Exploring How Diction Informs Perspective in Thoreau’s Walden

The COVID-19 pandemic, and our transition to remote learning because of it, caught us all by surprise. No one was prepared to make such drastic lifestyle changes in how we live, work, and learn. And yet, even though this transition came with many challenges, our group’s final project turned out to be one challenge we could successfully overcome through communication, teamwork, digital collaboration, and the spirit of optimistic determination that we gained from studying Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Read on to learn how our group (Kira Baran, Lauren Beers, Justin Colleran, Abigail Henry, and Joshua Mora) approached the task of analyzing revisions within Walden, and in doing so, gained unique insights into Thoreau’s life and work.

Our Task and Mission

Our group decided to compare revisions made across two of Thoreau’s original manuscript drafts: Version E (p. 55-56 on the Huntington Library Website), and Version F (p. 50). The specific passage we tackled appears as paragraph 5c on the fluid text website, and would eventually be included in the chapter “The Ponds” within Walden.

We strove to analyze the handwritten revisions Thoreau made on these manuscript pages both on a micro (or “close-reading”) level, as well as how these revisions compare/contrast across these versions on a macro (or “meta-reading”) level. We chose this specific passage because we feel that its intricate revisions give insight into Thoreau’s attention to nuance and detail. His concern for precision informs not only his descriptions of the pond, but also carries into his every-day perspective on writing and life as a whole. Within the human experience, whether it be admiring various hues of pond water or interacting with people during a turbulent time period like we are currently experiencing, angle and perspective are everything. Even the most seemingly minor of revisions carry an effect on how readers interpret Walden both line-by-line, and as a whole work. And this is exactly why precision and accuracy are important when it comes to diction.

Our Perspectives and Insights on Thoreau’s Revisions

When attempting to analyze a writer’s manuscripts, there are many elements to consider. We made sure to keep in mind Thoreau’s intent during our construction of the timeline, so that we could properly examine what he was trying to say with the word choices and revisions he was making. Although it is nearly impossible for a reader to interpret something exactly how the author intends, there are certain ways we can get fairly close. For example, when Thoreau switches one word for another in a revision, we can take this as a sign that the new word did a better job at helping the reader achieve the correct interpretation.

Take this revision from our selected passage, for instance: “of an alabaster whiteness, still more unnatural” had been changed from “of an alabaster whiteness, equally unnatural.” By revising comparatives like “equally” and “more,” Thoreau presumably strives for accuracy and precision when comparing how one’s angle/viewpoint/perspective can influence one’s perceptions and, in turn, their evaluations. Again, be it the color of water in a pond, or a serious matter of discourse when interacting with another person, viewpoint matters, since looks can be deceiving. As Thoreau knew well, in order to communicate an intended message to a reader who possesses a different viewpoint than oneself, it is very useful to be able to communicate with precision. Precision aids the active listening (and reading!) process. To convey meaning effectively is to communicate as accurately as possible.

Ultimately then, through this project, we learned that a writer’s revision process can be treated as a physical manifestation of their thought process. It is a window that allows us to infer a potential intended message of a text. To see what we mean, check out other examples in our timeline below!:

Our Process for Creating Our Timeline and TEI File

Overall, the technical aspects behind the TimeLineJS portion of the project were fairly straightforward. The process was very easy to follow and didn’t cause us to pull the hair out of our heads. The one thing we did find kind of annoying about creating the timeline was trying to figure out how to include what specific point of the year we were talking about. For example, when wanting to write “Late 1852,” it would not allow us to preview the timeline because it didn’t recognize the word “Late.” In the end, we decided to use just the years. Another aspect that was slightly disappointing was the lack of customization. On the website, it really only allows you to change the fonts and what slide the presentation starts on. It would be nice for our timeline to have more of an identity or personality, rather than just black and white backgrounds.

Surprisingly, our GitHub workflow worked out well, too. It was a bit nerve-wracking at first, as any small mistake on someone’s part could have caused chaos in our project repository. Not to mention, we were also all new to this part of GitHub, and remote learning didn’t exactly help. However, by communicating with each other through Slack about who-did-what-when-and-how, we were able to avoid any complications.

As for the TEI file, its creation was not too complicated. Since we were given the template file to use as a guide, it made encoding the manuscript text much simpler. Once we spent time learning to use the basic markup commands, it just came down to being consistent throughout the file, lest a single error invalidate the entire file (similar to how a single word invalidated our timeline). Honestly, the most difficult part of making the TEI file came from trying to decipher Thoreau’s handwriting. From a distance, it could be easily mistaken for a bunch of nonsense scribbles, or overly elaborate calligraphy. The fluid text version of Walden lent us a huge hand in figuring out what the (almost illegible) manuscript said, especially when it came to penciled-in revisions.

Looking at the handwritten revisions on the manuscript pages with our own eyes, and comparing them to the revisions on the fluid text version, however, did present what was probably our most unusual challenge when it came to encoding revisions on our TEI file. The fluid text version notes that, on the Version F page, “. . . the body of the bather” was revised to “the body of one bathing in it.” However, by just looking at the handwriting, it was difficult to tell these revisions for certain. Thoreau didn’t fully cross out “bather”; instead, he seamlessly transformed the “e” into an “i” and added “ng” over the “r,” (instead of adding it above or off to the side like most of his revisions). He wrote it as if it was a typo rather than a revision. “One” is also squeezed into the margin without a caret, which made it even more difficult to determine if this should be counted as a typo or a deliberate revision that was made after the fact. This presented a challenge for encoding the TEI file, because adding a revision within a word (“bather” to “bathing”) is not common to come across.

Our Takeaways

Through the unexpected journey that has been this entire project (and course and semester), each of us has come away with a newfound appreciation for Walden. Having to work from self-isolation (or social distancing or quarantine or whatever you’d like to call it) was a new experience for everyone. Remote instruction forced us to jump into the role of self-starters. Online collaboration meant becoming reliable team members. It forced us to use Slack as a communicative platform, since we had to allocate project tasks between us without being able to physically meet in person.

From studying Walden, we were able to relate to Henry David Thoreau’s experiences on a uniquely personal level. We learned from his determination, adaptability, and resourcefulness. And, from the specific passage we analyzed, we learned that, sometimes, all it takes is an open mind and an altered angle or viewpoint to be able to gain a new, appreciative perspective on our surroundings. Being stuck at home for the past couple months, we can now appreciate the small part we played in converting Thoreau’s writing to a digitized version, which makes his writing more universally accessible, readable, and legible.

The Evolution of Thoreau’s Language in Walden

In our group’s observations of Henry David Thoreau’s manuscripts, we noticed that his use of language developed over time as conveyed through his revisions, specifically those from Versions A to Versions D (1847-1852). So, Emma Annonio and Anne Baranello chose to track revisions over time in Economy, Emma Belson tackled Where I Lived, and Sandy Brahaspat focused on Sounds. After splitting up these three texts, our group came to the conclusion that they seemed to adequately reflect our experiences with social distancing as a new norm while we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we engaged with these texts and their corresponding revisions, we noticed Thoreau’s evolving use of language over the years, how it influenced his reflections, and his overall experiences of living in isolation. It appears Thoreau used his writing as an outlet of communications to the civilized world. During his revisions, Thoreau was able to critically assess his experiences in Concord by developing his attention to detail, consistent reflection of the language he uses, and consequently, his transition from exhaustive sentences to lucid prose. In developing our timeline, we chose to examine the various ways in which Thoreau’s language changes from initial revisions in Version A to his later revisions in Version D. 

Emma Annonio aptly points out that a clear indication of Thoreau’s attention to detail in his placement and possible revision of the title Walden: Life in the Woods is present on Page 1 of Version A. On this first page, Emma A. notices that Thoreau quickly scrawled this title in the top right corner of the page indicating that it was most likely decided after the book had been written. To the left of this, Thoreau writes in pencil “Where I Have Been. . .,” another possible title for the novel. This shift in language demonstrates how instead of focusing the title on himself, Thoreau ultimately chose to focus on the nature he had lived in for so long; this revision is reflective of how deeply Thoreau respects and admires nature. In Anne’s study of Economy, she notes that one of Thoreau’s distinctive features as an author is his striking diction and attention to detail. He constantly revised, reworded, and removed words that served no purpose. Indeed, something we noticed was that halfway down the paragraph (Economy, p 5a, version A) it’s seen that Thoreau crossed out an entire sentence, “the finest qualities of our nature are as difficult to preserve as the down on a peach.” This is particularly interesting because Thoreau has struck up a wonderful comparison here, and it only adds to the text, rather than detracting from it. It’s very telling of his attention to detail, and reading the book further only continues to prove this. In her study of Thoreau’s Sounds, Sandy also noticed a similar pattern that appears throughout Version A and Version D. She also notes that while Thoreau’s writing style continues to be long-winded, often omitting the use of the period altogether, his ideas become more succinct over the course of his revisions. In Version D, the first paragraph of Sounds is arguably far more shorter than the paragraph written for Version A, and this may have to do with Thoreau’s own writing process of reflecting on what language is actually necessary for the purposes of his text, and what can be dismissed. This seems to be on par with his writing philosophy of questioning and re-evaluating all aspects of his life that appear both around him and within him. 

While our thoughts about Thoreau were based solely on our interactions with the text, other aspects of this project like the practicability of collaborating on the assignment, was especially daunting and took some time acclimating to. However, once we figured out how to use Slack as a standard method of communication with each other, the project became more manageable. While using Slack was most efficient for communicating with the general class, keeping in contact with the specific group members proved to be challenging because of the extenuating circumstances that resulted from our ongoing battle with the COVID-19 pandemic. We were able to partially overcome this challenge by using email, direct messaging, and frequent zoom calls as more direct forms of communication. After we overcame our communicative difficulties, we had to learn how to navigate the manuscript pages. Although it was tedious at first, our group applied the skills we learned from our digital humanities class by using Command F to find certain words from the manuscript versions and comparing that to the plain text files of Walden. By doing this, we were able to create a rough index of phrases that corresponded to certain paragraphs of the Fluid Text of Walden and were better able to locate the chapters we needed.  Having said that, once we were able to navigate the manuscript pages and decide on what specific page we wanted to encode, our group faced another challenge. We were a bit concerned about having to divide up the work for the TEI file and collaborate on it simultaneously, while considering the potential ramifications that would prevent the file from validating. Luckily, we were introduced to the Oxygen XML Editing software and used our resources to fork, clone, sync, and push our files to Github. Once we downloaded the software, our group found the Oxygen XML Editor software was particularly helpful in preventing any line errors that would invalidate the TEI file. So, after developing our encoding skills and familiarizing ourselves with using Github collaboratively, we were better equipped to complete the TEI assignment and fulfill the requirements of our final project. 

Revising Nature into Language: An Analysis of Solitude through Time

Group Members: Hannah Fahy, Hannah Jewell, Kyle Regan, Leila Sassouni, Jaffre Aether

The first major decision of our group was to determine the pages we wanted to review. For that, we chose the first pages of “Solitude” as the chapter resonated with many of us and contained relevant snippets on the grand themes we enjoyed throughout the work, namely, the imperfections of language in the face of true sensory experience. Language and nature are set up as two sides to the whole, and it is a gap that must be confronted when trying to write about the sublimity of the outdoors, and how we, as social creatures bathed in language, must find an authentic way to access this unremembered sphere. However, it is the introduction of manuscript pages in which we faced the most obstacles.

The process of combing through the handwritten Walden was an especially difficult task for our group, as one of our group members noted that the version we were looking at (on the spreadsheet Dr. Schacht shared) was out of order. Such as that, it was quite difficult to locate the pages we were working off of. This challenge did not stop our work though, as we were able to form analysis through the versioning machine. While not in the whole spirit of the analysis, the versioning machine was incredibly helpful, as we were able to visualize the changes being enacted by Walden. Moreover, the versioning machine makes explicit the changes by using highlights and cross outs that would not have been as obvious in comparing the actual and physical manuscript pages. We struggled, too, in reading cursive, so seeing the work in print was very helpful. But, because of the versioning machine, the analysis went smoothly and connecting Thoreau’s revisions to the grander themes within the work was a painless task. In addition, the work of creating the timeline was simple, too. In going through many of the manuscript pages, a group member came to the realization on how to find the manuscript images for the “Solitude” chapter. The pictures repeatedly had page numbers in a blue font. The page numbers that were written in blue from pages 202 to 218 contained writing from the chapter. It became simpler to find parts of the chapter once these page numbers were discovered. The next step was to use Ctrl + F to search for strings of words that were discernible from the manuscript, to find if they were in fact in the chapter or not.

As far as the building of the TimelineJS spreadsheet, as most of us were familiar with the platform from a previous assignment, it was not too difficult to create. The template made things simple, as everything we needed to include was clearly marked. Finding the dates, too, was as simple as looking them up. But, once again, the most difficult aspect of creating the timeline itself was finding the manuscript images, as the page order was not linear in the way the final work was, and legibility was at a minimum (for a group not used to cursive). The search naturally improved when we began to use the Huntington Library’s manuscript, as the files were not fully pixelated, and thus, did not take long to load on each of our computers. Other than that, creating the timeline of “Solitude” was a smooth and fun process. The coding of the chapter’s first page to a TEI format was also relatively painless.

For the coding of the TEI format, one group member (as this group member felt comfortable in the TEI coding framework) took on the task, but nonetheless, the encoding process went well. By already having experience in the TEI format from the modules on Canvas, as well as having the added template, coding out the page was a task of utilizing the template to find how to code the changed parts of “Solitude” into the file. However, the coding was, again, not done off the manuscript page itself, instead using the versioning machine, as it took our group some time to find the manuscript page, and we knew we had to continue working while that process was ongoing. This practice did create a sort of logjam, as the lines of “Solitude” on the versioning machine did not match up to the lines of “Solitude” on the manuscript page, which meant that the TEI file could not be completed until we found the manuscript page. But, once we did, the coding was able to be completed. The work seems to go much smoother by using the versioning machine and the manuscript page in tandem, as the machine is eminently readable, and the manuscript age contains the lines that allow for the TEI file to be rightly ordered. The last meaningful piece of the process to address was our group’s communication.

For the most part, our group communicated through Slack and Zoom. At first, I thought that this may make the project more difficult or frustrating as there would be no set class time to work on it, but it actually went quite smoothly. We were able to talk about the smaller things in the Slack chat, mainly asking questions and sharing pertinent links, and when we needed to discuss larger issues, mainly the project itself and delegating out work, we met in a Zoom call. The Zoom calls were effective, not only because we could talk and share ideas quickly, but also because it created a time in which we could all gather and work on the project together. Because of that, discussion was only one facet of the call, with the other major facet being the creation of a ‘study hall’ where we knew we would be getting a significant amount of work done throughout. So overall, communication was not a problem for this project, which I sincerely thought it might be at the outset. 

With all that said, this project was interesting to do, as it was the synthesis of everything we had been working on. Though, it was slightly tricky as well, for a good deal of what we used within this project was learned during our period of distance learning, not only for the technical workings we used (TimelineJS and TEI coding), but reading and analyzing text from the revisions that Walden made. It still worked out, and I believe the final project is something meaningful, but it inspired a bit more anxiety than normal, as we were not able to test our ideas out to Dr. Schacht in real time. However, working without that kind of safety net was a worthwhile experience, even if it may turn out different because of that. Either way, the group is happy with how the project turned out, as the analysis turned out intriguing, and our technical skills were sharpened. 

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.

Data-Mining Walden: Tools for Literary Analysis

Henry David Thoreau had a fraught relationship with technology. As we discussed in our presentation, it is difficult to tell whether he would be on board with our digital projects regarding his work. What we can say for sure is that the technology we have engaged with this semester have allowed us to read his book, Walden, as deliberatively and as reservedly as it was written. By apprehending his text in the digital dimension we achieved new and unique insights into the way Thoreau thought about place and how he crafted his thoughts into writing. 

Melissa, Sean, Cal, and Emma each took a chapter to mine in order to track the language of place and its developments throughout the text. This required the downloading and installation of some software with the help of Kirk Anne and Dr. Schacht. Brianne worked on answering the “so what?” question by analyzing the data collected by the other group members. We worked with the Natural Language Toolkit (NLTK) and spaCy,both of which allowed us to mine for certain words and types of words. However, eached proved to have their own limitations within each chapter. We found that spaCy was better equipped in Cal’s mining of “The Ponds” whereas NLTK was more helpful for Melissa, Sean, and Emma.

Zooming out, data mining a text such as
Walden did not come without challenges. Whether it was the virtual machine or the local server, Python proved to be a very demanding language, one with a steep learning curve which kept us guessing a lot of the time. Similarly, NLTK and spaCy had to be downloaded directly to our devices in order to accomplish the task at hand. It became pretty clear that while digital tools can often make reading easier learning the tools necessary to do so is all but simple. Still, when grappling with the limitations of all of our tools we seemed to be simultaneously addressing larger questions about the utility of technology, just as Thoreau does in

Nevertheless, the technology proved indispensable for our project because it helped us to expedite the mining/reading process. Python, the language we used to learn more about Walden, allowed us to operate on the text, while spaCy and NLTK provided a bank of resources that we could apply to the chapters we all chose. Each tool informed us on a general sense of place which we followed up with closer readings. We were able to clearly discern between the broadly spatial chapters (“The Village” and “House Warming”) and the specifically geographic ones (“The Ponds” and “Conclusion”). Whether he was talking about physical places or metaphorical spaces, as in headspace, Thoreau constantly framed his thinking through place specific language. This sort of “mapping” truly makes Thoreau into the “Surveyor of the Soul” that Huey Coleman claims him to be. His attention to the local and the distant, from Concord to Siberia, demonstrates both the interconnectedness that technology in the 19th century was making possible and the expansive reach of an inner geography, a soul whose territory outran the map.

Just as some of Thoreau’s themes exceed the scope of a geographic specific reading, so too did our task at hand exceed the capabilities of some of our tools. One thing our group really wanted to stress in our presentation is the importance of validating failure in digital projects. All of the setbacks, miscues, and limitations faced by engaging with Jupyter Notebook, Atom, Python, Anaconda, spaCy, NLTK, and beyond were equally as useful to thinking about the digital humanities as our successes with each of these tools. When we encountered errors in our work we were forced to ask why. This moment of self-reflection was critical for doing digital work because of the knowledge that stood to be gained by asking questions about the tools. Coming to this class with a variety of digital backgrounds, it was very important that we moved as a unit. Fortunately, the tools we used leant themselves well to collaboration and, ultimately, this project became about creating our own community space around Walden. 

From his comparative measures of White and Walden Ponds, to his rambles through Concord, to his building of a house in the woods, and his reflections on place inward and outward, Thoreau was constantly attuned to the language of place. We too were attuned too language, constantly seeking the instances of geography in his text by moving through it digitally. Just as Thoreau spatializes his world in Walden, so too do we attend to space by tracking its relative importance throughout the book. By using digital tools we were able to read Walden collectively, collaboratively, effectively, and deliberately.

Paradise (to be) Posted: Uploading a Text to the Readers’ Thoreau

By Claire Corbeaux, Elizabeth Gellman, Anthony Lyon, Hannah Nicchi, and Avery Padula

The objective of our final group project was to add a text by Henry David Thoreau to The Readers’ Thoreau, a site with which we have been working all semester. Once this text was chosen and uploaded, we were to add informative and interpretive comments to the site. When we began researching Thoreau texts to work with, we knew we wanted to choose a text that related to some of the course themes that we had been discussing. We also knew we didn’t want to choose a text that was very long because we wanted to be able to thoroughly analyze the one we picked in the time we had. We stumbled upon
Paradise (to be) Regained, a book review by Thoreau on J.A. Etzler’s
The Paradise within the Reach of all Men, without Labor, by Powers of Nature and Machinery. An Address to all intelligent Men. In two parts. Upon reading it, we decided that it was a good text to pick because it corresponded to many of the discussions we had in class throughout the semester about technology and humankind’s relationship with it.

Thoreau finds Etzler’s book problematic because of Etzler’s ideas that technology can allow humans do develop a paradise wherein they do not need to labor in order to live in “all imaginable refinements of luxury” (Etzler 19). Thoreau’s skepticism of Etzler’s plans for technological improvement to revolutionize the world is evident throughout “Paradise (to be) Regained”. His distrust of certain elements of technology, as well as his distrust of its ability to improve human quality of life, is also reflected in
Walden, wherein Thoreau criticizes civilization for focusing on improving technology at the expense of the spiritual, personal advancement of all of humankind. For example, he writes in his “Economy” chapter of
Walden, “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate” (73). This represents the same brand of skepticism Thoreau harbored in his analysis of Etzler’s book, found in “Paradise (to be) Regained”.

After settling on this text, we searched for a plain text version of “Paradise (to be) Regained” to upload to The Readers’ Thoreau. We were able to find one on The Anarchist Library website. We then imported the text into Atom, an open-source text and source-code editor. Working in Atom allowed us to “clean up” the text, which involved removing “curly” quotation marks and replacing them with “straight” quotation marks and comma. This practice was made easier by using the find and replace function. We also removed all formatting and styling from the Anarchist Library version. Claire and Lizzie visited Dr. Schacht in his office hours to work on cleaning the text, and Claire wrote the Greek characters Thoreau includes in “Paradise (to be) Regained” in HTML. Another way we cleaned up the text with Atom was by formatting the block quotes in Thoreau’s review correctly, using the span tag and “blockquote-in-para” to format them.

The addition of the Greek characters and the use of the “blockquote-in-para” represented challenges that our group had to overcome. Claire had to crosscheck many different sources from the internet in order to uncover which codes could create which Greek letters. Additionally, the Anarchist Library digital text featured Greek characters with unusual accents added on certain Greek letters. However, research showed to Claire that these accents must have been a mistake, as there were no existing codes for several of the combinations of Greek letter and accent that the Anarchist Library featured. Another such challenge that occurred while we were trying to clean the text was that of the “blockquote-in-para.” Using this class within the span tag proved a challenge because it had to be formatted in a very particular way to ensure that a new paragraph was or was not created by the blockquote. As was explained to Claire by Dr. Schacht, if the blockquote was not to form a new paragraph, no space was added between the preceding text and the span tag.

There were a few other challenges our group faced while working on this project. For example, we were unable to upload the text to The Reader’s Thoreau at first because we were not allowed access. This  problem was solved when Dr. Schacht allowed Claire authorial access to upload the text to the site. Prior to this change, Claire had uploaded the text in the proper and agreed upon paragraph increments as blog posts such that we had a template to follow when it came time to actually upload our text as pages. Another problem we encountered was that once the text was uploaded, we experienced a brief moment where we were unable to post comments to the text. However, Claire was able to solve this by inspecting the sidebar menu latent within the WordPress page adding editor and realizing that there was an option under the “Discussion” tab that could be selected or deselected to allow or disallow commenting. Also, while uploading the text and turning it from blog posts into actual pages, the order of the pages became jumbled; however, this crisis was solved when Claire figured out that the order of the pages of text on a site could be altered simply by clicking and dragging.

Once the text was cleaned up using Atom, we set about comparing it to the scholarly text. Lizzie found the Milne Library text of “Paradise (to be) Regained,” which was in
The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau, edited by Wendell Glick. We compared the physical text to the digital text we had found, seeing if there were any differences or discrepancies. Lizzie, Avery, and Hannah all read through both texts to look for differences. We found very few: on the first page of the physical text, there was a footnote that Glick added to the title “Paradise (to be) Regained,” which read “The Paradise within the Reach of all Men, without Labor, by Powers of Nature and Machinery. An Address to all intelligent Men. In two parts. By J.A. Etzler. Part First. Second English Edition. Pp. 55. London, 1842” (19). The other difference we found was that in the Milne library version, the word “alas” was followed by a comma, while in the Anarchist Library version, it was followed by an exclamation point.

Once this step was completed, Claire gained authorial access from Dr. Schacht to upload the text to The Reader’s Thoreau. We used the cleaned up version we completed in Atom, and added the footnote from the Milne Library version of the text, as it seemed important information to include. She was able to delete the blog post placeholders and add pages to the Paradise (to be) Regained site in the same paragraph distribution, except instead of individual posts, each page had the desired amount of paragraphs. We were then all able to add comments to the text on the Readers’ Thoreau website, which we each did at least two of. This was an interesting process because we were able to show how our previous knowledge of Thoreau’s beliefs and texts connected with our reading of “Paradise (to be) Regained.” Anthony, in particular, applied himself to the commenting process and sought to make explicit connections between “Paradise (to be) Regained and
Walden in his commenting.

Overall, this project was a great learning experience that really summed up everything we have learned in Dr. Schacht’s class. We were able to learn, not only about the technology we interacted with, but about Thoreau, and ourselves, as well. We experienced firsthand the power and the limitations of the technological tools we worked with. For example, while Atom was extremely useful to us while we were cleaning our text, particularly, through the find and replace function, it is not without its limitations. Most notably, working in Atom meant we couldn’t work collaboratively, so one person had to do much of the cleaning. Additionally, that person had to also know what they were doing, since, while working in Atom, there is no way to tell what it will look like in the Readers’ Thoreau, despite the help that the Markdown preview toggle option provides. We also learned about the power of WordPress and experienced this power first hand when granted authorial access. Claire was able to add pages, change their order, and dictate whether or not comments were allowed. Of course, WordPress also has its limitations, as it is not always very clear or obvious with its layout or formatting. It is for this reason that it is easy to make mistakes and not realize or be confused as to where certain functions or operations, such as the comment option, reside.

Lastly, we learned about Thoreau and cemented our perceptions of him, perceptions that many of us first formed while reading
Walden. Where
Walden saw Thoreau express his deep awe and partial distrust of certain aspects of technology, “Paradise (To Be) Regained” truly demonstrates Thoreau’s understanding of technology, but also his promotion of nature and the human spirit over technology. Indeed, in his essay, Thoreau condemns Etzler for trying to usher in a paradise on Earth through technology when humankind is itself so imperfect. Rather than control nature, Thoreau encourages humanity to understand nature and themselves in a more holistic, spiritual manner. Additionally, Thoreau analyzing humankind’s relationship with technology made us consider our own relationship to the technology of our day, whether we control it or if it controls us, whether it makes our lives paradisiacal or hellish, conversations we have been having consistently throughout the semester. Finally, we realized that Thoreau, despite living almost 200 years ago, was not so unlike us. Indeed, Thoreau wrote critical essays reviewing the works of others, just as many of us have done this past semester in some of our classes. And, just like us, Thoreau lived in a changing world that presented its inhabitants with a great deal of uncertainty, yet, like Thoreau, we must remember to live deliberately.


Mapping Walden

Group Members: Clare Corbett, Jenna Doolan, Madyson Gillanders, Sophie Schapiro, and Tayler Thompson

The purpose of our project was to create a map to display the locations Thoreau mentions in Walden. We chose the places we felt were most essential to the text. Creating the map allowed us to put together images and names of the locations to visualize the places in Walden instead of just imagining them. The map also allows us to see where locations are in relation to each other. We are able to see where the locations he visited are in comparison to Walden Pond and compare this with the approximations of distance he gives in the text. Creating the map helped further our understanding of locations that were important to Thoreau and share this information with others.

Of course, we had to breakdown the creation of this map into different steps. To begin, we had to read both Walden and Selections from the Journal in their entirety to curate a list of places from both texts. We found that Thoreau mentioned quite a wide array of locations, which is somewhat surprising since most believed he lived in complete solitude. We divided up both texts to ensure each group member was doing equal amounts of work. Once assigned our sections, we each created a list of places that were included in the texts. After making individual lists, we combined our hand-picked places into one list. Afterwards, Dr. Schacht provided us with a list that was generated by the text-mining package, Spacy. This list included every place (and some just capitalized words) that was mentioned in Walden. This contained around 300 words; some of which we had missed, but we knew we had to narrow down the list. Our next step was to review the lists and delete every place that was not near Walden Pond and Thoreau’s cabin. Our next task was to put these places on a map. For places not already documented on Google Maps, we read their quotations in Walden and consulted sites like The Walden Woods Project to come up with a general location of each location with respect to Walden Pond. Next, we wrote descriptions on each place point on the map in regards to their significance in Walden, Thoreau’s life, and the world. Once we completed this step, we made sure to include a photo of each location to make our additions more detailed. Finally, we created comments in the margins of Walden where the places were found with a link to each point on the map and added a permalink for these comments to each description on the map. This was done so that while looking at the map, the direct quote in Walden could be accessed, and while reading through Walden the map could be accessed to give readers an image of where this place would be within Thoreau’s Walden. Although we worked as individuals for a majority of the time, we also worked as a group to check for consistency and detail.

As we progressed through the creation of our map, we did run into some challenges along the way. As mentioned, our group received a list of every place that was mentioned in Walden. This list was very useful when picking out the majority of places that Thoreau did frequent and visit. However, the list generated over 300 places, the majority of which did not have much significance in the text, such as India, China, and the Finger Islands. It did take time as a group to comb through the list and eliminate places like these. After this was completed, we needed to eliminate a variety of locations that Thoreau may have went to, but described in little detail. The goal of our project was to take the viewer on a ‘Virtual Tour’ of Walden, and to provide photographs and descriptions for significant places throughout the text. If we were barely able to describe the places on the list, we decided that it would be best to not include them on our map. Additionally, with certain places that we did choose to include, there was no geographic location for them in Google’s database. An example of this is Walden Woods. Walden Woods does exist, as it surrounds Walden Pond, however, there was no marker predetermined for it on Google Maps. We had to draw a line around the outskirts of the woods, and this took time to figure out how to effectively do this. While there were aspects of this project that were relatively simple, we still faced roadblocks that we had to resolve as a team in order to move forward.

Since none of us have ever used Google Maps before, we were determined to figure out how it operates and what features it has. In the process of doing this project, we learned that we can make the map either public or private. We also learned how to embed visuals and descriptions, which was helpful when sharing important places that Thoreau discussed throughout Walden. Google Maps is a great learning tool to utilize and it makes it so that people who view our map can visualize how close in proximity some of the places Thoreau mentioned are. Another great feature of Google Maps is that it can easily be facilitated to make other maps, whether it be for educational or personal purposes. While connecting our map with the text, we also discovered that we could make the link shareable so that other people reading the text have access to the map.

After researching the places mentioned in Walden and Selections from the Journal, our group gained a deeper understanding of Henry David Thoreau. During his younger years, he was educated at Cambridge College, representing the fact that he was very intelligent. Before officially settling at Walden, Thoreau spent a significant amount of time exploring the area surrounding the pond. This led to his decision to find solitude in the woods. While most people might think that he stayed at Walden during the entire time he was secluded, he actually left his cabin and the area of Walden on multiple occasions. Thoreau mentioned places on land and bodies of water throughout the world that he visited and researched. His detailed descriptions of these places shows that he knew a great deal about the United States and other nations. Thoreau’s love for nature and travel translated into his extensive journals about his time at Walden. This information allows readers to gain a better understanding of Henry David Thoreau’s life.

Check out the map:

You Learn Something New Everyday

Prior to entering the classroom for my first day in this course, I remember considering myself to be proficient in all things digital. For my generation, growing up with technology was incredibly normalized. Additionally, technology played the milestone role in the timeline of my life events. From receiving my first handheld gaming system, to my first mp3 player, to a digital camera, followed by an iPod, and then, of course, the status-symbol that was my first cell phone, and later my very own laptop that was separate from my family’s shared desktop– technology was the trusted partner that I grew closer to as I grew older. Due to the influential relationship I had built with technology throughout my journey to adulthood, I envisioned myself as a tech-savy individual who would be ready to handle anything this course would throw at me. However, I will humbly admit that the programs we have been working with mimic my experience studying a foreign language.  Continue reading “You Learn Something New Everyday”

On Voyant

After having read Walden and used voyant tools I have developed a greater appreciation for Thoreau and his devotion to living life deliberately. There is no better way to visualize this than through the trends tool on voyant. If one looks closely at the trends tool one would see that the most popular word other than “like” is “man”, shortly followed by “life”. The word that peaked my interest was “pond”, because if “man” was everything that signified civilization, then pond was everything that signified life in the woods. There are a few interesting connections I would like to make between the words man, life and pond. The first observation being that in the beginning of the book man and life are closely connected while pond is hardly ever mentioned. This tells me that at the very beginning the idea of being a man, and being part of civilization defined what it meant to live, and the fact that pond was low mean that Thoreau had yet to learn how to live deliberately. As the book progresses three major things begin to happen. The first thing is that the ideal of manhood takes a giant plummet and loses importance. While man began to plummet, pond began to rise in importance. And finally, throughout the book life remained moderately low in importance. From this I was able to deduce the following: as Thoreau struggled to find his place between civilization and life in the woods, “man” and “pond”, the purpose of life became more and more ambiguous and thus lost importance. What is even more interesting was that a general trend in the book was that the importance of man and pond had an inverse relationship. When man was at its highest, pond was at its lowest, and vice versa. I interpreted this as Thoreau’s struggle to find a happy medium between living life in the woods and everything that he used to know. And lastly, the resolution to all of Thoreau’s struggles can be seen in the end of the trend chart, where one can see the union between life, man and pond. And I think that this is the best visual representation of living life deliberately and in the woods. By the end of the book there is only a 7 point difference between pond, life and man, where in the beginning there is a 44 point difference. In the end Thoreau was able to successfully live life in the woods and accomplish hat he set out to do. I believe voyant tools played a major role in better understanding the significance of Walden.

The Not So Missing Links

While I do not find “Walden” particularly interesting to read, I did find Voyant Tools both an intriguing and enlightening way to look at “Walden.” I found that it offered insight into Thoreau’s writing that would be both difficult and time-consuming for a reader to do by hand. While Voyant Tools displays many different components of “Walden’s” text, I found both the summary and links sections particularly helpful.

The summary section shows several things, but I found the average words per sentence and the most frequent words to be the most useful. The average words per sentence are 28.9, which shows that while Thoreau may have tried to live simply, nothing he wrote was said simply.  In my opinion, the most frequent words seem to point out the main subjects and views of Thoreau’s writing, especially the frequent use of the word “man.” Thoreau uses a lot of his word count to talk about mankind and the way men live.