History of the Archive
Begun in 1996, the Blake Archive was conceived as an international public resource that would provide unified access to major works of visual and literary are that are highly disparate, widely dispersed, and more and more often severely restricted as a result of their value, rarity, and extreme fragility. The Archive contains fully searchable electronic editions of many copies of Blake’s 19 illuminated works in the context of full, up-to-date bibliographic information about each image, scrupulous diplomatic transcriptions of all texts, detailed descriptions of all images, extensive bibliographies, a searchable electronic version of the standard print edition, and other essential scholarly information, plus a steadily growing representation of Blake’s works in other artistic media.
Editorial Principles of the Archive
The Blake Archive is an extension of ongoing archival, cataloguing, and editorial enterprises into a new medium in order to exploit its radical advantages. Until the late twentieth century there was no base of knowledge and technology sufficient to conceive, much less execute, an adequate comprehensive edition of the work of a multimedia artist. The dominant tradition of Blake editing has been overwhelmingly literary. The historical Blake, a printmaker and painter by training who added poetry to his list of accomplishments, has been converted, editorially, into a poet whose visual art is acknowledged but moved off to the side where it becomes largely invisible, partly because of what one of Blake’s first critics, the poet Swinburne, called “hard necessity”—the technological and economic obstructions that have prevented the reproduction of accurate images in printed editions. On the art-historical flank a productive scholarly tradition of cataloguing has been complementary to but largely disconnected from its editorial counterpart on the literary flank. Consequently, many students and even professional scholars know either the textual or visual side of Blake’s work but not both, despite their interconnections at the source. Methodologically, the William Blake Archive is an attempt to restore historical balance through the syntheses made possible by the electronic medium. We believe that the resulting archival editorial prototype can help transform access to the art and literature of Blake’s era as it helps to transform scholarly approaches to Blake.
This collaborative blog features contributors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Rochester.
The Cynic Sang
This blog originally appeared as “The Cynic Sang: The (Un)Official Blog of the William Blake Archive,” active from summer 2008 until its redesign and migration to this URL in December 2016. Archive assistants Rachel Lee, Justine Ali McGee, and Andrea H. Everett founded the blog to document manuscript encoding work at the University of Rochester.