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. 

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