Zoom University

Over the course for the 21st century, technology has been at the forefront of our work, our advancements, and our newer inventions. Whether it is a new phone to maintain communication with one another or a new machine that allows for better farm cropping, technology has helped developed our society. 

This semester, we learned a lot about technology through Gleick’s “The Information.” We learned about early inventions early on in the chapters and the impacts technology is having on society. I am sure that all of us did not imagine this ongoing situation when we enrolled in a class that would teach us about digital humanities. 

Today, Zoom has become the platform that many uses for their education, personal, and business experience. Many institutions like SUNY Geneseo are purchasing unlimited access for their students to use and many companies have relied on it to hold meetings. Many students have joked on Instagram and Twitter about Zoom University. The Lamron even wrote a satirical article about it as a way to show people how students are feeling. 

As we end the semester, some thought provoking questions I had in mind were:

A) What will be Zoom’s legacy moving forward?
B) How will institutions and companies continue to use Zoom as a means of communication?
C) Will Zoom be published in a book (much like “The Information” about technological advancements in the future?

Overall, I really enjoy using Zoom and count on it for a variety of things including meetings, group projects, check-ins, and most importantly, as a means of communications. Who would have known that this was going to be the “new normal.” I kind of got used to it by now!

Exploring How Diction Informs Perspective in Thoreau’s Walden

The COVID-19 pandemic, and our transition to remote learning because of it, caught us all by surprise. No one was prepared to make such drastic lifestyle changes in how we live, work, and learn. And yet, even though this transition came with many challenges, our group’s final project turned out to be one challenge we could successfully overcome through communication, teamwork, digital collaboration, and the spirit of optimistic determination that we gained from studying Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Read on to learn how our group (Kira Baran, Lauren Beers, Justin Colleran, Abigail Henry, and Joshua Mora) approached the task of analyzing revisions within Walden, and in doing so, gained unique insights into Thoreau’s life and work.

Our Task and Mission

Our group decided to compare revisions made across two of Thoreau’s original manuscript drafts: Version E (p. 55-56 on the Huntington Library Website), and Version F (p. 50). The specific passage we tackled appears as paragraph 5c on the fluid text website, and would eventually be included in the chapter “The Ponds” within Walden.

We strove to analyze the handwritten revisions Thoreau made on these manuscript pages both on a micro (or “close-reading”) level, as well as how these revisions compare/contrast across these versions on a macro (or “meta-reading”) level. We chose this specific passage because we feel that its intricate revisions give insight into Thoreau’s attention to nuance and detail. His concern for precision informs not only his descriptions of the pond, but also carries into his every-day perspective on writing and life as a whole. Within the human experience, whether it be admiring various hues of pond water or interacting with people during a turbulent time period like we are currently experiencing, angle and perspective are everything. Even the most seemingly minor of revisions carry an effect on how readers interpret Walden both line-by-line, and as a whole work. And this is exactly why precision and accuracy are important when it comes to diction.

Our Perspectives and Insights on Thoreau’s Revisions

When attempting to analyze a writer’s manuscripts, there are many elements to consider. We made sure to keep in mind Thoreau’s intent during our construction of the timeline, so that we could properly examine what he was trying to say with the word choices and revisions he was making. Although it is nearly impossible for a reader to interpret something exactly how the author intends, there are certain ways we can get fairly close. For example, when Thoreau switches one word for another in a revision, we can take this as a sign that the new word did a better job at helping the reader achieve the correct interpretation.

Take this revision from our selected passage, for instance: “of an alabaster whiteness, still more unnatural” had been changed from “of an alabaster whiteness, equally unnatural.” By revising comparatives like “equally” and “more,” Thoreau presumably strives for accuracy and precision when comparing how one’s angle/viewpoint/perspective can influence one’s perceptions and, in turn, their evaluations. Again, be it the color of water in a pond, or a serious matter of discourse when interacting with another person, viewpoint matters, since looks can be deceiving. As Thoreau knew well, in order to communicate an intended message to a reader who possesses a different viewpoint than oneself, it is very useful to be able to communicate with precision. Precision aids the active listening (and reading!) process. To convey meaning effectively is to communicate as accurately as possible.

Ultimately then, through this project, we learned that a writer’s revision process can be treated as a physical manifestation of their thought process. It is a window that allows us to infer a potential intended message of a text. To see what we mean, check out other examples in our timeline below!:

Our Process for Creating Our Timeline and TEI File

Overall, the technical aspects behind the TimeLineJS portion of the project were fairly straightforward. The process was very easy to follow and didn’t cause us to pull the hair out of our heads. The one thing we did find kind of annoying about creating the timeline was trying to figure out how to include what specific point of the year we were talking about. For example, when wanting to write “Late 1852,” it would not allow us to preview the timeline because it didn’t recognize the word “Late.” In the end, we decided to use just the years. Another aspect that was slightly disappointing was the lack of customization. On the website, it really only allows you to change the fonts and what slide the presentation starts on. It would be nice for our timeline to have more of an identity or personality, rather than just black and white backgrounds.

Surprisingly, our GitHub workflow worked out well, too. It was a bit nerve-wracking at first, as any small mistake on someone’s part could have caused chaos in our project repository. Not to mention, we were also all new to this part of GitHub, and remote learning didn’t exactly help. However, by communicating with each other through Slack about who-did-what-when-and-how, we were able to avoid any complications.

As for the TEI file, its creation was not too complicated. Since we were given the template file to use as a guide, it made encoding the manuscript text much simpler. Once we spent time learning to use the basic markup commands, it just came down to being consistent throughout the file, lest a single error invalidate the entire file (similar to how a single word invalidated our timeline). Honestly, the most difficult part of making the TEI file came from trying to decipher Thoreau’s handwriting. From a distance, it could be easily mistaken for a bunch of nonsense scribbles, or overly elaborate calligraphy. The fluid text version of Walden lent us a huge hand in figuring out what the (almost illegible) manuscript said, especially when it came to penciled-in revisions.

Looking at the handwritten revisions on the manuscript pages with our own eyes, and comparing them to the revisions on the fluid text version, however, did present what was probably our most unusual challenge when it came to encoding revisions on our TEI file. The fluid text version notes that, on the Version F page, “. . . the body of the bather” was revised to “the body of one bathing in it.” However, by just looking at the handwriting, it was difficult to tell these revisions for certain. Thoreau didn’t fully cross out “bather”; instead, he seamlessly transformed the “e” into an “i” and added “ng” over the “r,” (instead of adding it above or off to the side like most of his revisions). He wrote it as if it was a typo rather than a revision. “One” is also squeezed into the margin without a caret, which made it even more difficult to determine if this should be counted as a typo or a deliberate revision that was made after the fact. This presented a challenge for encoding the TEI file, because adding a revision within a word (“bather” to “bathing”) is not common to come across.

Our Takeaways

Through the unexpected journey that has been this entire project (and course and semester), each of us has come away with a newfound appreciation for Walden. Having to work from self-isolation (or social distancing or quarantine or whatever you’d like to call it) was a new experience for everyone. Remote instruction forced us to jump into the role of self-starters. Online collaboration meant becoming reliable team members. It forced us to use Slack as a communicative platform, since we had to allocate project tasks between us without being able to physically meet in person.

From studying Walden, we were able to relate to Henry David Thoreau’s experiences on a uniquely personal level. We learned from his determination, adaptability, and resourcefulness. And, from the specific passage we analyzed, we learned that, sometimes, all it takes is an open mind and an altered angle or viewpoint to be able to gain a new, appreciative perspective on our surroundings. Being stuck at home for the past couple months, we can now appreciate the small part we played in converting Thoreau’s writing to a digitized version, which makes his writing more universally accessible, readable, and legible.

The Deadly Duo: Social Media and Online Classes

It’s no secret that the unexpected switch to online learning has thrown a curve ball into the lives of students across the world. To some, more disciplined students, this may have been an easy adjustment that was actually a bit more comfortable. Some may enjoy sitting in their pajamas, playing Netflix in the background and lounging on their couch while getting to work on their laptop. But others, myself included, have had a much different experience.

There are a couple topics I’d like to talk about in this post, one of them being the differences in productivity due to the transition to online classes, and the second being why the transition has been so difficult, and essentially a total bust of a semester for some, (me in particular). As a student that is easily distracted, learning at Geneseo in the 2019-2020 academic year was already a challenge. Milne closed, forcing me to rely on a little desk in the corner of my apartment facing a blank wall to get my work done. Luckily, having the responsibility of showing up to class every day gave me the push to continue pressing on with my school work from day to day. I was very successful in the fall semester, as well as the beginning of the spring.

Then came the pandemic. What started as just talk, soon turned into harsh reality. One day I was in class with my peers, and the next I was being told I had to move out completely and leave the town of Geneseo. I had so many questions: How will classes continue? I’m an education major; what about my practicum hours that take place in schools? Why do I have to leave all my friends? Eventually, my questions were answered. But in the meantime, my ability to focus went from a 7/10 to about a 3. My mind was everywhere BUT school. Family members and people everywhere were losing jobs, we were worried about leaving the house just to get food to eat. I was unproductive for the first 2 weeks at least. Not having the pressure of simply showing up to class made it extremely difficult to stay motivated and disciplined with school work.

Now to the main source of distraction: social media. It’s been a problem for years now. Social media has been an issue for a variety of reasons since it first began to grow. There are so many different platforms now; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the biggest recently is TikTok. Hours can pass in what feels like seconds scrolling through these sites. I will start an assignment, take a break to eat lunch and check Instagram, and within minutes I’m consumed into this little digital world that wraps you in. What I find to be most interesting though, is the way social media has connected with my experience of online learning. I could go on and on about the issues of SM, but the biggest problem that everyone can agree on is that people get a little too comfortable when talking online. They can hide behind a screen and avoid confrontation. If they don’t like what you say? Dislike. Or even a simple logoff for the night. And this is exactly what happened to me in terms of online school.

The only thing that kept me accountable in a couple of my classes was the weekly zoom calls. Aside from that, if I got an email from a teacher, it was far too easy to simply not open it. The physical stress I felt every time I received a canvas notification was overwhelming. So what was the easiest thing to do? Avoid and hide. I would close my laptop, turn off notifications, whatever it took to avoid my work. And instead, on the days that I wasn’t working (at a local ice cream shop by the way-is ice cream really “essential”?) I was laying on the couch scrolling through social media.

I can’t help but wonder what the world will look like after this pandemic is over, if it’ll ever truly be the same. Taking this course focused on the “Digital Age” has really opened my eyes to the developing world of technology. I am curious to see if one day all schooling will be done how it is now, if we are getting a taste of what is to come for our children, or their children. To me, it’s a frightening thought. Social media holds more power than many of us realize. Yesterday, I deleted it. And that is why today I am back on my laptop completing my work for the semester after weeks of avoidance. I am looking forward to seeing what else I discover about the effects of the internet after detaching myself from its unforgiving grip.

Some Observations About Animosity During These COVID Times

It’s no secret that times have changed. If anything, it’s the only thing people seem to be willing to talk about. Oh, the world has shut down this, we can’t go outside that. It seems that so many people have trouble with accepting the fact that we’re in quarantine, and instead choose to constantly complain about it. This is the perfect time to do something productive! Pick up the hobby you always dreamed about but never got the chance to start! Rollerskate! Read! The way people in America have reacted to the entirety of the pandemic has disappointed me thoroughly. 

The first problem I encountered was panic buying: people went to the store and came out with six times the normal amount of toiletries and groceries that we normally would – for a family of four. This problem, in particular, was the only one that has actually affected me physically. I have a decent, medium-sized family with seven people in it, and mass-buying groceries just isn’t an option for us, financially or space-wise. But that leaves us in a sticky situation – my mom goes to the store, and suddenly any food that’s perishable/has any positive nutritional value is gone (and the next time they’re restocking is the next week). I understand that many people are scared of food shortages – but we’ve been in quarantine for two months (two months today, actually!) and it’s not gotten any better. It’s a fight to get to the store at a time when things are decently stocked… it’s become a bloodbath. 

Which brings me on to my next point – everyone has turned on each other. This, I think, is what has made me feel the most hopeless. Being home for so long with extended periods of free time has given me more than enough freedom to be on the internet for as long as I please, doing whatever I please. This prolonged exposure, however, is not a unique experience. People on the internet have taken to posting their every thought during quarantine, be it good or bad…and the majority of what I’m seeing is so negative that it makes me sad. I see comment thread upon thread of virtual strangers arguing with each other, first over social distancing, and then over a tangent on something entirely unrelated, like the reign of Mao Zedong. It’s ridiculous. I’ve basically had unsupervised internet access since I was in 6th grade, and I’ve never seen this level of hostility over the internet – and it’s not even for things solely related to COVID-19. Since the country has gone on pause, the amount of hate I see on the internet – in the form of comments, replies, TikTok’s, tweets, and so on – is disheartening. You’d think living through a literal history book pandemic would bring out our better qualities. I wanted to see humans helping each other, being kinder to each other because everyone is going through something right now…but it’s almost as if people have gotten too comfortable sharing their deepest thoughts on the internet, despite the consequences and hostility behind it.

Many might say that this isn’t a bad thing – people are finally showing their true selves! But if this is any indication of what the world is going to be like once states reopen and we try going back to normal, I don’t want it. It seems to me that this isn’t going away anytime soon… the hostility, nor the lack of kindness, and that gives me just a little less hope for the future.

The Evolution of Thoreau’s Language in Walden

In our group’s observations of Henry David Thoreau’s manuscripts, we noticed that his use of language developed over time as conveyed through his revisions, specifically those from Versions A to Versions D (1847-1852). So, Emma Annonio and Anne Baranello chose to track revisions over time in Economy, Emma Belson tackled Where I Lived, and Sandy Brahaspat focused on Sounds. After splitting up these three texts, our group came to the conclusion that they seemed to adequately reflect our experiences with social distancing as a new norm while we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we engaged with these texts and their corresponding revisions, we noticed Thoreau’s evolving use of language over the years, how it influenced his reflections, and his overall experiences of living in isolation. It appears Thoreau used his writing as an outlet of communications to the civilized world. During his revisions, Thoreau was able to critically assess his experiences in Concord by developing his attention to detail, consistent reflection of the language he uses, and consequently, his transition from exhaustive sentences to lucid prose. In developing our timeline, we chose to examine the various ways in which Thoreau’s language changes from initial revisions in Version A to his later revisions in Version D. 

Emma Annonio aptly points out that a clear indication of Thoreau’s attention to detail in his placement and possible revision of the title Walden: Life in the Woods is present on Page 1 of Version A. On this first page, Emma A. notices that Thoreau quickly scrawled this title in the top right corner of the page indicating that it was most likely decided after the book had been written. To the left of this, Thoreau writes in pencil “Where I Have Been. . .,” another possible title for the novel. This shift in language demonstrates how instead of focusing the title on himself, Thoreau ultimately chose to focus on the nature he had lived in for so long; this revision is reflective of how deeply Thoreau respects and admires nature. In Anne’s study of Economy, she notes that one of Thoreau’s distinctive features as an author is his striking diction and attention to detail. He constantly revised, reworded, and removed words that served no purpose. Indeed, something we noticed was that halfway down the paragraph (Economy, p 5a, version A) it’s seen that Thoreau crossed out an entire sentence, “the finest qualities of our nature are as difficult to preserve as the down on a peach.” This is particularly interesting because Thoreau has struck up a wonderful comparison here, and it only adds to the text, rather than detracting from it. It’s very telling of his attention to detail, and reading the book further only continues to prove this. In her study of Thoreau’s Sounds, Sandy also noticed a similar pattern that appears throughout Version A and Version D. She also notes that while Thoreau’s writing style continues to be long-winded, often omitting the use of the period altogether, his ideas become more succinct over the course of his revisions. In Version D, the first paragraph of Sounds is arguably far more shorter than the paragraph written for Version A, and this may have to do with Thoreau’s own writing process of reflecting on what language is actually necessary for the purposes of his text, and what can be dismissed. This seems to be on par with his writing philosophy of questioning and re-evaluating all aspects of his life that appear both around him and within him. 

While our thoughts about Thoreau were based solely on our interactions with the text, other aspects of this project like the practicability of collaborating on the assignment, was especially daunting and took some time acclimating to. However, once we figured out how to use Slack as a standard method of communication with each other, the project became more manageable. While using Slack was most efficient for communicating with the general class, keeping in contact with the specific group members proved to be challenging because of the extenuating circumstances that resulted from our ongoing battle with the COVID-19 pandemic. We were able to partially overcome this challenge by using email, direct messaging, and frequent zoom calls as more direct forms of communication. After we overcame our communicative difficulties, we had to learn how to navigate the manuscript pages. Although it was tedious at first, our group applied the skills we learned from our digital humanities class by using Command F to find certain words from the manuscript versions and comparing that to the plain text files of Walden. By doing this, we were able to create a rough index of phrases that corresponded to certain paragraphs of the Fluid Text of Walden and were better able to locate the chapters we needed.  Having said that, once we were able to navigate the manuscript pages and decide on what specific page we wanted to encode, our group faced another challenge. We were a bit concerned about having to divide up the work for the TEI file and collaborate on it simultaneously, while considering the potential ramifications that would prevent the file from validating. Luckily, we were introduced to the Oxygen XML Editing software and used our resources to fork, clone, sync, and push our files to Github. Once we downloaded the software, our group found the Oxygen XML Editor software was particularly helpful in preventing any line errors that would invalidate the TEI file. So, after developing our encoding skills and familiarizing ourselves with using Github collaboratively, we were better equipped to complete the TEI assignment and fulfill the requirements of our final project. 

The Wisdom of Simple Lives

In “Visitors,” Henry David Thoreau very much mixes praise and critique of the nebulous concept of ‘society.’ Throughout Walden, thorough celebrates his own efforts to live simply and deliberately on Walden Pond, though in “Visitors” he shows even more admiration for the wisdom of those who make such simple deliberateness their being. Thoreau explores the wisdom of those who live simply, those who are often considered to be of little value to society. He shows how these simple lives are often more deliberate, more wise, and perhaps more content than the superfluous trappings of high society. These individuals, who are of a lower social class, often have their superior wisdom contrasted positively with the lack of wisdom of society. In doing so, Thoreau offers scathing critique of the excess without thought of upper social classes, as well as the higher institutions that said classes celebrate and, most of all, the determiners of “high” and “low” class in the first place.

Still, even with Thoreau’s criticism of society, it is not as if he can or wants to reject society completely. Indeed, despite living isolated in the woods, Thoreau will often have conversations in nature and host many “Visitors.” The topic sentence of paragraph two of “Visitors” is one of the strongest in Walden, and demonstrates this well: “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” In some ways these three chairs function as a hierarchical representation of where Thoreau sees wisdom coming from during his time on Walden Pond. First and foremost, one becomes wise by being alone with one’s thoughts and becoming to understand them. Second, Thoreau interacts with his friends, such as his fellow isolate Alex Therien, and Thoreau receives knowledge to better ponder and understand on his own. Then, finally, Thoreau has his chair for society, a distinct recognition that, while Thoreau may condemn society, he still sees it as having value and still wishes to be a part of society, even when choosing a life far from town on Walden Pond.

I do not know how much it would be accurate to describe a “process” for the encoding of part of “Visitors” into TEI, nor for the creation of our timeline. Group six theoretically had five members, but in actuality had three, all joining at different times. Emma was the first to be active in our Slack, and she led the choosing of the topic and ultimately ended up creating the timeline on her own. I was next, present early on when discussing topics to show that I existed, but I ultimately began active participation when I started encoding the TEI. Anthony joined relatively late on, and assisted with the TEI, doing the smaller upper section that I had not yet touched. I ultimately completed the final touches and debugging on the TEI, as well as being the one responsible for the crafting of our final blog post, as should be obvious. It is written on my account, after all.

The biggest obstacle, and one I would hesitate to say we ever overcame, was the issue of coordination. As stated above, our five-person group had two members who never made themselves known, with the other three all becoming active on the project at different times. Calling the project collaborative in this setting, especially considering our highly limited and disjointed communications on Slack amid the pandemic, would be generous. To a large extent, the three of us did three separate projects with little to no interaction with the others. This ultimately led to a functional result, although I cannot help but wonder what our result would have been like had we skillfully collaborated and communicated. Truly, however, I, at least, am content with what we have created. Under the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, when none of us are well mentally even when we are not ill physically, pushing through and completing this project is an achievement in and of itself. We did ultimately establish passable communication via Slack during the last few days of working on the project, as it was a focus for all of us due to the looming due date, and we did ultimately create a cohesive product. Well I would not say we ever truly overcame our difficulties, we did improve and we did ultimately succeed in completing this project.

Authors of our Own Lives & Writers of our Fate

At the start of the semester, I selected this course due to the nature of what we would be learning about: technology. As someone who is really passionate about always using online platforms to communicate, plan out events, and organize work, I was really intrigued about learning the ways in which technology has transformed the digital humanities. This course was a very difficult journey for me but my initial interest is what kept me from quitting. Early on in the course, I fell behind on work and found it easier to escape instead of asking for support. I hit a brick wall halfway through the semester and was really confused about what was going on in the course. Due to this, it’d be a disservice to me to detail a significant change in my interpretation of the English discipline as a result of my work in ENGL 340. However, my perception of English as a discipline did significantly change as a result of my struggles, obstacles, and most importantly, my ability to continue adapting to a new learning environment that I had not been exposed to before. 

Logistically, this course is set up to introduce new technology platforms to students including Slack, Python, TEI files, timelines, etc. All of the English courses I had taken in the past only focused on readings, essays, short responses, and class discussions. Being a part of the ENGL 340 learning experience was very tricky for me since it took a lot of time to adjust to the tasks I had not been presented with before. However, it also allowed me to be a part of a completely new learning community since many of us had not used any of the platforms mentioned above before. It was such an intriguing experience. From learning how to write journal entries to using VS code, we were all learning everything at the same pace. The memorable looks of confusion and the “ah yes!” moments are what made this class different than others; we supported each other in the process of learning. English as a discipline can most of the time be viewed as essays, papers, and readings, but throughout this course, I learned that it is more. It is learning how to use everything you have read and creating a new learning experience. For us, that was being able to read a text from Gleick’s The Information or Walden and reflect upon what we learn through a blog post, a journal entry, or use technology to analyze the words, patterns, and codes in the text. Working in a group also allowed us to collaboratively share ideas, even if it was remotely, and learn about one another’s interpretations. 

Though I was not the most active participant in class, one of our classroom discussions that I thoroughly enjoyed was when we discussed Sounds by Henry David Thoreau. The sentence we primarily focused on was “much is published, but little printed.” Within my group, we started a conversation about what we see published in libraries, bookstores, and what readings professors use to assign to us. I introduced our group to the concept of the literary canon, which I learned in another course refers to the group of books considered to be the most important and influential during a designated time period or place. Most of the authors we discussed were primarily White men and were introduced to us as “classic” reads in middle school. As we made ties to Thoreau’s “much is published, but little printed” we connected this quote to the lack of representation that is found in literature. Many great authors have well-written pieces ready to be published but are unable to get an agent to release it. This opened the floor to the question of “is everything that is published ‘good’? Would we rather have little printed and find meaning in unique texts? Or would we rather increase the number of authors being published to significantly break the literary canon with new ideas?” It was so amazing to see the different points of views that my group discussed and even more impactful for me because I got an opportunity to share knowledge from another course and challenge my peers to think about the ways in which we’ve grown up and how we want to shape our literary future. 

As Thoreau mentions in Sounds, “what is a course of history, or philosophy, or poetry, no matter how well selected, or the best society, or the most admirable routine of life, compared with the discipline of looking always at what is to be seen? Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer? Read your fate, see what is before you, and walk on into futurity.” Throughout this course, I believe I acted as a seer, noticing where I was struggling and thinking about ways of reaching out for help. However, I also enjoyed the new experience which allowed me to read the texts in this course with more intent. Though I struggled, I am proud of my ability to be transparent with myself and to analyze what went wrong. In reading and writing about my struggles, I know that English as a discipline also impacts us as the authors of our own lives, and as the writers of our fate.

Revising Nature into Language: An Analysis of Solitude through Time

Group Members: Hannah Fahy, Hannah Jewell, Kyle Regan, Leila Sassouni, Jaffre Aether

The first major decision of our group was to determine the pages we wanted to review. For that, we chose the first pages of “Solitude” as the chapter resonated with many of us and contained relevant snippets on the grand themes we enjoyed throughout the work, namely, the imperfections of language in the face of true sensory experience. Language and nature are set up as two sides to the whole, and it is a gap that must be confronted when trying to write about the sublimity of the outdoors, and how we, as social creatures bathed in language, must find an authentic way to access this unremembered sphere. However, it is the introduction of manuscript pages in which we faced the most obstacles.

The process of combing through the handwritten Walden was an especially difficult task for our group, as one of our group members noted that the version we were looking at (on the spreadsheet Dr. Schacht shared) was out of order. Such as that, it was quite difficult to locate the pages we were working off of. This challenge did not stop our work though, as we were able to form analysis through the versioning machine. While not in the whole spirit of the analysis, the versioning machine was incredibly helpful, as we were able to visualize the changes being enacted by Walden. Moreover, the versioning machine makes explicit the changes by using highlights and cross outs that would not have been as obvious in comparing the actual and physical manuscript pages. We struggled, too, in reading cursive, so seeing the work in print was very helpful. But, because of the versioning machine, the analysis went smoothly and connecting Thoreau’s revisions to the grander themes within the work was a painless task. In addition, the work of creating the timeline was simple, too. In going through many of the manuscript pages, a group member came to the realization on how to find the manuscript images for the “Solitude” chapter. The pictures repeatedly had page numbers in a blue font. The page numbers that were written in blue from pages 202 to 218 contained writing from the chapter. It became simpler to find parts of the chapter once these page numbers were discovered. The next step was to use Ctrl + F to search for strings of words that were discernible from the manuscript, to find if they were in fact in the chapter or not.

As far as the building of the TimelineJS spreadsheet, as most of us were familiar with the platform from a previous assignment, it was not too difficult to create. The template made things simple, as everything we needed to include was clearly marked. Finding the dates, too, was as simple as looking them up. But, once again, the most difficult aspect of creating the timeline itself was finding the manuscript images, as the page order was not linear in the way the final work was, and legibility was at a minimum (for a group not used to cursive). The search naturally improved when we began to use the Huntington Library’s manuscript, as the files were not fully pixelated, and thus, did not take long to load on each of our computers. Other than that, creating the timeline of “Solitude” was a smooth and fun process. The coding of the chapter’s first page to a TEI format was also relatively painless.

For the coding of the TEI format, one group member (as this group member felt comfortable in the TEI coding framework) took on the task, but nonetheless, the encoding process went well. By already having experience in the TEI format from the modules on Canvas, as well as having the added template, coding out the page was a task of utilizing the template to find how to code the changed parts of “Solitude” into the file. However, the coding was, again, not done off the manuscript page itself, instead using the versioning machine, as it took our group some time to find the manuscript page, and we knew we had to continue working while that process was ongoing. This practice did create a sort of logjam, as the lines of “Solitude” on the versioning machine did not match up to the lines of “Solitude” on the manuscript page, which meant that the TEI file could not be completed until we found the manuscript page. But, once we did, the coding was able to be completed. The work seems to go much smoother by using the versioning machine and the manuscript page in tandem, as the machine is eminently readable, and the manuscript age contains the lines that allow for the TEI file to be rightly ordered. The last meaningful piece of the process to address was our group’s communication.

For the most part, our group communicated through Slack and Zoom. At first, I thought that this may make the project more difficult or frustrating as there would be no set class time to work on it, but it actually went quite smoothly. We were able to talk about the smaller things in the Slack chat, mainly asking questions and sharing pertinent links, and when we needed to discuss larger issues, mainly the project itself and delegating out work, we met in a Zoom call. The Zoom calls were effective, not only because we could talk and share ideas quickly, but also because it created a time in which we could all gather and work on the project together. Because of that, discussion was only one facet of the call, with the other major facet being the creation of a ‘study hall’ where we knew we would be getting a significant amount of work done throughout. So overall, communication was not a problem for this project, which I sincerely thought it might be at the outset. 

With all that said, this project was interesting to do, as it was the synthesis of everything we had been working on. Though, it was slightly tricky as well, for a good deal of what we used within this project was learned during our period of distance learning, not only for the technical workings we used (TimelineJS and TEI coding), but reading and analyzing text from the revisions that Walden made. It still worked out, and I believe the final project is something meaningful, but it inspired a bit more anxiety than normal, as we were not able to test our ideas out to Dr. Schacht in real time. However, working without that kind of safety net was a worthwhile experience, even if it may turn out different because of that. Either way, the group is happy with how the project turned out, as the analysis turned out intriguing, and our technical skills were sharpened. 

Constantly Adapting

In the final days of this semester, I can’t help but look back at how things have changed in how we proceeded. With COVID-19, everyone, not just students, had to adapt to how the world had changed. For many of us, this included going home from campus, learning online and working from home. Now, as the semester draws to a close, we all have to adapt once more; we have to adapt to facing the uncertainty of the time we all live in without the order and structure given to us by our classes, keeping us aware of what day it is through assignments and classes.

With this change fast approaching, I find myself more certain of things than I had expected. This is weird to me because of how much we do not know. We do not know when stay at home will effectively end in New York. We do not know when businesses will be up and running again. We do not know if we will be returning to campus in the fall. Truly, we are in the most uncertain times of our lives, so how come I feel certain? I feel certain because I know that we can and will adapt. After all, if this semester, and this class, has taught me anything, it is that we are more than capable of adapting to whatever challenge comes our way.

While staying at home, working with Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, we spent a lot of time looking at and commenting on the many revisions that he had made to Walden over the years. It just goes to show how things could change for him back then. My project group had worked with the “Higher Laws” chapter, specifically paragraphs one and seven. I bring this up because in the first draft of paragraph seven, Thoreau had a line that didn’t survive past that first version. That line was “But practically I am only half-converted by my own arguments as I still fish.” I bring this line up because it illustrates how Thoreau had adapted to his time in the woods. He adapted, meaning that line was no longer unnecessary as the more time he spent in the woods, he adapted to a new form of life that brushed away his doubts. It is that change that I am particularly enamored with. Thoreau was able to live in seclusion and adapt to it, not unlike what we have been doing now. The biggest differences being that our seclusion is not by choice and the fear over our well-being, even still we are secluded and we adapted to this once before.

Moving into this next phase of quarantine, with less responsibilities with classes and assignments being done, it is much like my initial thoughts on using the command line; harder and more confusing than I am used to. But, as with the command line, I feel as though we all can learn to navigate this new situation in time. Times are hard and they are only set to get harder, but we have already adapted to so much, so what’s a bit more adapting to finish getting through this? I may be retrospective right now in the face of another shift, but because of how we have already had to adapt once to this, and with how this class has enforced adaptation, I’m confident in how we will all be able to move forward undaunted and I look forward to going back to campus with this as just another experience to be learned from. Maybe it’s time for us to write our own Walden based on quarantine showing our change in this time and how we adapt to it?

Sharing our Journey & Perspective on the Final Project in the Midst of a Global Pandemic (Group 4)

The month of March brought along many challenges for students all over the world due to the unprecedented pandemic. The shift to online learning has been a difficult one for many, but communication between students has been easier due to newer technology. Our group, composed of Caroline Crimmins, Christina Interlichia, Maeve Morley, Mariah Branch, and Jose Romero, all worked hard to accomplish a task that many find daunting to begin with: a group project. However, in this case we were faced with another rare and unique obstacle: working on a group project online in the midst of Covid-19.

At the start of our project, we all communicated via Slack, one of the new tools of communication we’ve learned particular to this course, our availability for the first week. We decided to have a group Zoom call where we would begin our first initial stages of planning for the project. Although not all of us were able to attend the Zoom call, the line of communication was still held, because the information from the call would also be transferred and conveyed over Slack as well for those who were not present. Some of our group’s collective strengths throughout this whole process was our transparency in our skill set, each member’s flexibility when finding a time for everyone to meet, and open communication with one another via Slack. 

In order to carefully select a text to analyze that consisted of significant, or interesting changes to note, we each read a chapter of Walden and looked for any unique changes worth analyzing between two manuscript versions. After reading over five chapters, we all shared our findings over Zoom and collaboratively decided that we would be focusing on the chapter “Solitude.” More specifically, we chose to analyze the changes made from Version A to Version B. In his writing process of Walden, Henry David Thoreau added a whole new passage in “Solitude” composed of paragraphs, 5b, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 to Version B which was not originally written in Version A. This noticeable change helped spark a sense of curiosity in us, which led to our interest in trying to interpret and analyze this change made in Walden.

After narrowing down the passage that our group would be focusing on, we delegated individual roles based off of each member’s personal skill sets, and how they could contribute in the most effective and valuable way possible to the project as a whole. Christina and Maeve took the initiative to work on the TEI file and analyze the manuscripts. Throughout this process, there were a few obstacles that the TEI file duo encountered. As Christina expressed, “One obstacle I found was locating where the changes were in Version B. I had to develop a process to narrow it down.” First, she started with a random manuscript page and found a line of text that was relatively legible in her eyes. Next, she opened the plain text version of Walden we saved from class and searched the text for the particular phrase. Depending where it fell, whether before or after the section our group was focusing on, she would detect a new manuscript page closer to where she thought the desired paragraph, 5b, for the TEI file was. She kept repeating this process until she got close to paragraph 5b, and then used the fluid text of Walden to narrow her search even further.

She assumed that once she found paragraph 5b on p. 137 of the Walden manuscript images, it would be smooth sailing from there, but this was not the case. Not only were Thoreau’s manuscript pages messy in terms of handwriting, they were also messy in terms of formatting. On some pages, the paragraphs wouldn’t fall in order from top to bottom. This was noticeably reflective of Thoreau’s individual writing process and technique where he would scribble in various types of mediums wherever he saw fit and was legible in his eyes. The process of locating the correct manuscript images for the TEI file was the most difficult part of the whole endeavor.

As Maeve describes, “l thought the process was fairly straight-forward for me since our class has already had practice with editing a TEI file. However, it still required a lot of patience and attention to detail on my part. I spent most of my effort attempting to read the (quite messy) cursive of Thoreau’s original manuscript page of Version B and then translating it into the TEI file in VS Code.” For her, transcribing the words from the manuscript page into the metalanguage of the TEI file required trial and error. When she thought she had successfully completed her half of the TEI file and went to validate it, there would be an error. This occurred more than once for her. Therefore, it was important to take her time with the process, because something could easily be overlooked. She noted that what she appreciated the most out of this experience was the level of concentration that was required of her: “It was quite easy to immerse myself within this process and become very focused and lose track of time.”

Following the successful completion of the TEI file by Christina and Maeve, Caroline and Mariah worked on the timeline using TimelineJS (see down below). One of the challenges this duo faced was being able to input information into the timeline itself. Once Caroline reached a certain number of slides, the lines stopped, making it slightly more difficult to add information. Again, it was very difficult to locate manuscript pages. Despite these challenges, our team was very supportive and helpful. Christina added a few more changes to the timeline, helping support Caroline and Mariah. After submitting the timeline, we received constructive feedback, which Caroline and Mariah looked into in order to improve our timeline. Thus, this experience of creating the timeline was also composed of trial and error.

Overall, this was a very unique and thought-provoking experience, or more so, a journey. Given the circumstances, we had to maintain all forms of communication via Slack and remain flexible in making ourselves available to meet via Zoom. If the line of communication was to fall and go dark, this experience would have been much more difficult and stressful. Our team was supportive of one another and helped each other clarify anything that was confusing or difficult. In order to relay the individual experiences of his group mates in the most authentic way possible, and to ensure that everyone’s perspectives, frustrations, successes, and scholarly endeavors were communicated, Jose sent out a document so that each member could document their individual journeys throughout the process. Although we regularly met to discuss our plans for the week and share how we were feeling, it was also great to provide testimony of how each member was feeling in the moment that they were completing their work. The main focus behind this final project was to hopefully ensure everyone’s success in this final step of Digital Humanities, and to provide a lifeline to those who might have been struggling to keep their head above the water. We believe that our group truly embodied that community goal.



A record of each group member’s individual perspectives on the revisions we’ve visualized as a group and accompanying discussions of the processes of encoding and creating the timeline, including challenges and obstacles the group faced and overcame.

Saturday, May 2nd (Christina):

One obstacle I found was locating where the changes were in Version B. I had to develop a process to narrow it down. First, I started with a random manuscript page and found a line of text I could read. Then, I opened the plain text version of Walden we saved from class and searched the text for this phrase. Depending where it fell, whether before or after the section we’re focusing on, I would pick a new manuscript page closer to where I thought paragraph 5b was. I kept repeating this process until I got closer to paragraph 5b, and then I used the fluid text of Walden to further narrow my search.

Once I found paragraph 5b on page 137, I thought it would be smooth sailing, but this was not the case. On page 140, the text is a mess. Paragraph 10 is at the top and bottom of the page with paragraphs 7-9 scribbled lightly in the middle in pencil. They are so light that I thought the middle of the page was blank at first. After squinting at my screen for a while and comparing phrases back and forth to the fluid text, I finally recognized what sections of text I was looking at. 

Wednesday, May 6th (Maeve):

Today, I completed the first half of transcribing the first half of manuscript page 139 from Walden’s Version B into a TEI file. Although the process was fairly straight-forward for me since our class has already had practice with editing a TEI file, it still required a lot of patience and attention to detail on my part. I spent most of my effort attempting to read the (quite messy) cursive of Thoreau’s original manuscript page of Version B and translating it into the TEI file in VS Code. As for transcribing the words from the manuscript page into the metalanguage of a TEI file, it required a lot of trial and error, in which I thought I was done, but when I went to validate the file there was still an error. Therefore, it’s important to take your time with this process because something can easily be overlooked. What I appreciated the most out of this experience was the level of concentration I needed for this. It was quite easy to immerse myself within this process and become very focused and lose track of time.

Wednesday, May 6th (Mariah):

Today, I decided to look for the manuscript pages that correlated with the sections that we decided to look at. Unfortunately, I did not look at this document first so I had been using a similar method to Christina’s to find the corresponding manuscript pages when I really could have just read this and found where paragraph 5b began. I figured that it would make most sense to compare these images across Versions A and B in the timeline to highlight Thoreau’s changes. I think I will try to see what the additions that Thoreau made to his writing does for the overall message of “Solitude.” I think it will also be interesting to see how the addition of sections 5b, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 connect with the rest of Thoreau’s argument. 

Monday, May 11th (Caroline):

One problem that I faced was inputting information into the timeline. Once I reached a certain number of slides, the lines stopped making it slightly more difficult to add information. Additionally, it was very difficult to locate manuscript pages. 

Tuesday, May 12th (Caroline):

Maeve and I had a zoom call and we figured out the correct link for embedding the timeline.