Revisions in “Higher Laws,” a Section of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden

Group 5 – Alyssa Harrington, Danielle Crowley, Madison Jackson, Mitchell Pace, and Noah Lieberman

For our revision timeline, we selected the “Higher Laws” chapter of Walden. This chapter, containing much of Thoreau’s ideology and attitude towards nature, is about the titular “Higher Laws” which govern humanity to a greater degree than societally codified ones. Thoreau proposes to exist above those made by the legal system and government. The chapter serves as a particularly good example for understanding Thoreau’s philosophy as it is dense with his thoughts on the forces compelling mankind as we exist in nature. Throughout the revisions made in the multiple versions of Walden that Thoreau made, “Higher Laws” remained very unchanged until very late versions of the manuscript. With that in mind, what few revisions we can see within his manuscripts are omitted in his final draft.

The lack of revision within this chapter is interesting because it demonstrates the consistency with which Thoreau remained dedicated to the wisdom contained in these passages. With exception to vocabulary used, most of the general ideas Thoreau pushes forward are the same in all versions. This idea shows Thoreaus commitment to the “Higher Laws” that he chooses to follow.

While the majority of this chapter revolves around Thoreau’s own set of rules that he uses to govern himself, there is an interesting development that is made during his time in the wilderness can be observed. In this section of the text, Thoreau comments on his sanity and the state of his mental wellbeing. While writing about his experiences during his prolonged time in isolation, Thoreau discusses the primal and animalistic thoughts he had toward his environment. As he adds to his line, in pencil, “Once or Twice, however, while I lived at the pond, I found myself ranging the woods, like a half-starved hound, with a strange abandonment, seeking some kind of venison which I might devour, and no morsel could have been too savage for me”. These lines are a notable revision, in very stark contrast with the language Thoreau otherwise uses to describe his time at Walden Pond. By comparison to the ordinarily serene and pastoral imagery his language conveys when writing about his connection with the land, these lines are brutal and wild. We are conscious of an animal in us, which awakens in proportion as our higher nature slumbers. “It is reptile and sensual, and perhaps cannot be wholly expelled; like the worms which, even in life and health, occupy our bodies. Possibly we may withdraw from it, but never change its nature.” The way Thoreau describes these animal-like urges is very different from the way he describes his guilt and concerns over consumption of animal products. In his final draft he writes, “I have found repeatedly, of late years, that I cannot fish without falling a little in self-respect”. By comparing these lines, our timeline illustrates a certain change of character in Thoreau. In spending time immersed in nature, he becomes more sensitive and feels more toward the living environment around him. The line, “But practically I am only half-converted by my own arguments as I still fish,” displays this shift in character best as it only appears in version A of the chapter’s seventh paragraph. As time goes on and more revisions are made, it seems as though he convinces himself more and more.

We also see examples of Thoreau’s seemingly deteriorating mental health in version E, paragraph one in “Higher Laws,” which is the first place within the chapter where we see significant revision. A complete rewrite of the paragraph is present where Thoreau details another example of his thinking during his immersion in nature. Thoreau writes: “not that I was hungry, but for the wilderness which he represented”. This line follows the description of the beaver crossing in front of Thoreau on his walk home. In this line, it seems as if Thoreau did not want the reader to think of him as a savage and wanted to provide justification – Thoreau was so immersed in Nature at this point in the text he wanted to be a part of it as much as possible. He ends the portion of revisions by noting, “I love the wild not less than the good”. This revision is important because of the way it further demonstrates the mental effects Thoreau’s time at Walden Pond is having on him. As a fluid text, we gain insight into the changes in the man through changes in the text.

Thoreau also changes the use of first person to the use of third person when he is revising this chapter of the manuscript. During his first drafts, Thoreau writes of these “Higher Laws” as they apply to himself and is daily life, as these “laws” are a personal code for Thoreau alone. Later in the revisions, he changes this by changing the use of “I” to the use of “he”. By doing this, Thoreau applies that his “Higher Laws” should be used in a more general sense, applying them to everyone rather than just himself. With this revisions, one can speculate that Thoreau, through his time in the woods, spent a lot of time thinking about how things ought to be and began to feel that these “Higher Laws” he has been using to govern himself are the very ones that should govern all. These are interesting revisions Thoreau makes and they reveal that Thoreau obeys this particular set of “Higher Laws” that he developed and is looking to make them more common throughout society.

Overall, what is profound about looking at “Higher Laws” is just how much one can learn by looking at the many revisions Thoreau made to Walden over the years and by looking at the way in which he made those revisions. In analyzing the text and understanding its fluidity in a developmental context, we can track, revision by revision, the ways in which the author of that text develops themself. Through the process of tracking revision, the human element of the humanities is revealed to us. The changes and developments we undergo as people are reflected within the things we create over time. It’s a profound thing that technology has given us to be ability to witness those stories playing out over the course of a human life and to see the ways our favorite authors change through their work. These revisions give us a deeper context for understanding the feelings, progress, and formation of ideology that Thoreau underwent in his lifetime.

Following changes within Walden, we can see Thoreau’s own advice for living in action, “Live in each season as it passes; breath the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” Henry David Thoreau’s journey of self discovery being preserved in this way for his readers to track and appreciate is something which gives the text a valuable lesson even greater than those contained within its final draft. Walden as a fluid text shows us that our past experiences do not define us. In trying to do what is best and right for the world around us, we learn things which change our perspective and our values. Living in the moment and staying fluid ourselves is the right way to live. Through revision of our ideas and ourselves, we can all change for the better.

Walden in Real Life

Picture this: You’re a college student going into your second semester of sophomore year. You’ve registered for a few different 300-level English classes, all fulfilling different requirements. You’re excited to take an English class where you don’t read all eighteenth-century literature, because how many of those texts can you actually read before it gets a little old? You look at the required materials for your Digital Humanities class and one of the books is titled “Walden.” You have no idea what this means… is it a person? place? idea? You soon find out that it is the name of a pond surrounding the home of where the author of the book lives in semi-isolation.

Going into ENGL 340 where much of the course’s focus is on Walden, I thought it was quite unrealistic to live in the woods in a small cabin, being almost completely self-sufficient. Picturing myself in this situation, I’m sure I would be able to manage growing and preparing food to keep me alive, and finding some activities to keep me entertained. However, knowing myself and I rely on socializing to keep me busy, I could only do this for so long before I would become bored and get in my own head from feeling overwhelmingly alone with my thoughts. Thankfully, this was something that someone else did and not me. To each their own, right?

The last day of class before Spring Break, I was feeling extremely unmotivated and was considering not going to class, but I chose to go anyway. Little did I know, that would be the last day of ENGL 340 I would go to, but not because of my own choices. I think a lot of my other peers in the class were feeling the same lack of motivation that I was, seeing how there were few students in attendance. Towards the end of class, I got Twitter notification on my phone with a headline somewhere along the lines of “Governor Cuomo says that all SUNY schools will learn remotely for the rest of the school year.” I kept this to myself as I was still in shock that this could actually be real. About a minute later, one of my classmates, Leila, announced to the class the same thing that I had just seen.

Everyone in the class started asking questions out loud like “Is this actually real?” or “I live in Long Island, how am I just supposed to pack up and leave?” At the time, we didn’t actually know if the school would send us all home. I had some hope that we might be able to stay in the dorms and do our work there and just not go to class. The entire rest of the day was chaotic. Staff members didn’t know what was going on and there were so many rumors going on, I didn’t know what to believe. As an RA myself, I had concerned residents asking me what was actually going on and what they were supposed to do. I had to tell them that I didn’t know myself and that we would have to wait to receive word from the school about the next steps.

Eventually, it seemed like the school had reached a settled plan that students could go home for Spring Break and return if they notified their Area or Residence Director that they planned on coming back. There were also the options to stay at school during the break and for the rest of the semester or to go home completely. I planned on either staying for break with my friends who lived far away and didn’t want to travel back and forth, or to go home and return to school after break. Either way, I was just relieved at the time that I wouldn’t have to live at home and I could come back to school and still spend time with my friends, even if we couldn’t attend classes or have a normal rest of the semester.

To my surprise, when I was home at the beginning of break, I received an email saying I had to return to school, gather my belongings, and move out of my dorm room completely. I immediately texted my friends wondering if they saw it, too. A few days later, I drove back to Geneseo, moved out of my room, and said goodbye to my few friends and fellow staff members in my building. I had no idea that my life for the next few months would turn into a living example of what I had read about in Walden.

I guess what I can say I learned from all this is to “never say never,” because truly anything can happen. Also, I think it’s an important lesson to not believe everything you hear, because the news makes mistakes, too and rumors can spread quickly, especially in a time like this. I never thought that such a unique situation as Thoreau’s would ever become a reality I would live myself, but now I can appreciate Walden in my own new way. In the end, being quarantined wasn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, but it has had a significant impact on the way I view life and even the ‘humanities’ as we have talked about the various meanings of this concept in class. At then end of the day, I guess it’s pretty cool that I got to live out my own 2-month-long episode (and counting) of one of my favorite shows: The Twilight Zone !

Google’s Newest Employee?

As I was scrolling on the app TikTok, for what may or may not have been the third time today, a particular video caught my attention. The opening line of the video was,

This is how you get a job at Google, using Google Foobar, their secret hiring challenge.

– @thomaspwang on TikTok

Instantly, I was hooked. However, there were a few questions running through my mind: What is Google Foobar? What is the challenge? Do they actually hire people this way?

The video continued on to show how you can access Google Foobar. You begin by simply searching “c++ move semantics” in Chrome. After about 30 seconds (give or take), a bar should appear at the top of your window that says, “Curious developers are known to seek interesting problems. Solve one from Google?” You are also given three options involving how you want to proceed – “I want to play”, “No thanks”, or “Don’t show me this again”. For reference, this is what my window looked like after following these steps.

My invitation to the Google Foobar challenge.

Before continuing on, I wanted to do some more background research about the challenge and whether or not players were actually employed after completing it.

Quickly, I learned that Google typically only gives out the challenge invitation to special developers… and I am not a developer by any means (thanks for the hack, TikTok!). Google finds these developers by watching their search history for programming-related words and problems. If the user decides that they want to proceed, selecting “I want to play” causes a command line like interface to appear in a new tab. After typing the command “request” to get started, you will receive coding/programming questions in your Foobar command line folder that you must solve. You are able to answer these questions and submit your solutions in either JAVA or Python (whichever you prefer). I will spare the details of each level, but there are five levels that the player must complete successfully in order to complete the Foobar challenge overall.

Upon completing the Google Foobar challenge, you are asked for contact details, and will receive an invitation for an interview. If you pass the interview, congrats! You are now (most likely) a Google employee. So yes, people often are hired from this challenge. As I mentioned before, this is because those who partake in the Foobar challenge are usually directly invited by Google. Therefore, if you are just the average person like myself using a roundabout way to access it, you probably will not see yourself in the Googleplex any time soon. But it’s worth a shot!

All in all, I would still love to try the Google Foobar challenge someday, but I am nowhere near ready to (yet). Although, who knows – maybe I could hone the Python skills I learned in ENGL 340 in the future and become Google’s newest employee.

Working Collaboratively, Apart

I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t quite sure how working on a group project without being able to meet with your group in person was going to work. However, I was presently surprised with how well everyone was able to work and how productive the tools we had at our disposal were.

I’m new to GitHub and the command line of my computer. These tools were invaluable when working on this group project and they are very powerful in terms of what they can do. Being able to pull changes from the master branch on Dr. Schacht’s repository, editing the files, and then pushing them back to Github to merge the changes was actually kind of a fun process to complete and a highly effective one.

I think in general I have learned throughout this course that there are very few limits to the things Technology can do. I think I particularly liked this course and the work we did in it because it was process-based. I learned the steps to a sequence and did them over and over – for someone who craves routine as I do, this was rather enjoyable to complete. On top of that, given the current status of the world, being able to push Github journal files every week or so gave a sense normalcy to everyday life.

Throughout this semester, we spent a lot of time talking about the things technology can do. Little did we know that by the end of it, we would be relying on technology as heavily as are now. Using Zoom to meet with our groups, collaborating on TEI files, working in Google Drive to make edits to the timeline and the blog post, each group was able to complete their project. Technology can just do so many amazing things and connect people from where ever they are to complete something they can be proud of.

While getting started on this process was a rocky start I’m sure for some groups, the transition to working solely online, and then learning how to work together on a goal from different places was hard to do, I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish. Finals are stressful, but I think, despite the workload that this project was, I was able to relax while completing this project because the processes were the same in the TEI file and the Timeline. There were steps you follow to complete the Timeline and the tags in the TEI file don’t change, the coding language doesn’t change, so it felt more straight forward than other final exam group project have been.

Working with a group during a period of social distancing has certainly been a learning curve for me and hasn’t always been the easiest thing to do, but being able to get closer to technology and see all the amazing things it can do has been the most enjoyable part of this process. Technology can do anything you can put your mind to at this point, you just have to take the time to learn it. This course has given me the platform to learn a lot more about what my computer can do and it has been an enjoyable one for those purposes. I look forward to learning more about the different things my computer can do and what else I can do with technology to work on things with a variety of different people from the comfort of my own home.

Stay safe everyone, good luck on finals, and cheers to our seniors.

“Social” versus “Physical” Distancing

While stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve come across multiple news articles claiming that calls for “social distancing” have been sending the wrong message to people. They claim “physical distancing” would be a much more accurate term to be using.

These articles make a good point. Does physically standing six feet away from other people have to mean being anti-social? True, restaurants and recreational meeting places are closed down; but does this necessarily mean that we have to close ourselves off, too, when we live in a technologically-driven society that allows for human connection and communication through virtual means? I would argue that it is possible to be physically distant without being socially distant, just as it is possible to be socially distant without being physically distant. (A sentiment Thoreau echoes in the chapter “Solitude”: “We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers.”)

While I was reading these articles, I couldn’t help thinking back to Walden, and what Henry David Thoreau has to say about isolation and socialization. For example, take a look at this quote from the chapter “Former Inhabitants; and Winter Visitors”:

“Still grows the vivacious lilac a generation after the door and lintel and the sill are gone, unfolding its sweet-scented flowers each spring, to be plucked by the musing traveller; planted and tended once by children’s hands, in front-yard plots,—now standing by wall-sides in retired pastures, and giving place to new-rising forests;—the last of that stirp, sole survivor of that family. Little did the dusky children think that the puny slip with its two eyes only, which they stuck in the ground in the shadow of the house and daily watered, would root itself so, and outlive them and house itself in the rear that shaded it, and grown man’s garden and orchard, and tell their story faintly to the lone wanderer a half century after they had grown up and died,—blossoming as fair, and smelling as sweet, as in that first spring. I mark its still tender, civil, cheerful, lilac colors.”

The above passage reflects on the fact that people often forget that their physical presence is not necessary in order to influence their environment and surrounding ecosystem–or, in the case of this blog post, their society. Physical distance, or even altogether physical absence, does not have to equal social absence. Even from far away, even from their computer screens, people have been finding innovative ways to influence their world in surprising, powerful ways. We are seeing this happen now, as things like remote learning, digital literature, and virtual communication step up to the plate to make up for in-person interaction. Of course, that’s not to say this transition has been easy on any of us. It hasn’t. Physical distancing does not have to eliminate socialization, but it certainly does discourage it and make it more difficult to achieve. Nonetheless, I think we can count ourselves comparatively lucky when considering that, centuries ago during past pandemics, things like online education, literature, and communication would not have been available to us whatsoever during a widespread lock-down situation.

On a final note, if there is one thing I have learned from studying the drafts and revision processes that Thoreau went through in writing Walden, it is that precision and accuracy matter when it comes to how we use language. As Thoreau knew all too well, the nuances of language are subtle yet powerful. On face value, “physical distancing” and “social distancing” might seem like synonyms; and perhaps they are. But even synonyms differ in connotation and meaning. These slight variations are what impact how language is interpreted by listeners/readers/language users. For this reason, taking a moment to reflect on the difference between “physical” and “social” distancing is worthwhile. The difference between the two may be a fine line indeed, but in the end it is all the difference to us as we power through this pandemic.

TikTok And It’s Clapbacks To Misogyny

By Anne Baranello

If you’re anyone who’s anyone, you’ve heard of TikTok – the social media app that consists of videos ranging from 15 seconds to a minute, using a rotation of sounds to go along with the videos. It’s slightly akin to the previously popular app Vine, which consisted of 6-second videos, forcing the users to be creative and resourceful with their content. 

Tiktok as a concept has garnered both criticism and acclaim for its concept – some feel that it is a cheap ripoff of Vine, and others (namely me) feel that TikTok is a new and improved version of Vine – the concepts are strikingly similar, and yet the content is so much more entertaining and creative. What I like about this app is that the videos are based around the sounds – and not the other way around. Users take edited sounds – say, an excerpt of a song, or the audio from a movie – and create videos with jokes or messages that take the sound out of its original context. There are obviously trends of which sounds are popular, which format of videos are popular, and which dances are all the rage, but users are constantly improving and advancing the trend – sometimes, a trend gets to the point where if you had no prior awareness and context of the trend itself and specific cultural knowledge, there’s no chance of you understanding it. But beneath the energetic dances and niche comedy, there’s a more conscious shift emerging. Tiktok is becoming a platform for social change – specifically feminism and the fight against misogyny. 

Its not a new thing – not for the last couple of centuries – that women have been becoming entirely more vocal about misogyny and it’s place in everyday life/conversation, and on the internet. The internet itself gives anyone with access a platform to vocalize their opinions, and oftentimes those opinions don’t fall in the favor of women, so instead of ‘canceling’ said person and moving on, Gen Z and Millenials on TikTok have begun calling these people out and using satirical phrases to shut them down. The most popular term/phrase is “wallet(s)” (referring to misogynistic, sexist, racist, privileged men). A comment calling out a misogynistic post would normally sound something like this “aw, is the wallet upset? go build me a coffee table, it’s what you do best”. Variations of ‘wallets’ is ‘toolboxes’, ‘hammer’, and so on. This phrase is used to combat the widespread trend of calling women “dishwashers” and comments such as “go make me a sandwich”. These posts are a kind of satirical misandry – the commenters don’t genuinely support misandry, but they’re giving misogynists a taste of their own medicine. There was no distinct post that began this trend – it began silently, started small, and then suddenly everyone (both female and male) began using these terms to call out latent and internalized misogyny found within Tiktok. I find this shift in the language of the internet so interesting because women/activists are no longer entertaining the misogyny by getting upset and giving the original poster a reaction. Instead, women are casually calling out misogyny in a manner that invalidates the opposing opinion, by turning the tables. This movement has even coined the phrase “ok wallet”, alluding to the infamous phrase “ok boomer”. It is used with the same dismissive manner and effectively disarms the original argument. Just as women have been objectified for centuries, women are now objectifying men.  

I personally am conflicted about this new movement. Part of me wants to shout, “Yes!!! Give them a taste of their own medicine! Fire back!” And another part of me doesn’t like the fact that this trend is almost condoning misandry – neither side is good. However, it’s refreshing to see people fighting back against the internalized misogyny that’s an intricate facet of our society.

Writing is NOT Set in Stone

As a result of ENGL 340 (as well as a course I have taken previously, ENGL 425: Recovering Marginalized Texts), I have realized that writing is a work in progress. As a writer myself, I am overly critical of myself. I write poems just to leave them in the notes app on my phone or in a notebook that sits on the shelf, gathering dust. I write my poetry all in one shot and I never really come back to it, but I have learned through this course that that is not how I should be writing. Even with my papers, (I shouldn’t, but) I write them all in one go, never making any additions or seeking out new information afterwards that will help my arguments. This is my biggest mistake as a writer and is probably why I am never fully satisfied with my writing.

In our work with fluid texts like Walden, I have realized how important it is review and edit what I have already written even if it is considered “complete.” This course has taught me that, technically, no body of writing should be called “complete” because it can always be better and it can always be altered. There are seven versions of Thoreau’s Walden that came before the final version that is so highly regarded by many, proving that greatness takes time. Though this course, I have also realized that this was the overall point of a course I took during Fall 2019 called Recovering Marginalized Texts. In that course, we learned about the expectations, strifes, and processes of an editor when recovering “lost” texts. The course highlighted the changes that these editors would make to these outdated texts to make them palatable for modern readers. More importantly, we explored why editors would make the decisions that they did while leaving other parts of the text as is. We even learned how to edit texts on our own, learning skills like being able to determine what background information was important to include. In a way, I feel that ENGL 340 and ENGL 425 oddly work hand in hand to highlight the importance of a fluid text as the many changes that occur emphasize writing as a process.

The difference between ENGL 340 and ENGL 425 is definitely the use of technology in ENGL 340 to make this process easier. Prior to taking this course, I had some experience with HTML and have always been interesting in coding as you can take some words with <> to make something amazing. I really enjoyed seeing the original manuscript for Walden as well as transcribing some of the text using metalanguage. In ENGL 425, we did some transcription, but had to write down the transcriptions by hand. I feel that using a TEI file is a more effective way to track the changes in a text that ends up being clear and descriptive. Although computing takes away a bit of the uncertainty and lack of guidelines that I crave, I think that it is a great way to visualize what makes a piece of writing as well as how it can be customized. For sure, I will use VS Code beyond this course to write notes and maybe even my poetry because I like the way I can easily format, edit, and publish my work that can be accessed from anywhere once published.

I feel that the sudden educational changes that we had to make campus-wide due to COVID-19 proves how technology = accessibility. Whereas my other professors had to scramble to convert their courses to an online-friendly version, the transition with ENGL 340 was the smoothest given that many of the tools and resources we use were already online. I feel like I am just rambling now, but I really want to emphasize that although I fell behind in this course, it was my absolute favorite from the beginning. It became apparent that combining English with technology made more sense than ever before. While other professors denied the legitimacy of online texts and computers in general, this course welcomes nontraditional methods. And for that I am grateful because, again, it taught me that writing is not set in stone (even if it is in print): a piece of writing can be revisited, revised, and rewritten again and again and again and there is nothing wrong with that.

The Relationship Between Language and Computing

In chapter 3 of The Information, Gleick discusses how during the 16th century, people had not come to a consensus on the spellings of words. He uses the example of a 1591 pamphlet where “the word cony (rabbit) appeared variously as conny, conye, conie, connie, coni, cuny, cunny, and cunnie…Others spelled it differently” (55). I found that although there were nine different spellings of one word, the author still spelled it with the letter ‘C’. To me, this begs the question: Who is to say that cony is not spelled with a ‘K’?

This led me to think about English as a discipline. I have always said that English is an easy subject because you can argue anything, as long as you have sufficient proof to convince your audience. As Gleick reminds us, historically, “language did not function as a storehouse of words, from which users could summon the correct items, preformed. On the contrary, words were fugitive, on the fly, expected to vanish again thereafter” (55). I feel that this version of language, that is temporary and ever-changing, lines up with my thoughts about English more than contemporary ideals. I think this way because whether you write a sentence that says “I buy a pair of pears every week,” but you wrote “I by a pear of pairs every weak” instead you still understand the message. At the same time, I found it surprising that there were not any grammar rules and regulations prior due to the fact that the numerous spellings of a single word could possibly be confused for completely different words. What comes to mind is the difference between “red” and “read” where the spelling could affect a reader’s understanding of the text. As time goes on, words become more permanent as stories are no longer shared solely orally.

Gleick asserts that “the availability – the solidity – of the printed book inspired a sense that the written word should be a certain way, that one form was right and others wrong” (55). I could not help but think about how the computer combines the uncertainty of words prior to print as well as the certainty that these grammar rules bring. What I mean is: digital texts are always subject to editing thus making them less certain, but many aspects of the computer prevent the same fluidity that oral tradition provides. For example, autocorrect will put that little squiggle under words that it does not recognize, signifying that it has been programmed to determine what is right from wrong. At the same time, the person who programmed the autocorrect had to spell all their tags correctly and make sure they are in the right place or the computer is literally unable to “read” it, thus incapable of carrying out the command. The difference between and could change the entirety of whatever you are working on. Meanwhile, if I spell something wrong in a paper, my professor will still understand what I meant I would just be incorrect.

There are definitely certain expectations in regards to spelling and grammar in any field. However, I feel that the difference is in the penalties for ignoring these ideals. In the humanities, communication is more based on the message rather than the details of the message. At the same time, computing is based on the details of the message, how the message will be conveyed. Due to these parameters, I think that the solidity of language is more important for computing as the use of incorrect spelling will greatly change the results of a project. Considering that, I believe the humanities is more fluid and forgiving (despite the adoption of these guidelines) because my message will be understood despite the misspellings.

My New Inspiration with the Help of a TEI File in ENGL 340

I was excited, yet very nervous when I signed up to take this course; mainly because computer technology was not one of my strengths. Yet, the sound advice from American author Neal Donald Walsch resonated with me, gently reminding that “life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” And, so I took his advice that I had already carried with me into college and decided to give Digital Humanities a shot. Nearing the end of this semester along with this course, my class was given an assignment to edit our own TEI files. Little did I know that I would find myself enjoying it and have this new experience inspire my self-confidence as a student and an individual.

Before I explain how editing our own TEI files compelled this newfound sense of inspiration in me, it’s important to explain what this process is. As we’ve grown up reading, we’ve become familiar with the various words or terms to describe a given piece of text. For instance, a book is composed of a title with a series of chapters each with their own chapter headings. This is the terminology we used to classify texts. Through this course I’ve come to learn that this set of terminology represents a form of metalanguage, a kind of ‘specialized vocabulary’ in the digital humanities world. TEI, or Text Encoding Initiative, is a form of metalanguage. To help broaden this understanding it might be best to compare TEI to HTML which individuals may be more familiar with, and serves as yet another form of metalanguage. HTML, or Hypertext Markup Language, enables web browsers such as Safari and Chrome to ‘deliver a properly formatted document to your device screen.’ This is what we’re used to seeing on a daily basis when we browse the web. However, unlike HTML, TEI is not involved in formatting. Instead, its primary purpose is to make statements about a text. One use of TEI, which I practiced doing in my assignment, was to translate the normalcy of what we see of a certain text (i.e. titles, chapters, paragraphs) into a language of symbols.

In my assignment, I translated a manuscript page from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden which consisted of various markups and revisions on his part, and translated the words into a TEI file consisting of various symbols representing this new form of metalanguage, and matching the text itself. This experience for me at first was a struggle because I had to remain frustratingly patient throughout the whole process. For me personally, I compared this experience to the actual means of translating the language we speak into a different language in order for the person on the receiving end to understand exactly what we are trying to tell them. TEI essentially does the same thing; it involves the translation of one language into a whole different new language; and making a mistake, no matter how little, involves the potential loss of translation and understanding. I found that despite the intense level of patience and attention to detail this assignment required of me, I found myself thoroughly immersed within this new knowledge that had never been available to me previously before this class. With this experience and new mindset uncovered as a result, I’ve come not only to share a deeper, more meaningful appreciation with ENGL 340 as a whole, but also have grown in self-confidence as a student and individual.

My biggest fault coming into this course was that I already assumed and made up my mind that anything to do with computer technology was not meant for me. This misconception unfortunately follows students other than myself, especially when it comes to college and choosing a major. Many of us forget that college is a time for new experiences, individual growth, trial and error, successes and failures, pursuing our passions and areas of interests, but also discovering new ones too. These all help shape me into the person I will be at the end of my four years at SUNY Geneseo.

This particular assignment and Digital Humanities as a whole have reminded me of this case yet again. Before taking this course, I never knew what a TEI file was, or ever imagined myself enjoying the material in this course as much as I do now. The takeaway from this blog post is this: Never stop exploring. Never stop testing the limits of your comfort zones. Even if Digital Humanities is not the class that will help inspire you to develop a new perspective on life, I encourage whoever reads this to try something new. It never hurts, and good things will come out of it, just like my journey throughout this course. Who knows? Something as simple as editing a TEI can change your perspective on life.

Taking the Good Out of a Bad Situation

As we sit hunkered in our homes, losing track of the days, it might seem like this an awful and depressing time. You may be thinking “There’s only so much Netflix I can watch before I go insane.” As humans, we need to socialize and explore our surroundings.

As I was re-reading Walden thinking about what exactly it was I wanted to write about, I came across the chapter called “Solitude.” In paragraph 5, Thoreau discusses… well… the idea of solitude. The few lines that really stood out to me were when he states:

“How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way? This which you put seems to me not to be the most important question. What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary?” (Walden, 16)

In these few lines, I was able to take away a bunch of ideas, especially while living in the world right now. What I was able to extract from these lines was not ideas about solitude and loneliness, but the opposite of that. No matter the distance between us, we should not lose our relationships with people. Although we are required to stay physically distant, our emotional connections should not suffer.

With everyone in a bad situation, there is always a bright side. To me, this bright side is that as a human race, it seems like we are closer than ever. All of us have been made to reflect on things we take for granted. In an effort to stay close and connected with the most important people in our lives, we have all come up with our own creative ways to express our love for one another.

For example, every Easter, my grandparents host brunch with everyone in the family. My grandfather makes a really amazing dish (S.O.S) that all the grandkids look forward to, my sister especially. They waited until the last possible second before cancelling it this year, in hopes that things might turn around. My grandpa, heartbroken about brunch being nonexistent this year, decided to make and deliver his S.O.S, in a safe and socially distant way. Even though we all weren’t together physically, my grandpa made Easter Sunday feel a little bit more normal than it would have been without the food. His effort to keep tradition alive by thinking outside of the box, inspired everyone to get into a Zoom call, while eating their S.O.S. For example, every Easter, my grandparents host brunch with everyone in the family. My grandfather makes a really amazing dish (S.O.S) that all the grandkids look forward to, my sister especially. They waited until the last possible second before cancelling it this year, in hopes that things might turn around. My grandpa, heartbroken about brunch being nonexistent this year, decided to make and deliver his S.O.S, in a safe and socially distant way. Even though we all weren’t together physically, my grandpa made Easter Sunday feel a little bit more normal than it would have been without the food. His effort to keep tradition alive by thinking outside of the box, inspired everyone to get into a Zoom call, while eating their S.O.S. In the Zoom call, me and my sister noticed the looks of sadness still on my grandparents face. So we decided to do something special for them. I wrote a parody of ABBA’s S.O.S song, and replaced the lyrics pertaining to our family’s S.OS. Together with my sister, we shot a music video and sent it to my grandparents. Hearing them laugh and making them happy meant the world to us.

Who knows how long this quarantine is going to last. This is not a time to shut yourself off from everyone. Stay connected, do whatever it takes to stay sane, while practicing social distancing of course. Stay safe everyone!