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National Award for Blake Archive

UC Riverside William Blake Scholar Robert N. Essick Earns National Kudos for Electronic Archive

The Modern Language Association Has Never Before Given This Award to an Electronic Project

(November 26, 2003)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( -- A Web-based electronic archive featuring the writings and art of William Blake, edited by UC Riverside Distinguished Professor of English Robert N. Essick and two colleagues, has won the 2003 Modern Language Association Prize for a Distinguished Scholarly Edition.

Awarded each odd-numbered year since 1995, the prize is one of seventeen awards that will be presented Dec. 28 during the association’s annual convention, held this year in San Diego.

A free site on the World Wide Web since 1996 (, the Blake Archive was conceived as an international public resource that would provide unified access to major works of visual and literary art that are highly disparate, widely dispersed, and more and more often severely restricted as a result of their value, rarity, and extreme fragility. Technical support and hosting comes from the Institute for Advanced Technology at the University of Virginia. Funding comes from the Getty Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“I'm particularly pleased that the Archive received this award because it is the first electronic edition to be so honored,” said Prof. Essick. “This is something of a breakthrough in the editing of literary texts, as well as the presentation of pictorial images. We will be adding to the archive hundreds of additional works by Blake in the years to come. By maintaining the editorial standards recognized by the MLA award, we hope to continue to set a standard for electronic editions.”

Essick and co-editors Morris Eaves of the University of Rochester, and Joseph Viscomi of the University of North Carolina, will receive a total of $1,000. The selection committee’s citation for the winning edition reads:

The William Blake Archive is a dazzling combination of hypertextually organized texts, bibliographical and historical commentaries, and beautifully reproduced visual images, including thousands of plates of Blake drawings, watercolors, and manuscripts. In the past the prize has been awarded to single volumes in a multivolume series. This year’s prize, similarly, is awarded to major scholarly additions to the archive published in 2001 or 2002, including Blake’s first group of twenty-one watercolors illustrating the book of Job and three copies of The [First] Book of Urizen. If, as has been frequently suggested, the future of editorial scholarship lies in online editions, the William Blake Archive has set a high mark for future editorial practice through its clarity, user-friendliness, beauty, and erudition.

"We are very proud of Professor Essick's achievement and the recognition he has received with this prestigious award,” said Patricia O’Brien, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at UC Riverside. “He and his collaborators are in the vanguard of scholarship in using electronic media and the Internet for research archiving. He has brought world-wide recognition to this campus."

Robert N. Essick is distinguished professor of English at the University of California, Riverside. He received a BA from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a Ph.D. in English and American literature from the University of California, San Diego. Essick has received numerous grants and awards including a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities Research Grant, and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. Among his principal publications are William Blake, Printmaker and William Blake’s Commercial Book Illustrations, each of which was chosen as one of the outstanding books of their publication years by the Association of College and Research Librarians. He is author, coauthor, or editor of over a dozen other books and is on the editorial boards of Huntington Library Quarterly, Studies in English Literature, European Romantic Review, and Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly.

Morris Eaves is professor of English at the University of Rochester and taught previously at the University of New Mexico. He received a BA from Long Island University and a PhD from Tulane University. Eaves was awarded the William Riley Parker Prize by the MLA in 1978 for his article “Blake and the Artistic Machine: An Essay in Decorum and Technology.” He also received the Best Special Issue award from the Conference of Editors and Learned Journals, for Romantic Texts, Romantic Times: Homage to David V. Erdman (Studies in Romanticism). He is author or editor of seven books and has been the recipient of fellowships from the National Humanities Center and the Guggenheim Foundation and grants from the Getty Grant Program and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Joseph Viscomi is the James G. Kenan Distinguished Professor of English Literature at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His special interests are British Romantic literature, art, and printmaking. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. His experience as a printmaker, painter, and curator served him well in Prints by Blake and His Followers, the catalog to an exhibition he organized at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Cornell University. He is also the author of Blake and the Idea of the Book, a study of the production, editing, and dating of the illuminated books that has overturned much of the conventional wisdom about Blake’s illuminated-book medium. He is the coeditor, with Morris Eaves and Robert Essick, of William Blake’s Illuminated Books, vol. 3, and with Robert Essick, vol. 5.

The MLA, the largest and one of the oldest American learned societies in the humanities (est. 1883), exists to advance literary and linguistic studies. The 30,000 members of the association come from all fifty states and the District of Columbia, as well as from Canada, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. PMLA, the flagship journal of the association, has published distinguished scholarly articles for over one hundred years. Approximately 9,500 members of the MLA and its allied and affiliate organizations attend the association’s annual convention each December. The MLA is a constituent of the American Council of Learned Societies and the International Federation for Modern Languages and Literatures.

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