From Walden to WordPress

I’ll be honest: the reason why I registered isn’t about to blow your socks off. I’m a second semester senior and, well, I needed one last English elective. Anyone else?

That’s not to say that this class has proven to be as mediocre as my reason for taking it. In fact, it’s been the exact opposite. When I think of the most interesting things I know now that I didn’t know at the beginning of the semester, the first thing that comes to mind is the witchcraft that is VirtualBox (yes, I mean witchcraft in the most endearing way possible). I’m mesmerized that we can run an entire “sub-computer” inside our computers. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around a world existing within a world. Another interesting thing I’ve learned is that, according to Gleick in The Information, one of the earliest known “languages” is African talking drums. Maybe this is just me being not musically inclined, but the fact that musical instruments can send complex understood messages back and forth between villages far apart, and over even longer distances by relay, is something I never thought about before. Perhaps what I’ve found most intriguing from this class is what seems to be our takeaway every day. Electronics don’t have to be the pitfall of paper books or even the humanities as a whole. In fact, electronics are arguably the very thing the humanities need to stay preserved.

To be specific, I’d like to discuss our use of Walden in this course. Thoreau wrote Walden hundreds of years ago, but the text is anything but obsolete. It didn’t die with Thoreau because resources such as the Digital Thoreau website have helped to keep it alive (and even bring it more life!). The fluid text edition and the opportunity to annotate are what make Digital Thoreau so interesting to me. The fluid text edition makes me think of Thoreau as a student who is tirelessly revising an essay. This “student” vibe I get illuminates him, in a way, as more relatable than the rather distant persona of one of mankind’s most revered writers. (May I parenthetically add that I think it’s super impressive that Dr. Schacht got access to all these revisions and copies. This may be naive of me, but, how did he finesse that?!) Annotating is the second feature possessed by Digital Thoreau. “[Connecting] with readers in the margins of Thoreau,” according to the description online, is a tool that speaks to the ed major in me. I’m interested in the idea of choice, here: choosing sections of Walden that I find particularly interesting and sections that my brain finds a way to relate to our course. I’ve even seen Walter Harding’s comments scattered. I’m in the Harding/Kelley project group, so seeing this celebrity (for lack of a better term) come to life puts our project into perspective. One of my annotations pulled the following quote from Economy 15-29:

It would be some advantage to live a primitive and frontier life, though in the midst of an outward civilization

In the margins, I explained how this quote makes me think of the argument many people from older generations use to hold on to traditions. Here, Thoreau sides with these folks, claiming it would be advantageous to live a “primitive and frontier life” even as life is advancing around you. I think of older adults who refuse to engage with the technological progress our society is making. I’m not even talking exclusively about our grandparents; my Dad, for example, hates to admit that his iPhone helps him with things he cares about (like talking to my sister and I or looking up dinner recipes).

In this course, we have discussed the importance of holding on to where things came from (as The Information argues) while simultaneously welcoming new advances. It is at this intersection of remembering and welcoming that I’ve learned lives digital humanities. Prior to this course, I knew online textbooks were cool and I noticed the rise of e-readers. If you had asked me to define “digital humanities,” that’s probably the shaky answer I would’ve provided. That was the extent of what I knew to be digital humanities: e-readers. Right now, as I sit and type this blog post, I want to give myself a massive face-palm! I’ve learned the digital humanities holds more significance than merely my trusty Kindle. It is a field that bridges the ever-present gap between technology and the study of humans. It is what allows society to progress. We need this intersection because society is never getting rid of technology, and it’s never going to stop studying humans.

From Walden to WordPress, the humanities are everywhere. I’m sure the iPhone isn’t disappearing anytime soon, either.

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