Background: A Sense of Place.
Melville’s writings draw directly from his travels, though he also “traveled” imaginatively, through research and invention, to places he never visited. Lamentably, journals of Melville’s early and most extensive travels—to Liverpool (1839), to the Mississippi and back (1840), and to the Pacific (1841-1844)—either do not exist or have not been found. However, Melville’s later travels during his life as a published writer—to London and Northern Europe (1849-50), the Mediterranean and Middle East (1856-57), and San Francisco (1860)—are recorded in three travel journals, which give us concrete evidence of his “geographical imagination.” The notebooks for these journals, all in Melville’s hand, are held by Houghton Library, and were comprehensively assembled and transcribed in the 1989 NN Journals edition.
Challenges of Editing the Journals.
Naturally, the journals are a significant resource for establishing the importance of travel in Melville biography—a sufficient reason for editing them digitally—even though they do not, strictly speaking, appear to be fluid texts. That is, they are unique documents with little internal revision and were not printed in Melville’s lifetime, or even until the mid-twentieth century. However, as evidence of Melville’s creative process, they are like any source Melville might have researched in his writing, especially his late poetry. As a form of self-appropriation, Melville’s use of his journals is an originating foundation for his transformations of place and event into images and ideas in later imaginative works. These acts of revision inform our digital editing of the journals as fluid texts.
MEL’s pursuit of Melville’s geographical imagination began with our editing of Moby-Dick. MEL editors Wyn Kelley and Brian Yothers used MELCat to annotate place names in the novel and created a searchable database of 1500 geo-coordinates associated with all places (real, invented) referenced in Moby-Dick alone.
In a related effort, John Bryant worked with Jamie Folsom and Hofstra’s Digital Research Center to develop the mapping, timeline, and annotation tool Itinerary as a way to edit and display Melville’s Journals. Bryant developed a test case, titled “Melville in Rome,” which used data recorded in Melville’s journal to follow a given day in Melville’s month-long tour of the city in 1857. Further development of Itinerary enabled Wyn Kelley to create a fuller project, “Melville in London,” which included enhanced functionality, enabling editors to link TextLab transcriptions of journal texts, place images, and print versions of Melville’s works for display on both historical and satellite maps of London.
Mapping as Editing: The Route Narrative.
In our view, digital mapping is not simply an ancillary visualization but a form of scholarly editing that assists readers, biographers, and critics in linking Melville’s journal entries and imaginative texts to time and place. As an editing tool, Itinerary engages editors in the problem of reconstructing travel routes by facilitating the composition of “route narratives”—similar to TextLab’s “revision narratives”—that track Melville’s possible routes on the map. To explain: Melville’s journal generally documents places visited and the order Melville visited them but rarely indicates the exact route—that is, specific streets, bridges, alleys, and byways—connecting the places. By pinpointing the places on a map, we can better infer the likely and alternative routes Melville could have taken to connect the dots, and thereby better assess what he might have seen or missed seeing on his daily tours. Itinerary’s “route narrative” function enables this kind of closer reading of Melville’s travel.
Work in Progress.
Our work on the Rome and London Itinerary projects serves as models for Melville’s touring in 1857 of other cities and sights in Italy, France, Germany, Greece, Egypt, Jerusalem and its environs. Thus far, we have acquired leaf images of the 355 journal leaves from Houghton Library, uploaded them to TextLab, and transcribed most of the Rome and London sections.