Looking for and Looking at Poe

I am on the hunt for the perfect illustration.

Currently, I am in the process of creating a digital exhibit on visual interpretations of Poe and how they have changed over time—everything from an original edition to the Simpsons’ version of “The Raven.” To create a good exhibit, I must sleuth out the best illustrations from the library, internet, and beyond. The following is my research diary.

A flow chart of my research process.

The library is my main source for any research project—they have already done much of the hunting for me. I know that anything I check out will be a legitimate source and that someone thought it was worth buying, although they may not have the same criteria as me. I start at the library’s electronic catalogue.

First, I have to decide what exactly I’m looking for—Poe obviously, but in this case illustrations or visual representations of Poe, particularly unique ones. “Unique” is an abstract term I realize, which basically encompasses what I think is cool. Because my project is based on my own interests and not meant to authoritatively represent all illustrations of Poe, I decide this abstraction is okay.

I go to the “advanced search” option and put in “Poe” for author and “illustrate” for any field. This search yields forty options, many of which are in special collections or at particular libraries like the Garrett Library. Because I can’t look at each book in-depth, I filter through them by looking for various criteria. Titles that suggest visuals or a unique book are a good clue for something useful. Ones that have a time period I need such as the 1880’s or 2000’s could also indicate a useful book. A book that is placed in the quarto/ folio section is a good indicator of an illustration-oriented book because those kind of books tend to be bigger. Of course, having an illustrator I’ve heard of or other big names associated always helps, as well as having key words that suggest visuals like, “sketch.”

Cover of “Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Death and Dementia,” illustrated by Gris Grimly. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.

Scrolling down the search results, one book in particular catches my eye because I have heard of the illustrator, Gris Grimly. It is titled Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Death and Dementia. It catches my eye too because although it was published in 2009, it is located in special collections, which is unusual. When I click on the link for more detail, I see that it is signed by the illustrator on the first page, which explains why it is in special collections. I use the “Find it” tool, which I often find indispensable in my searches, to preview the book on amazon.com and see what the illustrations look like. They are awesome! I have found a source I may want to use for my exhibit.

The “Find it” sidebar in the library’s electronic catalogue.

I hit the request button so the book will be sent to special collections, where I can view it, although I can’t check it out. If it were in the stacks, I would write down the call number and look for it myself, often turning up additional interesting books in the process.

There were a few books that looked good that I couldn’t check out because you simply can’t have them sent to the MSE library. In the stacks too, sometimes books just aren’t there. But when I am able to find a book, it’s worth it. I like to check it out or go to special collections, because I like dealing with the physical book, particularly when I’m writing about it. The internet is an extraordinary resource, but for me, particularly if I’m looking at book art, I prefer to have something I can touch, feel and smell.

So far, I’ve found one source, but the search has only just begun!

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