Mapping Whitman

Civil War, Reconstruction, Post-Reconstruction, Old Age

Whitman's Correspondence Eras

The Civil War



1867-1876 (in progress)


1877-1887 (in progress)

Old Age

1888-1892 (in progress)

Whitman Bicentenntial Exhibit


Digital exhibit featured at the University of Iowa's "Walt Whitman: A Bicentennial Celebration." This version uses cluster mapping to visualize Whitman's correspondence from 1860–1892. Adjust the slider to view different time periods, and click data points to access the contents of letters.

Whitman in Washington, D.C.


With Whitman, it is difficult to speak of Washington, D.C. as merely a "place." Over the course of a decade (1862-1873) it was here where the poet lived, worked, and volunteered. In Specimen Days & Collect, Whitman spoke proudly of living in such close proximity to President Lincoln, writing that "[w]e have got so that we exchange bows, and very cordial ones". Serving as a volunteer nurse for the Union army, Whitman developed close relationships with many of the soldiers—both Union and Confederate—many of whom would serve as models for the poet's collection of Civil War poems, Drum-Taps. He worked as a copyist in the Paymaster's office, and later was offered a clerkship in the Indian Bureau of the Department of the Interior.

But Whitman's feelings toward Washington were not entirely positive, and at moments he could be unapologetically critical. Describing the Capitol's architecture, Whitman writes in a letter to his brother that "these days I say, Jeff, all the poppy-show goddesses and all the pretty blue & gold in which the interior Capitol is got up, seems to me out of place beyond any thing I could tell". Because of Whitman's experiences in the hospitals, he was simply unable to reconcile the horrors of war with what he then perceived as the nation's emblems of greed. Later in life, Whitman's ambivalence toward a stable Capitol city would intensify. In Specimen Days & Collect, he writes that "Our future national capital may not be where the present one is . . . it will migrate a thousand or two miles, will be re-founded, and every thing belonging to it made on a different plan, original, far more superb."

Correspondence Overview

Sender Location

Recipient Location

Timeline of Sent and Received Messages

What Would Whitman "Like"?

Retrofitting social networking protocols to accommodate nineteenth-century poets

This is a pedagogical exercise which encourages students to think about the social, political, and cultural environment of the nineteenth century using contemporary social networking tools. It aims to put Whitman in conversation with "friends" by imagining how he would have communicated with them in today's digital world.

Goals are to:

  • engage Whitman's correspondence as a means of exploring the ways in which epistolary media influenced his poetry and prose
  • think about the types of friendships Whitman cultivates over time
  • consider the historical and cultural significance of communication media
  • observe global patterns of epistolary communication, as well as the geographical distribution of sent and received messages
Ultimately, students (in groups) will each construct their own social network based on their assigned historical-biographical period as identified by the Walt Whitman Archive (Civil War, Reconstruction, Post-Reconstruction, Old Age). After, we will use social networking programs like Gephi and Google Fusion Tables to further examine the relationships Whitman cultivates.