Melville Electronic Library

A Critical Archive

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Melville was a voracious reader and inveterate researcher.  He used sources to augment his own personal experiences or to stimulate inventions for his imaginative works.  Melville’s appropriation of source books also shows how he revises those texts, and in revising—through quotation, paraphrase, or outright plagiarism—he creates his own version of another writer’s text. His revisions essentially convert a source text into a fluid text. For instance, in Moby-Dick we find passages on colonizing the Pacific taken directly from Thomas Beale’s Natural History of the Sperm Whale, but Melville has massaged Beale’s text to question his colonial perspective.  Melville’s revision of Beale is in fact Melville’s version of Beale, tucked within the text of Moby-Dick. But we cannot know the interpretive value of Melville’s revisions of his sources until we can put the corresponding texts side-by-side.  MEL’s Juxta Editions allows for such collation. Our proposed text and image annotation workspace Melville ReMix will also enable close comparison and study. All that is required is access to Melville’s source books.

Fortunately, much of the work of finding, cataloguing, and displaying Melville’s source books has been, and continues to be done, in Melville’s Marginalia Online (MMO), an archive of books owned and borrowed by Melville. Edited by Steven Olsen-Smith, Peter Norberg, and Dennis C. Marnon, MMO includes many of his source books, some annotated by the author. MMO lists the works known to exist in Melville's library; it collects images of 300 books known to belong to Melville and displays transcriptions of Melville's marginal markings and inscriptions in them.

MEL and MMO have been affiliated informally.  In 2018, MMO editor Olsen-Smith will be working to upgrade his site so that it will be interoperable with MEL, as MEL editor will work to develop Melville ReMix. MEL users are encouraged to visit MMO and consider “use cases” involving MEL texts and MMO sources that might evolve into MEL Projects.