Teaching Whitman Through Primary Source Analysis

The following guest post was written by Victoria Van Hyning, a senior innovation specialist and community manager for the Library’s By the People crowdsourcing project.

On Friday, May 1, at 3 PM ET, the Library of Congress Learning and Innovation Office and By the People crowdsourcing team will partner with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) to host a Walt Whitman and crowdsourcing themed webinar. The goal of this virtual gathering is to give teachers ideas for engaging students with primary documents including Whitman’s handwritten drafts, selected letters, and the literary journals where he published his works before gathering them together in Leaves of Grass. Anyone who is interested in Whitman, poetry, crowdsourcing, teaching or libraries in general is welcome to join in! Sign up in advance here; a recording of the webinar will be sent to all registrants after the event.

Walt Whitman, 1887

Walt Whitman, 1887. Photo copyrighted 1887 by George C. Cox.

In 2016, the Library of Congress digitized and released three major collections of Whitman papers on the Library’s website. These digitized collections include full color images, finding aids, and blog posts that support scholarship and exploration for Whitmaniacs, educators and students all over the world. Images of Whitman’s printed and handwritten documents reveal the workings of his mind and his writerly process, and now they’re available for anyone to analyze from the comfort of their own home or schoolroom.

In April 2019 the By the People team partnered with colleagues in the Manuscript Division to launch “Whitman at 200,” featuring 4,000 pages of Whitman’s poetry and letters. We invite folks to transcribe and review these pages, in order to make them word searchable and more accessible for people with no or low vision, who use screenreaders. Most of the original Whitman documents, even those from printed journals, are not legible to screenreaders. Volunteers’ transcriptions also make it possible for people to search through documents at the page level.

Each page is transcribed by at least one volunteer and reviewed by another volunteer before the transcriptions are published on the Library’s main website (loc.gov). Over 16,000 pages that have been enhanced with volunteers’ transcriptions are available on loc.gov as of late April 2020. All of the 4,000 or so pages in “Whitman at 200,” which is just a subset of the Library’s hundreds of thousands of Whitman pages, have been transcribed on By the People, and over 2,500 have been reviewed as of April 2020. This year, as Poetry Month draws to a close, we are partnering with our friends at NCTE once more to encourage students and teachers to review these transcriptions so we can bring them all back to loc.gov.

The 2020 Whitman review challenge webinar is a follow-up from a collaborative webinar event we co-hosted in April 2019 to celebrate Whitman’s bicentenary, and the launch of the new crowdsourcing project. Last year’s event recording and accompanying transcript is available here. Speakers include Barbara Bair, the Walt Whitman curator from the Manuscript Division; Emily Kirkpatrick, executive director of NCTE; Alfredo Celedón Luján; vice president of NCTE; NCTE associates Rebecca Newland, Cheryl Davis, Jocelyn A. Chadwick, and Dana Huff; Cheryl Lederle and Kathy McGuigan of the Learning and Innovation Office; and Lauren Algee and Victoria Van Hyning from the By the People team.

We hope you’ll join us this Friday!

One Comment

  1. Leona
    June 19, 2020 at 10:09 pm

    You do excellent in meeting

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