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September 15, 2010

Grant extends commitment to Blake Archive

Innovative collaboration gets a boost from National Endowment for the Humanities

William Blake has long been a staple of literature courses, but the legacy of the 18th- and 19th-century printmaker, poet, and painter has been hindered by the innovative way he published his “illuminated books.”

A complex thinker who challenged the cultural norms of his time, Blake rejected the typical separation between poetry and visual art. Drawing from his training as an engraver, he self-published his work by etching the outlines in relief and reverse with acid on copper plates, then printing each page by hand before adding details and color to each one.

“Scholars are going to have to develop tools that allow for new kinds of textual analysis. It’s an intimidating thing, because it takes imagination.”

—Rachel Lee

A new grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities will allow the William Blake Archive, partially located at the University, to continue to develop a free online collection of Blake’s writings and illustrations.

Morris Eaves, a professor of English, and other prominent Blake scholars launched the project in 1996 Before then, few people saw the full range of Blake’s vision. Seeing the original versions of a single illustrated poem required visiting museums and universities all over the world.

The archive’s continued growth has been of interest to scholars, teachers, and students, as an alternative to black-and-white reproductions of Blake’s artwork in textbooks. Users can search the archive, not only for text, but also for keywords that describe even the tiniest details of the illustrations.

“The recent grant from the NEH allows us to have additional students working on all aspects of the project,” says Eaves, who adds that the $230,000 grant will allow the archive to incorporate past issues of Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, a journal published at Rochester.

English department doctoral student and archive team member Rachel Lee says the site “puts text and image back together” and that the archive is a central component of both her teaching and her dissertation project. According to Lee, the archive is at the forefront of an emerging trend. “Scholars are going to have to develop tools that allow for new kinds of textual analysis. It’s an intimidating thing, because it takes imagination.”

The William Blake Archive is made possible by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with the University, the continuing support of the Library of Congress, and the cooperation of an international array of libraries and museums that have given permission to reproduce works from their collections.

Eaves, along with Robert Essick of the University of California at Riverside and Joseph Viscomi of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, have edited the site since they founded it in 1993. In 2006, Rochester’s Department of English agreed to sponsor an archive team that specializes in text editing.

Elizabeth Goodfellow is a doctoral student in the Department of English who works for University Communications.

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