Herman Melville is a colossal giant among literary figures. I have tried to find credible digital sources on his life and works. I have listed four as being primarily good resources or things that are being done in the digital humanities that should not be overlooked. Since Melville’s real credit and fame was granted to him in the early twentieth century, there are a few resources out there that can help put his works and life into perspective for any level of scholar.
The first digital database, “The Life and Works of Herman Melville,” has a good deal of biographical information, letters, and criticisms. However, the textual criticism could have been delved into a lot more. The site contains links to all of Melville’s works in electronic format for download. Also, it has links to Melville’s letters to Hawthorne, which are very important to understanding Melville’s financial stress and what he felt about his own work. There are links to different websites about 19th century writers as well. With that in mind, this is a good starting tool, but not a definitive way to do all of one’s research.
“Melville Electronic Library,” or “MEL,” is a database that has plans to be huge in scope. However, the website is not finished yet. What it does contain are some of the pages from “Billy Budd”—Melville’s posthumously published novella—which MEL hopes will soon turn out to be the manuscript in its entirety. Also, MEL is using a tool called TextLab to show the changes in the original manuscript. Any person can go and access a video that shows scholars using TextLab, to laymen, in order to show how they are working on “Billy Budd.” This database seems like it will be monumental in scope; however, at the current time there is only access to some gallery photos, a few pages of manuscript, and many other pages explaining what will be in that section of MEL when it is completed.
If one is just looking for the manuscript of Typee, there is a project at Virginia “Herman Melville’s Typee,” that gives a reader a look at the manuscripts. This, like MEL, is a vehicle by John Bryant. It must be accessed through an institution. Thus, the main “catch” is a person has to pay money for it. However, it is incredibly detailed and an excellent source to look at the actual manuscripts. The site contains four introductory essays by John Bryant about the making of the digital resource. It has two frames, which show the picture of each page of the manuscript and a bottom frame that allows the viewer to see what words are crossed out and omitted, or additions that were made. It is really great to have such a source that allows readers to have instant access to it. Before strides like this in digital humanities, one would literally have to go to the specific library that manuscript is in and look over it briefly.
The final database is American National Biography Online. The biography on Melville is well done. It goes through his early period in life—including his time aboard whaling vessels. However, it goes into great detail about each of his works. It also explains his relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne and talks about their various correspondences. Also, the database has a comprehensive section on how Melville’s success was revived and the people that noticed his genius. What is very beneficial too, is that American National Biography Online also incorporates a bibliography with—what they believe—the most important sources for biography on Herman Melville. Unfortunately, this site is also only accessible through an institution as well. With that in mind, this is a really good source to get a good deal of information on Melville that will also lead a person to better ones.
In closing, there should be far more access to free websites on Melville. For example, a student going to Yale or Harvard has many more resources than a student at a smaller school. Thus, I have tried to provide what I can that is free to the public—the texts, letters, etc. When it comes to digital manuscripts and biographies, both of the aforementioned sites require payment or institutional access. I do think that “Melville Electronic Library” will end up being the most vital resource on this list if the website follows up on all its plans. However, “Herman Melville’s Typee” is probably the most fun and interesting of the four. One could play for hours looking at the manuscript and its translation.
American National Biography Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2013. <http://www.anb.org>.
Melville Electronic Library. Hofstra University, n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2013. <http://mel.hofstra.edu/>.
Herman Melville’s Typee A Fluid Text Edition. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2013. <http://rotunda.upress.virginia.edu/melville/default.xqy>.
The Life and Works of Herman Melville. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2013. <http://www.melville.org>.