Whalen Named Peter White Scholar


Robert Whalen (English) is giving 17th century poetry the high-tech treatment through his project titled The Digital Temple. His goal is to transcribe and encode the English verse of devotional poet George Herbert into an electronic edition that can be thoroughly examined with sophisticated text analysis software. Whalen has received the 2007-08 NMU Peter White Scholar Award to help fund the project.


Herbert’s works exist in multiple versions: two manuscripts and a 1633 printed compilation. Whalen said that in the 15 years separating the manuscripts, Herbert revised many of his original poems.


“The differences – words changed, stanzas altered or erased – often reflected Herbert’s response to the tumultuous religious politics of his day,” Whalen said.


Faced by the spatial constraints of the physical book, Herbert’s modern editors typically determine which version best represents a given poem and relegate the others to a series of footnotes. Whalen said this treatment gives preference to one version and incorrectly suggests that Herbert’s poems were static with a stable and unchanging world view. The digitization project will adopt a more democratic approach.


“Rather than impose one editorial view, I plan to display all three versions side-by-side for comparison purposes,” Whalen said. “The electronic edition will feature links to high-resolution digital images of the source documents so that one can actually see crossed-out words, additions, erasures, marginal notes and other details. Together these reveal both a lively intellect and an artist who sculpted the linguistic objects we call poems. The electronic edition will also include both original- and modern-spelling versions of the poems to facilitate efficient search and retrieval. For example, if one searches for the word “love,” the search will locate all instances of that word, whether spelled 'love,' 'loue' or 'luv.'”

With 712 pages of Herbert-authored material, Whalen is in for a labor-intensive process. His plans for the coming year include transcribing the poems and encoding the transcriptions with tagging protocol to enhance search and retrieval capability for Herbert scholars and students of early modern literature; designing the user interface; traveling to the Bodleian Library at Oxford University in England to obtain image files for one of the manuscripts; and writing a grant application to fund other aspects of the project. 


Whalen has received an advance contract from University of Virginia Press to publish The Digital Temple. He previously wrote a book on Herbert and John Donne titled The Poetry of Immanence.


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Updated: June 18, 2007

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