The Fluid Nature of Literature

Friday, March 01, 2024

Before the course began, I thought of literature as something concrete. Literature is stuff everyone can agree on; Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Golding, Tolkien. They are incredible and fantastic stories of characters with lives far removed for the ordinary person’s. I also thought that literature was completely separate from modernity. You can analyze and interpret a novel without a laptop or phone. These things were written without such things, so why would those things add to the experience? To me, the only use would be easy access to Google so you can understand the allusion the author made.

I was wrong about these two thoughts, of course. My first introduction to literature as something not as solid of an answer actually came last semester, in a class where I learned about African Literature. In that class, I learned that literature, itself, isn’t as clear cut. A lot of different things can be literature, but the type of things we often learn of are classic lit and are, more often than not, stories by white men. Of course, they are classics for a reason; they are incredibly well written stories that can have huge influence on media and society. However, it is only one perspective. Learning about literature is understanding that there are many different kinds of people who deserve to have their stories told, and more often than not, those stories are overshadowed. The class broadened my horizons, and helped me better in both this class as well as my second major in Political Science.

When it came to literature and modernity, I still beieved they couldn’t be connected. This was until we learned about the manuscripts of Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Something written decades ago and something probably very overlooked was now at my disposal because of the internet. Without the internet, a lot of people wouldn’t know about or care about the manuscripts. This makes sense because literature isn’t often about how it was written but more the final product. But this manuscript opened my eyes to see that it can be just as fascinating as the finished product. reading manuscripts gives you a better understanding of the author than the work itself ever could. You see where they messed up, erased, crossed out, and rearranged.

Literature is not simple. There is a reason we study it. I now see where I was limited in my thinking. There is much fluidity in the definition of literature. There is so much that can be learned from it, it’s creation and manuscripts, it’s authors, and how it came to reach the readers to today. There is more than just the one persective we as students see and read in schools, and there is much more to it than just the novel itself. I now understand where I was incorrect.

It All Started With a Blank Terminal Window…

From the start of the semester, I was completely at loss with the idea of how to connect literature with technology and I never thought that something like this would interest me in so many ways. Being introduced to Visual Studio Code was something extremely new and if you were to ask me what VS Code was, just two months ago, I would not know how to respond. Should I thank my english concentration for leading me in the direction to get this opportunity of a new digital world I was so unfamiliar about? What is a Terminal window? Who is Henry David Thoreau? Not only have I learned so much in the past couple weeks, but I have been able to help others in class along my journey of digital learning as well.

Learning what a terminal window was, like gibberish to me. However, I learned that a terminal is a way you can access anything on your computer. Isn’t that awesome? There were multiple steps in the process of creating my first own journal file but I will forever be grateful that I was introduced to this type of ability. I not only use VS Code for my digital humanities class, however I now use it for multiple of my classes which is easier for me to keep my thoughts and ideas organized throughout the semester. Terminal almost acts as an easy way to access your notes that you want to jot down for the day. Being that you only have to type in ./ into your terminal to create a whole file with a date and title without having to do it yourself! I never knew things could get this easy. Terminal and VS Code are very important to me in ways that terminal allows you to use text-based commands which makes it easy for you to interact with your computer instead of navigating through it, trying to find a specific thing you are looking for. Additionally, I learned that instead of calling my dad for issues that I’m having on my computer I can just access my terminal window! Terminal is a place you can go to when issues arise and you are unsure of how to fix them. It allows you to troubleshoot problems effectively along with many tools to debug your computer that you can find through the command line. I’m confident in saying that I am no longer intimidated by Terminal, however I am excited to learn new things about it every day.

It’s safe to say that I am still new to everything involving technology but I continue to learn new things everyday given the opportunitires I have in my Digital Humanities course. Being in this course gave me the opportunities to attend Suny Geneseo’s annual Duglass Day! Here, I was educated on the importance of digital learning. The Douglass Day experience created a base and also gave me a bigger leap in a different side of digital learning that I was completely unfamiliar with. I am grateful to say that this opportunity was something I will never regret being that I learned many things about not only transcription but also Douglass himself. You may ask what is Douglass Day is about? The whole day consisted of history, music and transcription where everyone was given the opportunity to help transcribe correspondence of Douglass in the collection of the Library of Congress. A few things that I thought impacted me on this day was the fact that I never was really taught cursive in schools which made it a bit difficult for me to transcribe some of the documents. However, being that I was never taught cursive, this whole experience was more enjoyable and challenging for me.

Who is Henry David Thoreau you may ask? He was an American philosopher, poet and political activist who was famous for his work “Walden”. In 1845 Thoreau built a house near the shore of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. This is where he finished a draft of his first book and began his second book, Walden. Thoreau continued to write his book and finally published it in 1854. For Someone who writes all about problems in the world of being a human being, Thoreau is a very impactful writer that many people are able to connect to. I learned a lot about Thoreau throughout this course so far and I hope to continue to learn about him and all his accomplishments more in the semester.

Anti-technological Attitudes in the Digital Age

Walden and the Ironic Outcomes of a Digital Literature Course

So far this course has been very computer focused. This is to be expected since it’s a course on the modern digital avenues of studying literature, and the variety of applications of code and computing to literature study have been continually surprising and impressing me. More on this later. Despite this, this semester I have found myself ironically increasingly drifting away from technology use the longer the course goes on. I have been spending less time on my phone, making an effort to see friends in person instead of texting or calling, and have been more and more aware of how pervasive technology is in my every day life. I’ve found joy in writing letters to my friends and the interaction without the use of smartphones or computers feels more genuine to me despite the fact that letters take longer to arrive than texts. This is certainly not a direct result of our class, but it’s funny to me that this attitude towards technology is developing while taking a very computer forward course. This is a view that I think originally developed while reading Walden for the first time. In the Fall of 2023, I attempted to read Walden for my own personal enjoyment, but didn’t have the time or memory span to finish it. Despite not finishing it, I think part of Thoreau’s writing influenced me away from the consumerism and focus on productivity that pervades modern society. I have since began phasing technology use out of my life as much as possible, and so far the reading of Walden in class has only reinforced that. I have no plans to live in the woods any time soon, but I have been swayed by some of Thoreau’s thoughts on living simply and virtuously.

A Reluctant Respect for Coding

Despite my newfound aversion to technology, I am impressed with the digital avenues of literature study. I never would have thought that the humanities utilized coding in this way, but I can appreciate the potential uses for encoding texts in a way that can be read and analyzed by a machine. Learning about coding in the humanities and coding in biology has led me to similar attitudes; I am not a fan of doing it, but I appreciate the need for it and the potential positives of developing it as a field. The development of coding languages for encoding literature at first seemed a little pointless to me; I would have been inclined to agree with the question that someone asked in class “If you’re going through all the trouble to encode all the lines of text in order to count them all, can’t you just use that time to count all the lines of text instead?” Although we haven’t gotten too far into the specific uses of TEI yet, the encoding of the Walden manuscript is a very detailed and undeniably impressive project that forces me to admit that even if I don’t want to be the one doing it, it is useful and cool to be able to describe text that way. For the rest of the class, I’ll try to keep this respect and potentially even enjoy the opportunity to code literature.

Learning in the Digital Age

The Digital Age

  • Although digital learning and literature is a fairly new concept in the world of education, this course has given me the knowledge and skills to navigate digital sources and texts in and outside of the classroom. To start, this course has taught me new skills that I can use on my laptop, such as using a terminal window and using a journal in markdown, that I will continue to use throughout my academic and personal career. Technology is currently a huge topic of discussion that has sparked many peoples interests, especially literary scholars. Regardless of how one may feel about the overtake of technology in educational settings, understanding how to accurately use it and to appreciate it can benefit individuals in various ways. As a future educator, I have come to terms with the fact that there is simply no way around avoiding technology in the classroom. Using a journal in markdown has been a phenomenal way to stay organized and keep track of what we learn, what I learned, and what to remember for this course. Now, after using this accessory, I will also use it to my advantage in other settings as well. It’s also something to keep in mind when teaching my students how to stay organized and collect their thoughts. Another way in which I use the information obtained from this course in my daily life is seen in my work as a student and the connections that I make in other courses. The history of technology and the terminology used in the formation of these systems and machines is seen un various works of literature that I now have a greater understanding of. For example, marking up or editing texts is commonly discussed in terms of publication and validity of certain texts.


  • Another portion of the course that I have learned and grown from is through our discussion of Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. In this memoir, we see Thoreau’s battle to find the meaning of life, and how to find the means to live. Throughout the book he emphasizes being, independence, and growth. Much like this course, Thoreau finds ways to live simply, and to appreciate the simpler things in life such as language. The importance of language is also another major course concept. Learning how to transcribe, encode, and edit scholarly sources is a large portion of digital learning and literature. In knowing how to study literature digitally, as well as how to use the tools to do it accurately, I have enhanced my ability to learn from a digital standpoint and to appreciate the various forms of language that come with it.

Broad Band Discussion

  • A final aspect that I have gained more knowledge of comes from reading the book, Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet by Claire L. Evans. After reading this work, I now have immense appreciation for the many women that have been underappreciated and underrepresented in the engineering community. I also now have further knowledge of how much time and effort Women gave into the development of modern technology. Tying these two aspects together, I can interpret similar works and connect these thoughts to discussions of digital learning. Scholarly editing is a great skill to have especially when studying literature, and I believe that this course has already started to prepare me to appreciate and comprehend the importance of editing. The entire purpose of editing is so a work of literature can reach its full potential as a written piece of art. So, being able to successfully edit something would benefit my work as an academic scholar.

Technology in an Educational Setting

Before taking this course, I had never really given technology much thought. Sure, it could help me figure out information or definitions of words to win an argument, but I had never thought beyond that idea of the capabilties that technology had in store. When registering for the course, I had thought that the term “Digital Literature” meant that, for discussions, we would be focusing on how techology affected reading as a whole, such as the rise of e-books or fanfiction on popular media sights such as Wattpad.

I came into the course with no expectations, and was pleasently surprised by how thought-provoking the discussions would be. In taking this course and actively engaging in class, I gained an understanding of just how many women contributed to the development of the computer and the internet. I also gained a better understanding of how computers worked when it comes to the organization of my files. This has helped me to reorganize my computer system so that it’s a bit easier to access.

I was confused at first when we were introduced to Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I had frequently thought to myself: “He’s a philosopher. How could he have anything to do with technology and literature?” But the more I read Walden, and the more I listened to the lectures, I slowly began to understand why Thoreau is so important as a topic for the course.

The idea of transcriptions within literature is not a new concept. With techology, that process gets easier. But with the actual text itself, I can understand what he means when he discusses advancements (not in direct relation to technology). Thoreau’s discussions of simple living and isolation are facinating to read and bring back tiny snip-bits of memories of going to the countryside to visit my grandmother for the weekend. He discusses how technology is a positive change and how it is better to embrace advances made overtime as well as treating them with a hint of skepticism.

These views tie into this course as well as another course I am taking: “Impact of Social Media”. In this course, we have had frequent discussions about the negative and positve impacts of technology and how we interact with the world. In a sense, these courses have made me truly realize how much technology I truly use in my life and how much we as a society depend on technology for our livelyhoods.