Mapping Walden

Group Members: Clare Corbett, Jenna Doolan, Madyson Gillanders, Sophie Schapiro, and Tayler Thompson

The purpose of our project was to create a map to display the locations Thoreau mentions in Walden. We chose the places we felt were most essential to the text. Creating the map allowed us to put together images and names of the locations to visualize the places in Walden instead of just imagining them. The map also allows us to see where locations are in relation to each other. We are able to see where the locations he visited are in comparison to Walden Pond and compare this with the approximations of distance he gives in the text. Creating the map helped further our understanding of locations that were important to Thoreau and share this information with others.

Of course, we had to breakdown the creation of this map into different steps. To begin, we had to read both Walden and Selections from the Journal in their entirety to curate a list of places from both texts. We found that Thoreau mentioned quite a wide array of locations, which is somewhat surprising since most believed he lived in complete solitude. We divided up both texts to ensure each group member was doing equal amounts of work. Once assigned our sections, we each created a list of places that were included in the texts. After making individual lists, we combined our hand-picked places into one list. Afterwards, Dr. Schacht provided us with a list that was generated by the text-mining package, Spacy. This list included every place (and some just capitalized words) that was mentioned in Walden. This contained around 300 words; some of which we had missed, but we knew we had to narrow down the list. Our next step was to review the lists and delete every place that was not near Walden Pond and Thoreau’s cabin. Our next task was to put these places on a map. For places not already documented on Google Maps, we read their quotations in Walden and consulted sites like The Walden Woods Project to come up with a general location of each location with respect to Walden Pond. Next, we wrote descriptions on each place point on the map in regards to their significance in Walden, Thoreau’s life, and the world. Once we completed this step, we made sure to include a photo of each location to make our additions more detailed. Finally, we created comments in the margins of Walden where the places were found with a link to each point on the map and added a permalink for these comments to each description on the map. This was done so that while looking at the map, the direct quote in Walden could be accessed, and while reading through Walden the map could be accessed to give readers an image of where this place would be within Thoreau’s Walden. Although we worked as individuals for a majority of the time, we also worked as a group to check for consistency and detail.

As we progressed through the creation of our map, we did run into some challenges along the way. As mentioned, our group received a list of every place that was mentioned in Walden. This list was very useful when picking out the majority of places that Thoreau did frequent and visit. However, the list generated over 300 places, the majority of which did not have much significance in the text, such as India, China, and the Finger Islands. It did take time as a group to comb through the list and eliminate places like these. After this was completed, we needed to eliminate a variety of locations that Thoreau may have went to, but described in little detail. The goal of our project was to take the viewer on a ‘Virtual Tour’ of Walden, and to provide photographs and descriptions for significant places throughout the text. If we were barely able to describe the places on the list, we decided that it would be best to not include them on our map. Additionally, with certain places that we did choose to include, there was no geographic location for them in Google’s database. An example of this is Walden Woods. Walden Woods does exist, as it surrounds Walden Pond, however, there was no marker predetermined for it on Google Maps. We had to draw a line around the outskirts of the woods, and this took time to figure out how to effectively do this. While there were aspects of this project that were relatively simple, we still faced roadblocks that we had to resolve as a team in order to move forward.

Since none of us have ever used Google Maps before, we were determined to figure out how it operates and what features it has. In the process of doing this project, we learned that we can make the map either public or private. We also learned how to embed visuals and descriptions, which was helpful when sharing important places that Thoreau discussed throughout Walden. Google Maps is a great learning tool to utilize and it makes it so that people who view our map can visualize how close in proximity some of the places Thoreau mentioned are. Another great feature of Google Maps is that it can easily be facilitated to make other maps, whether it be for educational or personal purposes. While connecting our map with the text, we also discovered that we could make the link shareable so that other people reading the text have access to the map.

After researching the places mentioned in Walden and Selections from the Journal, our group gained a deeper understanding of Henry David Thoreau. During his younger years, he was educated at Cambridge College, representing the fact that he was very intelligent. Before officially settling at Walden, Thoreau spent a significant amount of time exploring the area surrounding the pond. This led to his decision to find solitude in the woods. While most people might think that he stayed at Walden during the entire time he was secluded, he actually left his cabin and the area of Walden on multiple occasions. Thoreau mentioned places on land and bodies of water throughout the world that he visited and researched. His detailed descriptions of these places shows that he knew a great deal about the United States and other nations. Thoreau’s love for nature and travel translated into his extensive journals about his time at Walden. This information allows readers to gain a better understanding of Henry David Thoreau’s life.

Check out the map:

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