to the deterioration of the paper. At the bottom of Figure 2 one may discern a sharp angle, a strip of cotton-rag paper like that used in scrap books. That is the paper on which Louisa’s letters were mounted alongside the type transcription.

The letters are mounted in a bound scrap book. The two images below are the title page to the scrap book, though the bottom half of the page has been cropped…

Title Page, Louisa Whitman Letters, Duke University

Figure 5: Louisa Whitman letters, t.p., before treatment
(Source: Trent Collection, Duke University)

…and the letter book’s binding. I snapped a photo of this 2nd-volume binding when it was retrieved for me at Duke.

Louisa Whitman Letter Book, Duke University

Figure 6: Louisa Whitman Letter Book
(Source: Trent Collection, Duke University)

To a significant extent, all these material forms in which the letters are preserved are defined as irrelevant for the editorial work. And that is why I include the following statement in the introduction:

Other items, such as two notes by Waldron that are placed loose in An Extensive Collection (Trent Collection, Duke), are referenced when applicable but not reproduced. The other paratextual materials in An Extensive Collection and in A Series of Thirteen Letters (Walt Whitman Collection, Ransom Center)—title pages, bindings, mounted catalog clippings in the end papers or the inside front cover, mounting pages for the letters, and type transcriptions—are not reproduced.

If truth be told, I was ill-prepared to deal with the letters as original documents when I first arrived at Duke, though I had already proofread a smaller set at the Harry Ransom Center. And I spent the first two or three hours in special collections floundering. You can see what I encountered by browsing the finding aid named Guide to the Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, 1841-1992, bulk 1845-1849, 1854-1857, and 1864-1892. If you wanted all the Louisa Whitman letters, what would you request first, Box III-5E, Box III-5F, Box II-9B, Box II-9D, or Box III-5D? You can request multiple items to be available for you, but you can only have one item at a time at a table. So for first hour or two I browsed through albums that looked like they were prepared by a befuddled scrapbooker who had lost his or her nerve and was just cramming what had fallen out into sleeves, and I was getting nervous. In fact, the letter books were kept in a vault, and it was only when I had begun to reach a state of nervousness somewhere short of consternation that curator Will Hansen explained the letter books’ recent move and promised to have them out shortly. But after I had my hands on and had oriented myself to the proper letter albums, those qualities that were defined as secondary began to fall away. I needed to get into a zone because I was trying over 4.5 days to proofread all 148 letters. And at the same time I wanted to move slowly and deliberately to ensure that I would not fold or damage any of the fragile documents.

Only two of the letters are extraordinarily fragile, and the poor quality of the paper Louisa Van Velsor Whitman herself noticed. In her March 19, 1863 letter to Walt, she wrote: “this 12 sheets of writing paper for 4 cents is awful stuf to write on.” The same paper is used for her March 9-14, 1863 letter. I had read that line when transcribing the letter, but it did not really hit home until I saw the small envelope of fragmentary remains.

Clear Plastic Sleeve with Letter Fragments

Figure 7: Clear Plastic Sleeve of Preserved Letter Fragments in An Extensive Collection
(Source: Trent Collection, Duke University)

These fragments are pregnant with meanings. During the Civil War, Louisa scrimped on food for herself and for her sons Edward and Jesse, and she scrimped on writing paper. The paper that she chose is one of the remains of her genuine fear of poverty and the thriftiness that she practiced in the wake of that fear. These are the first two letters of her war-era correspondence, shortly after Walt’s departure for Washington, D.C., in search of his injured brother George, who had been wounded at Fredericksburg. One senses in her choice of paper no suspicion that writing letters to Walt will be the activity of the next decade, because her son was expected to return to Brooklyn. After writing Walt became a regular habit, he kept her in supply with higher quality paper and stamped envelopes. These letters are the fragile beginnings of a war-era correspondence that would continue through Reconstruction and unto her death in May 1873. That a conservator at Duke University kept them and tweezed each individual fragment into a transparent sleeve conveys both a surrender to the inevitable corruption of material things and an almost insane optimism. To save them as fragments must on some level be an admission that one no longer has the time, energy, or inclination to devote any more effort to them. I for one could pardon a sharp sneeze that scattered these fragments on the floor, where a janitor’s vacuum might whisk them away. But their conservation is also an expression of hope in a better future for the letter, that at some point someone may wish to painstakingly reconstruct its shattered visage. When I encountered them, I surrendered a sentimental tear for their presence but resolved myself to a hard-headed recognition that decay and dissolution are inevitable, the fate of material things. I had no inclination to sit there and try to reconstruct a letter out of 7 or 10 or 15 millimeter-wide fragments. Not only did I realize that I had neither the necessary time nor expertise, to even try seemed hopeless.

Some editorial projects are heroic, but mine is not. I really needed to finish the project during summer 2013 to shore up my case for tenure and promotion. At Duke, I was trying to keep up a pace of proofreading around one letter every 15 or 20 minutes, so I could proofread every letter before my plane left on Friday. And yet, because I’ve spent far more time on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman’s letters than any capitalist accounting of the value of labor could justify, I can still recognize the letter that appears alongside the fragments. You can too, now: all you need to do is transcribe a few words and search on the Whitman Archive. As you could find, similar holes in the paper are visible on Figure 8 (though you’re looking at the opposite side of page below):

Figure 8: Cropped, from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, March 9–14, 1863 Letter (click for letter on Whitman Archive)

Figure 8: Cropped, from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, March 9–14, 1863 Letter
(Source: Duke University, via Whitman Archive)

Though it’s humorously ironic that the dollar amounts that have fallen victim to decay, I failed to appreciate the humor at the time—cause the lost words are a real problem for an editor. But then, because I was sitting face to face with the documents, I realized that the type transcriptions that could retain information that had been lost as the original letters decayed (also see Figure 1, which shows small section of the letter book type transcription). Lo and behold, there one could find transcribed alphanumeric characters from the lost fragments (Figure 9):

Figure 9: Type Transcription, An Extensive Collection, March 9–14, 1863 Letter (Trent Collection, Duke)

Figure 9: Type Transcription, An Extensive Collection, March 9–14, 1863 Letter
(Source: Trent Collection, Duke)

There’s no grand lesson here. After all, that’s what an editor is supposed to do, but what one ought to do is sometimes not as easy as it could be. I have a troubled relationship to type transcriptions of Mother Whitman’s letters. And for a while I had been hesitant to use them, which requires a bit of a back-story, though names of the innocent have been changed to protect them. Near the beginning of this project, a Whitman scholar informed me that he had worked briefly with someone else (I’ll call him or her the “other LVVW editor”) who had put considerable effort toward a possible edition of Mother Whitman’s letters. An attempt at collaboration between the Whitman scholar and the other LVVW editor did not work out. At the time the Louisa Whitman letters project was suggested to me by Professor Ken Price, enough time had passed that the work of the other LVVW editor had begun to enter the status of folklore. The Whitman scholar had in his or her possession manuscript typescript photocopies with draft annotations that had belonged to the other LVVW editor, photocopies that were made by the Whitman scholar when attempting a collaboration. But in order to head off future concerns that I had benefited from the other LVVW editor’s work—I did not have his or her permission to use the work—I decided it was best that I not refer to the photocopies, at all. So I prepared a memo—that I forwarded to the Whitman scholar to be kept as a record—in which I explained that I had seen the documents but had decided I was ethically obligated to not use them in my own project without the other LVVW editor’s permission, that I had returned the documents to the Whitman scholar, and that I from that moment forward would never again consult them. The whole episode seemed a bit cloak and dagger and a bit 19th-century fiction in installments, with the fictional future narrative climax to be when I as the rightful heir and editor of the Mother Whitman’s letters pulled out the letter and presented it as evidence to have a legal suit dismissed. I felt both sincere and perfectly ridiculous.

But when Duke sent the images, they forwarded a set of original manuscript images AND a set of type transcriptions. Could I use the latter? Well, I had no idea. I was pretty sure they were not the the documents that I had browsed from the Whitman scholar two or so years earlier, because though typescripts they lacked substantial annotation, but I didn’t know who had prepared the typescripts. And I didn’t know whom to ask, or whether to do so. I had already downloaded the electronic copies to my hard drive. Was it time to write a letter swearing that I had destroyed all digital file copies also? If I did that and under cross-examination anybody asked whether I had read Matthew Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms, would I lie? No, my life has really not heretofore seemed anything like an episode out of CSI or Monk. So I asked Ms. Tisch to transcribe the typescripts with reasonable confidence they were not from the other LVVW editor. Ms. Wetzig transcribed from the manuscript facsimiles, and it seemed like comparing our transcription from the manuscripts against the typescripts from Duke would be a good way to check our work: two transcriptions digitally compared can produce more accurate copy of a printed work than proofreading can. I knew I had all my files with time and date stamps. Even had I to admit under oath that I had read Mechanisms and so knew that deleted files were never really gone because their material trace remained on the hard drive and were recoverable and I had as part of the project had the typescripts transcribed, my crack legal team could bring in its digital forensics expert to compare file access dates to job logs and show that Ms. Wetzig or I had the XML files open when accessing the Whitman Archive tracking database and so must have transcribed from the manuscript facsimiles. Reality was a lot more mundane than my imaginary court drama. We tried collating our transcriptions against those from the Duke letter book. But it didn’t help much. The transcriptions on a few occasions helped early on, but as I became more familiar with Mother Whitman’s hand I began to realize that I could only trust a transcription that I had proofread multiple times against the manuscript image and against the original manuscript.

Three or so years later, when I finished proofreading on Friday morning at Duke, I asked Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections and factotum for all things Whitman in the Rubenstein, if we could talk for a while. During that conversation, I explained my dilemma. I wanted to use the type transcriptions to restore the text from the lost fragments, but I did not want to violate in spirit or in fact the promise that I had made about not touching the other LVVW editor’s work. So I asked if he knew who had made the transcriptions in the letter books. He answered that the person who prepared the type transcriptions was not included in the provenance description. After Whitman’s death, his documentary remains were split up among his executors, one of whom was Richard Maurice Bucke. I with Professor Price’s assistance had identified the hand in red ink on the letters, often a date, as Bucke’s. The collection that belonged to Bucke had been dispersed at auction. A collector apparently bought the Mother Whitman letters, and that unknown collector had hired a typist to transcribe them. Therefore, these transcriptions were prepared before they had been placed in the Trent Collection: I was relieved. That same collector subsequently had the manuscript letters and typescripts bound into the letter book, and both letters and transcripts were in the letter book when they were acquired by Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans and Dr. Josiah Trent, who had donated them to the library in the mid-20th century.[3]

That is where my story ends, with a handful of numbers and alphabetic characters that are lost in the manuscript fragments but now restored to my edition on the authority of the type transcript. The one who prepared the typescripts for the letter book, on whom I relied for the characters that may or may not lie as fragmentary ruins in the conservator’s plastic sleeve, is also lost to time and memory. When I began this post, I thought that at close I would with the Thunder declare, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”[4] But that is not the case: publishing the letters has brought mostly relief, that the work feels completed. For I have settled into that second calm that Billy Collins is said to have invoked, the one that belongs to poets after they publish. I know a similar calm belongs to editors, and I trust it belongs to conservators as well. Our job is to save and to restore what we can, from the fragile remains.

[1] Shelley, Percy Bysshe, “Ozymandias.” Poetry Foundation.

[2] Hansen, Will. RE: Conservators for Mother Whitman Letters. Email to the Author. March 26, 2014.

[3] Bonner, Paul. Duke Houses One of the Nation’s Top Whitman Collections. Herald-Sun, February 8, 2006. Rpt. Whitman Archive,

[4] Eliot, T. S., “The Waste Land.” Poetry Foundation.

[5] Collins, Billy. Poetry Reading, McDaniel College, May 4, 2011, Rpt. Adam Robinson, “Billy Collins at McDaniel College (Westminster, MD) 05/04/2011.” Publishing Genius. Blog.

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Civil War or War of the Rebellion

Now that that New York Times Civil War blog Disunion is discussing terms “Civil War” and “War of the Rebellion,” I thought perhaps I could be timely for once and drag out this old, unpublished post on the transition of name from “War of the Rebellion” to “Civil War,” which I suggest has at least something to do with the early 20th century scholarly consensus that the Civil War was not fought over slavery.

During Reconstruction, the accepted name from the federal government’s perspective was the “War of the Rebellion.” Two massive federal government publications put their imprimatur on this phrasing. The Congressional series usually shortened to the Official Record is actually entitled The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Issued from 1880 to 1901 in four series, the War of the Rebellion‘s 69 volumes (excluding indexes and counting volumes issued in multiple parts as single volumes) feature the words “WAR OF THE REBELLION” and the descriptors trailing the colon in the largest type on the title page (at least in the 30 or so copies I’ve checked). Likewise, the two-volume, 6-part official medical history of the war, published from 1870-1880, is entitled The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion (1861-1865). From a book perspective, the designation “two-volume” is a misnomer. Each of the six parts exceeds a thousand pages. But again, the expense of print was not wasted–until the victor’s ideological efforts demanded revision. When historians today in their citation remove phrase War of the Rebellion and shorten the title to Medical and Surgical History, they accept the 20th century revision that changed the predominant federal designation War of the Rebellion into the Civil War.

As these mountains of paper began to molder (most are printed on acidic paper), the term Civil War was rising in prominence, as New York Times notes about well-known Century series. But the government branches took a while longer to come around. The Senate appears to have settled the issue in January of 1907, at least according to two reports about a debate on the term according to a Pension Bill. On the Chronicling America site from the Library of Congress, see Pension Bill on this page and Capitol Gossip: “It was the ‘Civil War’ “ in the Washington Herald.

The group hug on Capitol Hill did not settle the issue for the executive branch. According to Michael P. Musick, the War Department developed an official policy only in 1912, after a school superintendent in Kingsbury County, South Dakota inquired. The bureaucrats issued a sensible policy: “An official memorandum of December 5, 1912, distributed to the clerks of the department, stipulated that when any choice was allowed, ‘Civil War’ would be used in preference to ‘War of the Rebellion.’ ” In some situations “any choice” may not be appropriate. See “Civil War Records: A War by Any Other Name,” Prologue 27: 2 (1995), which is posted at the National Archives.

Two decades after the bureaucrats reached consensus, scholars in learned journals began sniping at each other with viciousness. Robert Hughes in ” ‘Civil War’ and/or ‘War Between the States’ ” (The William and Mary Quarterly 15 [1935], 41-44, JSTOR link) sets up as his straw woman, an un-named Virginia historian from the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She—and her gender is treated as important—argues that “Civil War” is a misnomer because the states were separate legal entities at the start of the war. Hughes responds to her objections against “Civil War”: “Now let us see how far feminine fancies comport with the fact” (41). Ouch. According to Hughes, the UDC historian mis-quotes an opinion of Supreme Justice Robert Grier by omitting the word “civil” before the word “war.” Hughes, who claims that he is not dogmatic, asserts that individual’s “primary allegiance” was to the state before the passage of the 14th amendment.

That is, Hughes (according to Robert Winston) accepts the claim of Southern apologist Alexander M. Stephens’s A Constitutional View of the Late War between the States; its Causes, Character, Conduct and Results (1868-1870). See “Was the American Conflict a War between States?” Social Forces 13 (1935) at JSTOR link, 379-82. According to Winston, “until Stephens’s discovery all southerners called the war a civil conflict” (382). Because war-making power in the Constitutional system devolved to the federal government and because “No state, as a state, declared war on any other state”–it is a Civil War. Winston objects to the term “War Between the States” as post-facto assertion that derives from Stephens’s emphasis on states’ rights. Winston notes the use of “Civil War” in Poole’s Abridged Index to Periodical Literature and the National Biographical Dictionary to bolster his case.

“War of the Rebellion” is now more or less forgotten except among historians and Civil War afficionados, but I do think it’s worth considering that Hughes and Winston are silent on the revival of state prerogatives. All three (Stephens, Winston, Hughes) participate in the early 20th century’s scholarly ideological fixation that the Civil War was fought not over slavery but over states’ rights.

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On Making Wood Pulp from Billy Collins’s Author-Annotated Copy of “Sonnet” (in Poetry)

On April 18, 2013 I attended former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins’s 7:30 reading at the Kent State University Ballroom. He read for a little over an hour. In preparation for his visit, I altered my syllabus for “U.S. Literature, 1865 to Present” so that we could include a sampling of Collins’s poems before his visit. I’m teaching from second volume of Bedford Anthology of American Literature (1st ed.), in which Collins has not yet been added, but I have no doubt he’ll show up in the revision. So I chose three poems from Sailing Alone Around the Room to read with the class: “Sonnet,” “Shoveling Snow with Buddha”, and Forgetfulness.

After his reading, I waited until the end of his signing (he was very generous and stayed for almost 100 people) and showed him the two versions of his poem “Sonnet,” one in my spouse’s copy of Sailing Alone Around the Room, the second the periodical version from Kent State University’s library stacks, also available on JSTOR (subscription required). I had used the difference between the periodical version and the Sailing Alone Around the Room version in my class so that I could ask my students why the two versions were different—and then ask Collins. The difference between the two versions, in wording, occurs in line 2. In Poetry, the second line is “and after this next one just a dozen” (2). In Sailing Alone Around the Room, the second line differs: “and after this one just a dozen” (2). The word that differs is “next,” and my class came up with these two questions to ask the poet:

  • Did you change it because you couldn’t count? (i.e., in Poetry version because the “next” line is the third line and only 11 lines follow the third line). That was a student’s questions. I sorta thought “next” could refer to the line after the first one, the second line, so a “dozen” lines follow the second line (and I didn’t really want to ask a poet laureate whether he wrote a sonnet even though he couldn’t count to fourteen).
  • Were you unplaying the “iambic bongos” that the periodical version had? In the Poetry version the second line has five metrical feet: the feet are not predominantly “iambic,” unstressed followed by stressed, in that line. In my scanning trochees predominate. I’d scan periodical version like this (bold for stressed syllables):

    and af | ter this | next one | just a | doz en

    Even if trochees predominate in this line, a reader might detect echoes of pentameter, hence a reason for the poet to revise that version and undo the bongos.

So, armed with my students’ questions, I went to the reading (which was wonderful). And afterwards he sat and signed many posters and copies of his books. When he was done, I inquired with my class’s question, about like this (reconstructed from my memory).

ME: I have two copies of your poem “Sonnet” here, and there’s a difference between them.
COLLINS: Let’s see, what is that?
ME: A copy of the periodical Poetry.
COLLINS: Why do you have this?
ME: I was teaching the poem in my class, and I asked the students for possible reasons the poem was altered so we could ask you.
COLLINS: That’s a textual variant.
ME: I know. I’m a textual scholar. Some reasons for alteration that we came up with in class included that you did not want to play “iambic bongos” or that you could not count to twelve because “next” is ambiguous and could refer to third line—I thought the last was not a nice question.
COLLINS: I see. Well, that [Poetry version] is the earlier version, and this [Sailing Alone Around the Room version] has been cleaned up.
ME: I was wondering if you could correct it.
COLLINS: Oh, well, sure [He strikes out word “next” and signs below on the page].
ME: Thanks very much [suppressed squeals of delight].

So that’s how Billy Collins, U.S. poet laureate from 2001 to 2003, came to “correct” (though I wouldn’t necessarily say that—and he did say “cleaned up”) in his hand the Kent State University Library’s copy of “Sonnet” in the journal Poetry. The poem has been anthologized in the most recent edition of the Norton Anthology of American Literature. It’s officially part of the canon now, I suppose.

Soon, if things go as planned at the library, the copy annotated by Billy Collins should be ground into wood pulp. I need to return the copy to the journal stacks. It’s not my copy—it belongs to Kent State Library. One hopes that libraries preserve scholarship for the future. And this copy is certainly of interest. But I don’t know whether that’s a good idea because the Kent State Library is not really committed to preserving print copies of journals. I am the chair of the library committee for the English department (not a glorious position—I pester people to place book orders), and I recently received a memo from an Assistant Dean for libraries, which informed me that the number of print copies of journals held in library (8000 titles) will be cut in half in May of 2013. The faculty has about 4 weeks to review 8,000 titles, and we in English department have about 260 journal titles to review. Two relevant facts justify removing print volumes of the library, according to the assistant dean:

  • “While the vast majority of our journal holdings are now online, most of these 8,000 titles are not online. Nevertheless, very many of these volumes are ceased titles, cancelled titles, and/or have little or no use for many years.” (Klingler)
  • “In our world, the word ‘withdraw’ does not necessarily mean ‘throw away.’ ‘Withdraw’ means that we review the items for ownership in the state-wide depositories. If the item is already held in the state-wide depository system, we dispose of the items. If it is not held, we transfer the item permanently to the depository.” (Klingler)

In other words, because print journals have little use, they could be “withdrawn” or placed in remote retrieval service called AssureVault. But you see, nobody really wants to pay to store multiple copies in the depository. And the memo does not really go to any pains to distinguish between “copy” in the sense of “paper copy” or in the sense of “digital copy.” In my simplistic bibliographical world, destroying a paper copy is the same as destroying a paper copy, like in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In the library world, there’s no such thing as destroying anything unless you’ve destroyed the last copy (print, microfilm, or digital) in the state. And we have other uses for libraries on a university campus. I joke with my like-minded colleagues that we are speeding the transition from library as depository to library as infotainment emporium.

So if not next month, maybe next year, maybe later, this copy of the journal should be pulped. Because, as you know, there are plenty of copies of the journal Poetry available everywhere. And nobody will bother to go to the library to look at paper copies of journals anymore (or so my departmental colleagues and graduate students tell me). Any one periodical is exactly the same as another, and the vast majority of our library holdings are now digital anyhow. So it really makes no sense to keep it and clutter up library space with paper copies of journals that have no value.

So that’s why it should be pulped. To make this point, that libraries and scholars no longer appreciate the value of individual copies of journal articles, which generations of labor wrote, peer reviewed, copy edited, typeset, printed, distributed to libraries, bound into volumes, and saved to benefit those who would follow. But we’re in a new digital world, where scholarship does not exist if it’s not digitally accessible. So if nobody else cares, why should I?

Works Cited

Collins, Billy. “Sonnet.” Poetry 173:4 (February 1999): 274. JSTOR. 26 April 2013. Web.

Collins, Billy. “Sonnet.” Norton Anthology of American Literature. Vol. E. Eds. Nina Baym and Robert S. Levine. New York: W. W. Norton, 2012. 837. Print.

Collins, Billy. “Sonnet.” Sailing Alone Around the Room. New York: Random House, 2001. 146. Print.

Klingler, Tom. “Library Journal Review: Your Input Please by May 10.” Email to Wesley Raabe [and All Chairs, Directors, and Library Representatives]. 2 April 2013.

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Sherwood Anderson’s “Hands” in The Masses

This transcription is taken from beginning Sherwood Anderson’s “Hands,” as it appeared in The Masses in March 1916. I have transcribed the text from page images on New York University’s Digital Library site. The text differs, in ways I think interesting, from the original book appearance of story in Winesburg, Ohio.

“OH, YOU Wing Biddlebaum! Comb your hair! It’s falling into your eyes!”
Wing Biddlebaum, a fat, little old man, had been walking nervously up and down the half decayed veranda of a small frame house that stood near the edge of a ravine. He could see, across a long field that had been seeded for clover, but that had produced only a dense crop of yellow mustard weeds, the public highway. Along this road a wagon filled with berry pickers was returning from the fields. The berry pickers, youths and maidens, laughed and shouted boisterously. A boy, clad in a blue shirt, leaped from the wagon and attempted to drag after him one of the girls, who screamed and protested shrilly.
As he watched them, the plump little hands of the old man fiddled unconsciously about his bare, white forehead as though arranging a mass of tangled locks on that bald crown. Then, as the berry pickers saw him, that thin girlish voice came mockingly across the field. Wing Biddlebaum stopped, with a frightened look, and put down his hands helplessly.
When the wagon had passed on, he went across the field through the tall mustard weeds, and climbing a rail fence, peered anxiously along the road to the town. He was hoping that young George Willard would come and spend the evening with him. For a moment he stood on the fence, unconsciously rubbing his hands together and looking up the road; and the, fear overcoming him, he ran back to the house and commenced to walk again on the half decayed veranda.
Among all the people of Winesburg, but one had come close to this man; for Wing Biddlebaum, forever frightened and beset by a ghostly band of doubts, did not think of himself as in any way a part of the life of the town in which he had lived for the past twenty years. But with George Willard, son of Tom Willard, the proprietor of the new Willard House, he had formed something like a friendship. George Willard was a reporter on the Winesburg Democrat, and sometimes in the evening walked out along the highway to Wing Biddlebaum’s house.
In George Willard’s presence, Wing Biddlebaum, who for twenty years had been the town mystery …

The remainder of the story seldom differs in wording, except this one line:

He was one of those men in whom sex is diffused, not centralized. (see pg. 7, para. 5).

He was one of those men in whom the force that creates life is diffused, not centralized. (Winesburg, Ohio)

Anderson, Sherwood. “Hands.” The Masses 8:5 (March 1916): 5–7. Web. 28 Mar. 2013.

Also see:
Anderson, Sherwood. “Hands.” Winesburg, Ohio. New York: Modern Library, 1918. 7-18.

If you’ve read in book version, doesn’t this Wing Biddlebaum seem, well, smaller and older? The words are more or less the same, though ordered differently, but my impression is that his smallness is more noticeable in this version. Also, browse the page on The Masses. Notice the image of the female figures, one nude, that interrupts the story. And notice the charcoal drawing of “Youngstown, Ohio” strikers that follows. How might the first image affect your understanding of the presence of sexuality in Anderson’s story? Could the second alter your understanding of the mob that drives Adolph Myers out of the town?

In the “Hands” text of The Masses, Adolph Myers’ (Biddlebaum’s) interaction with the boys is more openly acknowledged as sexual in nature (second quote). If the energy that encourages his interest is “diffused,” doesn’t the half-witted boy detect or intuit Myers’ interest in a way that the more gifted boys do not? I ask in class, when teaching, whether Myers’ incursion into the personal space of the young boys becomes, ultimately, a form of predation or molestation? But I usually ask that question more pointedly to make sure the question is clear, “Is Myers a child molester?” Or does the quality of “diffusion” that characterizes his interaction eliminate the possibility that his is a type of predation?

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