Author: Emily Peterson

A Walter Harding Chronology

Walter Harding was a professor of English at SUNY Geneseo for several decades and was appointed chair of the department in 1959. One of the most influential and decorated scholars to have spent time at Geneseo, Harding specialized in all things Thoreau.

Walter Harding
Walter Harding

Milne library has created an extensive archive of both Harding’s writings on Thoreau, and documentation of the various honors and recognitions he received both during and after his time at Geneseo. Our group sought to carry on the project that previous semesters’ groups had begun of digitizing this archive and making it accessible to a larger audience.

We began the project by familiarizing ourselves with the physical archive and gaining a sense of who Dr. Harding was as both a scholar and a person. Each of us were immediately struck by Harding’s contagious enthusiasm for Henry David Thoreau, and impressed by the sheer amount of knowledge he had about the man. Then we were all floored by just how extensive his work with Thoreau was. We quickly discovered that Harding was a founding member of the Thoreau Society and served as its secretary for 50(!) years. Harding carried his enthusiasm for Thoreau across oceans during his time spent lecturing students about Thoreau in Japan. It was abundantly clear to us from the Walter Harding Archive that Walter Harding’s life work needed to be preserved.

That was when we began familiarizing ourselves with Omeka: the digital archive tool that we would use to help preserve this information.omeka Essentially we gathered the physical documents we deemed fitting for the exhibit we wanted to create, which we titled “A Walter Harding Chronology,” and then scanned them. After being scanned, each item was uploaded to the website with its metadata being updated as well, including a title, source, description, contributor, publisher, date, language, etc.

Metadata editing tool in Omeka
Metadata editing tool in Omeka

After finding, scanning, and uploading items to Omeka, we began the process of tooling around with the appearance of the site, and made a few organizational and aesthetic changes to the theme.

Here is an image of the landing page of the website:

landing page

 

And here is a link to visit the website yourself:

http://walterharding.org/

The students working on this project for the Spring 2015 semester were Julia Kinel, Kelly Langer, Casey Vincelette, Melanie Weissman, and Emily Peterson

Art in the Digital Age

The digital age has changed the way people create and share art. I began thinking a lot about art in the digital age after a recent trip to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. I (and I think most others) think of museums as being very physical spaces. You go to an art museum to have that connection with a piece of art that you cannot get from looking at it on your computer screen.

Did I use "The Starry Night" as an example in order to shamelessly insert this pic of me apologizing to the MoMA employee yelling at me for taking this picture? Yes I did.
Did I use “The Starry Night” as an example in order to shamelessly insert this pic of me apologizing to the MoMA employee yelling at me for taking this picture? Yes I did.

Seeing Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” in the flesh after seeing pictures of it your whole life is an oddly surreal experience. And while I would obviously recommend to anyone going to a physical museum and enjoying the art within it, would I say that this is the best way to appreciate art?

Oddly, no. I don’t think so. I think the best way to appreciate art is be a part of it. People love art so much because it evokes some kind of emotion from them. The artist is able to bring people together in experiencing these shared reactions. The digital age has allowed us to come together more than ever.

Take The Art Assignment for example. The Art Assignment is video series on Youtube produced by PBS Digigtal studios that encourages people to take part in a new creative “assignment” each week. PBS takes the videos submitted by these people, edits them together, and then uploads it to their channel. Here’s an example of the “Walk on It” assignment:

I think that the true beauty in these art projects is not the physical art that is created, but rather the spirit of collaboration and togetherness. The digital age has at the very least provided the necessary infrastructure for doing this. But more importantly, it has fostered a new culture that emphasizes sharing and communication—social media being the most obvious evidence of this.  It’s no longer necessary to be in the physical presence of someone to connect with them, and its no longer necessary to be in the physical presence of art work in order to experience an emotional connection.

Free Speech in the Digital Age?

The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America grants us the freedom of religion and the freedom of expression.  Freedom of expression meaning freedom of speech, press, assembly and to petition the government. All of these things are pretty neat. In general I would say 10/10—would recommend freedom.

freedom

 

But like any fave—it’s problematic. As a student of, well, not-law, I’m probably not the best qualified person to provide an interpretation of the Constitution. But I am a student of English so I think I do possess a few interpreting skills and I am going to take a stab at it anyways. I am going to employ my freedom of speech to provide a criticism of free speech. God bless America.

What do you mean women can vote??
What do you mean women can vote??

I think the biggest problem with the first amendment is that it was passed in 1791. In addition to not being a student of law, I am also not a student of history, but I feel pretty confident in saying that our beloved founding fathers did not anticipate the advent of the digital age. I mean, James Madison didn’t even know what an electric light bulb was, I can’t even imagine how he would react to some of the technology we have today.

My issue with freedom of speech in the digital age lies specifically with the internet. Yes, you the internet. I could write odes to you and all the wonderful things you enable us to do. But sometimes you are a swirling cesspool of horrible, rude, offensive, and threatening comments. Take for example Lindy West’s story from a recent episode of This American Life.  In this episode, West talks about how she is attacked by strangers on the internet on a daily basis. Under the veil of anonymity, these strangers find new and unique ways to harass this woman regularly without consequences. One specific troll going far enough to make a parody twitter account of her recently deceased father and using it to harass her.

As an experiment I decided to click on some random YouTube videos and take a peak at the comment section. The first video I clicked on was a video directly on the homepage  titled “Sea Lion Joins Family on Santa Barbara Kayak-ORIGINAL VIDEO”. I thought that with a title so seemingly innocent as that, how could anyone possibly have anything rude to say? This was the top comment:

comment 1

Here are some other comments I found and screen-grabbed on random YouTube videos. Keep in mind I did not have to plumb the depths of the internet to find these. It took about 20 seconds of scrolling. Also, fair warning, these contain offensive language:

comment 3

comment 2

comment 4

 

The digital age enables us to say these things to each other, but do we really have the right to say these things? Should we be allowed to harass, threaten, and abuse other human beings online just because the constitution says its okay? The digital age is progressing much faster than our muddled-down bureaucratic government can and legislation cannot keep up with it. Anyone with an internet connection has the power to reach virtually anyone else in the world with an internet connection. Americans consider freedom of speech a hallmark of American society— we can say whatever we want to say and never worry about the consequences. There is something wrong with that.

I am not saying I think that these people should be banned from commenting on the internet, but I am saying there needs to be consequences for the things they say. Much like how shouting “fire” in a crowded theater has its consequences, so to should posting threats, crude insults, or anything to that effect online. The first amendment should not be an excuse to send rape threats to women online, or post racist comments, or toss around vulgar insults. We need to rethink our definition of freedom of speech in the digital age now that we have much more room to exercise that freedom.