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.

Timeline: 

Journal:

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.

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