Friday, May 31, 2013

First Editions of Whitman's Leaves of Grass

Following on last week's post which mapped books based on some longer-term research, I wanted to show what kinds of simple geographic visualizations are possible using data that's already extant and well-curated.

Given that today is Walt Whitman's 194th birthday I thought I'd post something related to the Walt Whitman Archive which is one of the longest-lived and most comprehensive digital projects out there.  Among its many virtues is the willingness to give users access to raw data as well as interpretive content. I have a soft spot for comparative bibliography and was really impressed by Ed Folsom's multi-year study of all 158  known copies of the 1855 first edition of the Leaves of Grass. The survey, published in the Walt Whitman quarterly in 2006, came with a downloadable data set recording bibliographic details on all known copies. The 1855 Leaves has a complex publishing history and many of the copies differ from each other. Perhaps the most remarked-upon difference between the copies, which Folsom's survey highlights, are the many states of the infamous portrait of Whitman which appears on the frontispiece - particularly, the size of his crotch.

So-called "flat" (left) and "bulging" (right) versions of the 1855 frontis. Figure 5 in Folsom's magisterial Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (Iowa, 2005)

The thoroughness of the survey can be seen in the detailed comments on the state of these frontispieces, for example this one on Library of Congress copy shelfmark PS3201 1855a c.1 - which might also be one of my favorite bibliographic descriptions ever:

"The crotch appears to be a version between the flat and enhanced crotch. There is considerably more shading to the left of the small bulge, but it is not yet fully enlarged. The bottom of the pants is differently engraved than any known version"

It's one thing to see all of this great detail in spreadsheet form but I thought perhaps Folsom or other Whitman scholars might be interested in seeing a direct visualization of the geographic dispersal of the physical artifacts of Whitman's work. Below I've mapped the known copies by their holding location showing their concentration by institution or private owner. The majority never left the original 13 states on the east coast.

For a full look at the visualization and data see


  1. Your missing the copy in the University of Tulsa Special Collections department.

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