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.

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.

Literature and Reading in a Newfound Light

Up until this semester, I held a close-minded disposition towards literature and the various products that are generated from it, especially written works. I used to regard literary works- copies of text printed and published made accessible to society- as mere inanimate objects, something hard-bound and concrete. To me, these were the finalized products in which their authors were certain, confident of their creation and their ‘final say.’ But, then I was introduced to a whole new perspective, completely the opposite of this previous mindset I had exhibited. I learned of the concept of fluidity and its relation to literature. The dictionary states that something ‘fluid’ is “changing readily; shifting; not fixed, stable, or rigid.” This concept, I learned, can certainly be applied to literature, and the process of publishing literary works. As a result, my previous self’s perception of literature and what goes into the process of creating the final version of a text completely transformed due to my enlightenment of fluidity. The renowned literary work Walden, written by Henry David Thoreau is a perfect representation of fluidity, and has helped influence my new perspective on literature.

Before I explain the concept of fluidity within Walden, it’s essential for me to provide some brief background information on the text and its author. Thoreau’s ambition in writing Walden was to provide a carefully chronicled account of his experience in living in a cabin he had built in the seclusion by Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. The work itself reflects his transcendentalist outlook on life, his appreciation of simple living and nature, and the emphasis put on being self-reliant of oneself. Ultimately, Walden was a reflection of Thoreau himself and his personal growth and development during his time in seclusion by the pond. By reading his work, we are able to share in his personal findings, observations, and means of discovery throughout his journey. With this in mind, the concept of fluidity in relation to Walden makes itself present in Thoreau’s initial process of writing and publishing it which in turn, has helped inspire my new outlook on literature and the production of it.

It’s important to note that the writing process before the publishing of Walden included various revisions of its manuscript by Thoreau. Author Robert Sattelmeyer on his essay on “The Remaking of Walden” sheds light on the true extent of Thoreau’s writing process. In 1850, Thoreau had a manuscript on Walden, but it was only a form of its earliest stage in progress, not quite entirely reflecting his experiences at the pond. He later added partial revisions to this version, but didn’t revise it as a whole until 1852. By the time the final draft was published in 1854, it had undergone seven manuscript drafts, mainly partial and incomplete (Sattelmeyer 58). The revisions themselves ranged from something as simple as the alteration of single words and the deletion of sentences to something substantial, such as the introduction of new passages and chapters (Sattelmeyer 59). Although the final version was printed and published, Sattelmeyer encourages readers not to regard it as “fixed,” or concrete, because Thoreau and his work shared a correlation with each other. As Thoreau developed, so did his writing (Sattelmeyer 75). In this case, Walden resembles a true fluid text, in which Thoreau was consistently molding and shaping it into what it stands as its true form today. Walden in its fluid text edition is even open to the public now where readers are able to analyze and compare the changes and modifications Thoreau made to his work.

The concept of fluidity in connection with Thoreau’s writing process of Walden encouraged me to regard literature and its products in a new light. Fluidity is common in the everyday world; in fact, it exists everywhere in our daily lives. Fluidity in itself is a discipline, many of us have to learn not to be so rigid, be accepting of change, and be capable of dealing with the many obstacles that we encounter on a daily basis that frequently throw us off from leading “stable” lives. Literature, too, is reflective of this, it’s reflective of us as people. In this sense, literary works hold a strong resemblance to the creation of art, and ultimately, it is a type of art. Although not translated in paint and brush, it expresses the author’s wishes, their feelings, observations, and experiences, just like Walden. Due to my newfound perspective of a literary work as something not rigid and fixed, but as an evolutionary process, I’ve found a deeper appreciation for literature and the process of publishing it. The time that is required to write something that is as extensive as Walden requires trial and error. Not only that, but Thoreau’s mind was fluid in itself, constantly adapting, shifting, evolving, and finding new outlooks and perspectives that he attempted to transfer onto paper. Consequently, this new outlook has taught me to embrace fluidity in my life, rather than try and suppress it, because it was seven partially written and revised manuscripts that resulted in one of Thoreau’s greatest successes.

Morse Code: A Gateway Between Computing and the Humanities

Upon reading James Gleick’s, The Information, I found it difficult to draw connections between the computing world and the humanities. For me personally, I was unable to fathom how these two completely different areas could possibly share any connections, or cross paths with one another. However, Gleick’s narration on the various technological innovations over the course of history, dedicated to helping spread information more efficiently, quickly, and widespread has helped increase both my awareness and knowledge of how interconnected these two fields of study are.

Gleick provides various detailed descriptions on multiple ‘information’ inventions. However, the one invention, or technological advance in terms of the spread of information, or communication that I was able identify a connection between the computing world and the humanities was Samuel F. B. Morse’s ‘Morse Code.’ Nearing the second half of the 19th century, Morse was working on designing his own version of percussive code, involving the utilization of electromagnets to “pulse” along a telegraph wire. The complexity of this process was more than Morse initially planned. His objective was to transmit language with the help of a clicking electromagnet. He didn’t want to look at this process with a mentality envisioning code, but rather as “a system of signs for letters, to be indicated and marked by a quick succession of strokes” (Gleick 19).

This quote specifically stood out to me in regards to an interconnection between computing and the humanities, because it reminded me of the significance of the alphabet and the writing system in the humanities. Gleick touched upon this fundamental aspect later on, noting that the evolution of the writing system took the longest out of all communicative inventions to develop. Ultimately, the alphabet itself represented “one symbol for one minimal sound” (Gleick 32). The same complexity of this notion is reflected in Morse’s invention, which he struggled in producing with his design.

Morse’s initial idea was to first send a series of numbers, one digit at a time, with dots and pauses in between. Therefore, each English word would be represented by a specific number. The telegraphists at the end of each line would meet these codes messages with a dictionary in hand to dissect each code. Obviously, this proved to be a time-consuming and inefficient process as the whole objective was to make communication more efficient, accessible, and quicker. With this road block in mind, Morse and his apprentice, Alfred Vail, worked on developing a more efficient form of communication. They constructed a coded alphabet, in which they would use signs in place for letters, instead of numbers. This made it easier so that the signs/symbols would spell out every word, thus making this form of communication much more efficient. An entire language would therefore be “mapped onto a single dimension of pulses” and would adopt the term of the “dot-and-dash alphabet” (Gleick 20).

The broader, more critical connection I drew between the computing world and the humanities in relation to this event was the magnitude of the writing system which plays a fundamental role in not only the humanities, but the computing world, and everywhere else for that matter. Many individuals, including myself, tend to overlook how crucial of a role the writing system/the alphabet plays in all aspects of our everyday lives. The invention of this universal system draws humans as well as all fields of studies from complete opposite worlds to connect on a basic level of understanding.

In addition, it spurred a gateway for a string of new inventions designated to promoting the spread of communication far and wide, like Morse Code. The areas of both code and the humanities seem to be on two opposite ends of the spectrum, but both of them use the alphabet on an everyday basis, pulling their ideas out of the same toolbox. Although Morse code differs from the form of pure writing, the symbols it comprises are representative of the alphabet which is powerful in itself. To me, it seemed as if both worlds, computing and the humanities, rely on each other in a means to stimulate growth in terms of knowledge and further technological advances. Both these worlds rely on the writing system and the alphabet more than they probably realize. Without this universal foundation that is consistently present in our everyday lives, Samuel F. B. Morse wouldn’t have the tools to create his own form of communication, and I wouldn’t be reading about his invention and its significance to humanity. Without the melding of these two worlds, of whom I originally saw as polar opposites, humanity may not be where we are today in regard to our various advancements in communication and technology.