When coming across the chapter in Gleick titled “Into the Meme Pool,” my mind immediately jumped to the captioned photos and videos blasted across the internet in succession, each changing slightly in form to the next. I did not expect the term “meme” that we commonly use now in pop culture to have first been coined by a biologist. According to Gleick, Richard Dawkins defined a meme as “‘a bodiless replicator'” (312). Dawkins considered memes to be catchphrases, tunes, ideas and images. The memes we see today fit well into this definition crafted in 1976, typically taking the form of a formatted image or video with captioning that is changed to the discretion of each repeater. According to an MIT Technology Review, the modern meme is “a variant of an image based on a common theme that has spread widely on the internet.”

Dawkins described the journey of memes as the replication of “themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain, via a process which, in the broad sense, is called imitation” (312). However, this form of imitation didn’t have the negative connotation of cheap copying — it is instead viewed as a collaboration. With each imitation, the meme evolves. As with the genes that form our lives, memes seek to repeat and evolve, stretching through the human story. The internet memes that have become so integrated into our culture (to the point where they reached the clutches of Facebook moms) are an example of how information and communication has evolved with technology.

Memes are comedic in nature, an inside joke for the internet. Some jokes are more exclusive than others. All memes are built upon a common understanding of the internet community. Memes are a testament to the strange culture and humor that has developed mainly with the younger generations that grew parallel to the internet itself.

According to this article by Brady Gavin, the first meme was a dancing baby used to demonstrate the impressive movement of a new software.

The MIT Technology Review describes how Gianluca Stringhini and colleagues at the University College London developed an algorithm to track how memes go viral across the internet. Their algorithm used perceptual hashing or pHashing to identify similar images: memes. The group found that for a meme to be most successful, one must mass produce various forms of the meme — similar to how genes “evolve through mutation, selection, and selection.”

However, not all memes are innocent jokes. As the article discusses, some memes are used to perpetuate racism, and these memes can go horribly viral — as a virus does. These memes seem to act more like a vicious virus, seeking to harm for the sake of its continuity.

In retrospect, it is unsurprising that the pop culture concept of “meme” derived from the observation of a biologist. Internet memes seek to replicate and evolve as genes do. Memes thrive from their replication and evolution, and they have the best rate of survival when mass produced with a spectrum of competitive variants. Memes may be the expression of the internet’s genes, in a constant state of modification, adapting to the ever-changing terrain of the web.

Communication At Its Core

Communication is something I have never really thought of in depth until reading the first couple chapters of James Gleick’s “The Information”, however, the idea that communication is not so different at its core despite the many different ways that people communicate caught my attention immediately. Whether it be in written form, sounds, expressions, or spoken language the way we as people have communicated throughout history has changed drastically while taking on different forms. Knowing more about such differences made me wonder just how similar computing and written language are, especially when thinking in terms of communicating with one another.

Now I know close to nothing about computing, and as soon as any kind of numbers come into play I quite literally do not know what is happening. When I think of communication, coding and computers are not what come into mind at all, unless I am typing out and email or writing an essay. However, even those little symbols in a CSS file have their own meaning, and communicate in their own way just as spoken language or written word does. Although even words themselves do not communicate in the simplistic, more easy to understand way, I thought they did. 

Words and language in general play such a vital role in our communication today, especially to me being an English major who loves to write using them. But what we write, alongside the languages we’ve developed for that writing, has been in a way undermined by Plato. Plato is a philosopher I have read certain works of before, though when I think of writing I do not necessarily think of how human beings use it primarily as a reminder, especially when it comes to communicating their thoughts and being. Plato has stated this about writing, that “You have invented an elixir not of memory but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom”. When I first started to think about such a statement, I thought that it would not be entirely true. My only basis for this was my initial belief that myself, along with many others I find it safe to assume have read something externally or personally profound, such as a piece of writing that communicated something that had lasting impact. That I have inherited a lot of wisdom from people I have never met, but I realized this was not entirely true. Writing as a form of communication is agreeably flawed in Plato’s analysis due to its inherent structure. Yes, writing is capable of teaching and communicating many things, but at the cost of us naturally remembering what we learn and taking it in differently. But does that really matter when thinking in terms of how communication is actually not so different at its center regardless of what form it’s in. 

The idea of communication in of itself did not change, whether it was through reading a written novel or how a CSS file does it, it gives information. It gives us all something talk about and even further communication.

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.

The Part vs. The Whole

In our readings thus far from The Information by James Gleick, this passage found in the second chapter stood out to me the most. Here, Gleick describes how Chinese script worked:

Because the basic unit was the word, thousands of distinct symbols were required… One device is simple repetition: tree + tree + tree = forest; more abstractly, sun + moon = brightness and east + east = everywhere. The process of compounding creates surprises: grain + knife = profit; hand + eye = look. Characters can be transformed in meaning by reorienting their elements: child to childbirth and man to corpse. Some elements are phonetic; some even punning.

– Gleick, 32-33

As Gleick discusses in this chapter, Chinese script was one of the most complex and large scripts in ancient times. This was due to the fact that it had the largest set of symbols, and the fact that each symbol itself, individually, carried a copious amount of meaning.  However, by combining these symbols, they were able to create new words and phrases.

Perhaps this is too literal of a connection, but this process of constructing a language reminded me of the process of coding. When you code, each minuscule detail is just as significant as the end result you are trying to achieve. An example of this would be our recent class activity of creating a .html webpage using Visual Studio Code. In doing so, it was necessary to input the different elements of the webpage (such as the title and body paragraphs) in order for the page to work correctly. It was not as simple as typing the text directly into the VS Code file, though. Every element required a command line before and after it.

As Gleick also says:

The alphabet is the most reductive, the most subversive of all scripts.

– Gleick, 33

Despite that it may require more effort to communicate properly, as you have to move from letters to words to sentences, the alphabet truly does make communication simpler and more accessible for everyone. It is difficult to imagine a world today the same as when Chinese script was used. Communication would take much longer, and you would run the risk of accidentally saying/writing the wrong thing.

I believe that this idea of the part versus the whole found in computing carries over to the humanities, or more specifically, language. Similar to coding, words do not always make sense on their own. We need context – or more words in conjunction to create commands, questions, stories, etc. If we go one step further, and break words down into letters, then we can really see how alike the two are. Random letters thrown together do not work – they need structure and meaning. By sequencing and weaving together different parts, the overall whole is more clear and precise.

The Humanities and Information, Art and Artificial Intelligence

In thinking about the intersection between digital information and the humanities, I am drawn to a discussion we had as a class on artificial intelligence and its impact on online publication. At the edge of technology driving the world forward in terms of productivity, job creation, and countless untold applications is artificial intelligence. AI is a new frontier of collaboration and creation which will inevitably change the world in radical ways. With radical change comes anxiety and fears about what will be lost in the present. Disregarding anxieties over a changing job economy and robot overlords, a far more reasonable concern to have over what artificial intelligence will mean for us in terms of the spread, collection, and visibility of information in the digital world. In reading James Gleick’s The Information, we are introduced to his ideas on the information age and its titular “lifeblood”, information. Reading The Information has had me thinking about how we as humans are constantly moving towards more effective and instant forms of communication with each other. In finding more effective means of exchanging and distributing information, the circulatory system in play has changed over the years. In the information age, the internet is the most advanced and intricate means of communication we have ever seen. It is also the most easily accessible and widespread. As Gleick outlines, “Like the printing press, the telegraph, and the telephone before it, the Internet is transforming the language simply by transmitting information differently. What makes cyberspace different from all previous information technologies is its intermixing of scales from the largest to the smallest without prejudice, broadcasting to the millions, narrowcasting to groups, instant messaging one to one.”

There is a clear and important way that this is changing how the humanities are being consumed with specific regard to the forums and platforms they are represented on. Journalism, art, music, history, all of these humanities have their most widespread readerbase, viewerbase, and listenerbase on social media. What I’ve been thinking about because of Gleick’s writing and our in class discussions is just how different the time we’re living in is now from all of our past. For the first time, the entities overlooking and moderating the platforms used for discussion of the humanities are no longer human themselves. A week or so I would’ve argued that this is an objectively good thing. Having a standardized and all encompassing set of rules enforced by an unquestioning and unbiased mind seemed like the perfect solution to protection of free speech. If everyone’s speech is judged the same no matter who they are or where they stand politically there can be no selective censorship. An AI moderator would eliminate the need for humans to subject themselves to the negative and harmful content present on any social media platform. That same moderator would be active day and night and to prevent others from seeing such things. I realize how foolish that perspective was having thought it out. It is a danger for the public to view AI in the way that I had previously thought of them.

An AI does not come from nothing, it must be instructed. It is not without bias. An AI will no doubt be a reflection of its creators, their political ideologies, ideas, and values will be represented in it. This is the other danger of allowing an AI to police thought and dialogue. An AI cannot question the ethics of what it does by censoring content based on its parameters which are always subject to change. There is no chance for an AI to make decisions based on anything but what it has been programmed to do. With current machine learning this is a fact. There’s no telling what the future will hold, but at that point of development there may be little difference between a human moderator and an AI. It’s at that point the humanities will be tasked with cataloguing and creating art about a whole new aspect of the human experience. How will the artists, writers, and historians of the future approach artificial intelligence once it becomes difficult to distinguish it from organic? I wonder about this and I hope to see it within my lifetime.

Project: Encoding Thoreau

By: Emilio Garcia, Sandra Ching, Cindy Castillo, Nicole Logrieco, Mallory DelSignore

Our Project, Encoding Thoreau aimed at inquiring deeper into TEI, the markup language most commonly used for scholarly digital editing. Briefly covered in class, our group heavily focused in understanding TEI more thoroughly as well as using it to encode two of Thoreau’s journal entries using TEI. The purpose of our project was to not only transcribe the text into TEI, but to add more dimension to the text itself. By identifying locations, we were able to make a map, and through the tags, add more detail into our files about Thoreau’s journal entries. Together, we produced a journal entry in TEI code in an effort to not only better understand many aspects of TEI, but also Thoreau and his life.

As a whole, we had to decide what pathway we wanted our project to take. We initially rolled around with the idea of tracking changes through manuscripts, but eventually settled on taking two entries and encoding them into TEI using the software, Oxygen. After the long journey of finding our focus, it easily fell into place shortly after. We broke down the tasks into two teams: The Research Team and The TEI Team. To begin, Sandra created a Google document and shared it with the team, as well as typed up our two chosen journal entries, January 30th and May 14th. Mallory and Sandra marked up and color coded the text, using different colors to identify proper nouns, nouns, real, and artificial nouns. From there, Nicole took those nouns and properly tagged them. Emilio then used those tags in Oxygen to complete the actual encoding itself and tasked Cindy into looking over the files created to make sure everything looked in order as well as edit and format the groups blog post. As central as the process of encoding was to our project, there was also a great deal of research conducted in order to grasp a deeper understanding of the actual content we were looking and marking up so meticulously. For this mere reason, we were very much interested in researching on Thoreau and the locations he’d mention via his journal. In order to help our viewers conceptualize this even more definitively, Sandra went a step further and put together a map of all the places mentioned in the journal entries we encoded using Google Maps.

As we take a step back now and reflect on the areas in which we felt we excelled and the areas in which we had the most difficulty, we all came to the mutual agreement that perhaps our first initial challenge stemmed from the utter fact that we did not fully grasp the task of our own project and just the TEI language overall. As we all identified ourselves as novice level regarding how comfortable we felt with TEI, having never worked with TEI or tasked with a similar project as the one proposed by this course, we were all a tad flustered in the beginning–probably more than just a “tad.” In fact, when we were first assigned to this project by Professor Schacht, we toyed with the idea of using fluid text, however, we eventually split ways with this approach as we could not locate enough versions of the journal entries that varied from the original one we had in order to complete that. As we internalized the reality that this approach was not exactly feasible, we went back to square one. From there though, we decided to regroup and focus on just picking out and identifying the nouns in the journal entries we had all agreed on so we could encode them. Although this was a step towards the right direction, we ran into the issue of marking up nouns that could not be encoded because we did not have enough knowledge of the TEI guidelines at the time.

Continue reading “Project: Encoding Thoreau”

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:

The Spring of ‘65: Walter Harding and William Kelley

Written by David Beyea, Elyse Manosh, Domenica Piccoli and Shelby Schmigel

Our final presentation’s purpose was to tell the story of how Walter Harding brought “the lost giant of American Literature to SUNY Geneseo in 1965.” This “lost giant,” the author William Melvin Kelley, was a professor here in the English department for a brief period that spring semester. To tell this story, we created an exhibit on the Walter Harding Omeka site to add to the ongoing documentation of Harding’s tenure at Geneseo.

Our first and foremost task was to sift through the archives of the Milne Library to gather all documents relevant to our topic. We would not have had access to these archives nor even known where to start without the help of Special Collections Librarian Liz Argentieri, so shout out to Liz! Once we had a good selection of articles relating to both Harding and Kelley, we took numerous hours to select the most relevant documents for our project (consisting of letters, articles, and photos). Then, we scanned them and shared them on a group Google Doc, organizing them into sections of Kelley before, during and after Geneseo. This was probably the most time consuming part of our final project as it was difficult to determine which documents would be relevant, and easy for us to get side-tracked in sifting through these interesting the quirks of past events. In uploading the archives we rummaged through, we found that the “color” upload feature was our friend. At first, we scanned many old newspaper articles and documents in black and white and found the picture was unclear and fuzzy. Something so simple and silly that was  challenging for us, we know, but having to go back and re-scan was time consuming.

Once we scanned our documents, we laid out an exhibit plan to split up the individual collections (pages) to our exhibit. Elyse and Domenica were responsible for introducing the exhibit as well as connecting Harding, Kelley and Thoreau. Dave was responsible for the page providing information on Kelley at Geneseo, all he accomplished, his involvement with the campus, etc. Lastly, Shelby was responsible for Kelley after Geneseo, his legacy and beyond; basically how Geneseo impacted Kelley’s life and what came out of it. After we divided up tasks of who was going to be responsible for what information, we then got started with Omeka.

Initially, Omeka was not an easy platform to use. We had a multitude of questions: Can we all work on this together? Can only one person upload something? Is only one person able to be an Omeka SuperAdmin? As none of us had extensive knowledge of what Omeka is and how it works prior to this class, it took us a bit of time to get that ball rolling. Most of our group met with Dr. Schacht at one point to have a lesson in navigating Omeka.  Omeka requires Dublin Core metadata to organize its files and items. As a group, we decided to assign one person to be responsible for all the Dublin Core to help with keeping it consistent.

With using Omeka, we learned a lot about what worked well and what did not. Some of the “powers” of using Omeka included uploading items without alteration. We did not have to worry  about files being too large to upload, as the uploaded items never gave us a “this item is too large” notification (as we were mostly dealing with small files in the kilobyte variety). Another power of Omeka is the many themes and templates to choose from in organizing and designed an exhibit. We assigned someone to view other exhibits on the Walter Harding website and used their experience to form a framework of how to structure our exhibit, thereby keeping the website as a whole thematically and structurally consistent. This helped to keep all our thoughts on the webpage in an organized and easy to follow manner.  Lastly, Dr. Schacht granting all of our group members access to become SuperAdmins on Omeka was honestly a godsend. This allowed us to all work on the exhibit at once (in a similar manner to a google docs would be).

With all these powers we came to learn, we observed some limitations to Omeka as well.  Omeka requires the use of metadata and Dublin Core, which was somewhat time consuming process for going through all the archives and documents we had gathered. It was relatively easy clerical work, but tedious all the same. In addition, we learned that Omeka is not necessarily a “safe place” for your work. With the granted access that many people have as SuperUsers or SuperAdmins, others can manipulate your page, and work can easily be deleted by mistakenly navigating or refreshing a page. We learned to put our work in separate platform before posting it on Omeka. Lastly, it took us quite some time to become comfortable, not sure that we still all are, with using Omeka. You have to make sure you click “Save Changes” frequently that way your hard work does not disappear (this happened to Elyse when typing up a very long paragraph! Thankfully she drafted it in Google Docs first!).

As for Thoreau, wow, did we learn a lot! First, the title of Kelley’s book, A Different Drummer, was influenced and derived from a quote by Thoreau: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” More generally, we also learned that one of the nation’s leading scholars on Thoreau was SUNY Geneseo’s very own Walter Harding. We knew this man’s name from the Harding lounge in Welles, but this project put that name to life. In the quest to pursue the understanding of Thoreau’s work and life, Harding reached out across the nation for fellow scholars who represented Thoreau’s ideas. Through Harding’s invitation, a friendship formed between the two scholars (Kelley and Harding himself) and enriched the student community in the spring of 1965 at SUNY Geneseo.

If you ever get a chance to, we recommend you all go check out the Special Collections documents on Harding and Kelley, as many of them relate to Thoreau in many ways. We are very thankful to have the opportunity to add to the ongoing celebration of Harding’s impact upon the study of Thoreau and upon the Geneseo Campus.

Timeline Project

Written by Jessica Drechsler, Kennedi Wittenrich, Micayah Ambriz, and Nicole Fyvie

As we started the timeline project, we determined that the purpose was to not only find events that happened during the time Thoreau was at Walden, but to look at events that happened before and after Walden. Some of the events that occurred early in Thoreau’s life, contributed to how he ended up at Walden. For example, in 1821, Thoreau’s uncle and father started up in the pencil-making business. This is an important event, as it helped Thoreau to afford to be able to go to Harvard. Then, without Thoreau meeting Emerson, he wouldn’t have been offered a piece of land on the shore of Walden Pond, which he used during his time at the pond. Also, without Thoreau being able to build a house on the pond, he wouldn’t have written his journals that ended up contributing to his book Walden. The events that were occurring around the world during this affected Thoreau’s life after he left Walden. For example, the Civil War was occurring after the time that Thoreau left Walden. Through this, Thoreau became involved in the abolition and spoke at different events regarding this topic. The purpose of this project was to include different times in  Thoreau’s life and events around the world, that contributed to Thoreau’s life overall.

Due to previous experiences with group projects, we decided to equally divide up the work in order to ensure that all members were contributing equally. This is very important when working as a group to ensure that one person isn’t simply doing nothing while everyone else does all the work. When creating the timeline we decided to create three parallel timelines that would detail different events that were important to the creation of Walden. The three timelines were titled “life”, “world”, and “walden” and they detailed different important events pertaining to those categories. Jessica was responsible for the life events of Thoreau that led up to his creation of Walden, Logan went through and added different important historical events during the time period, Nicole focused on Thoreau’s time during Walden, Kennedi focused on life after Walden, and lastly Micayah pulled information from Walden and the Selection of Journals about his time at Walden. By dividing up the work in such a precise manner it allowed us to work more productively and accurately. Instead of constantly asking “what is it I’m supposed to be doing?” we all knew what work was assigned of us and completed it.

As we were working on this project we ran into a few challenges. Some challenges were harder than others but in the end, we were able to figure everything out. One of the challenges we ran into was that the Knight lab timeline website crashed a few times. We didn’t need it to work on the project but it was nice to have so we could see when the website crashed we had to figure out how to work on the project without using the website to see how our work was coming out. We did not find a solution to this problem but the website was restored the next day so we were able to use it in class. A second challenge we ran into was that we wanted to have a picture of the different versions of Walden and we couldn’t find any pictures on it. So what we did was went to the fluid text website and took screenshots of each version we talked about. But you can’t upload an image into the timeline excel sheet, you need an image address. What we did was we uploaded the screenshots into a blog post and posted it on our classes blog website. This gave each image a URL and we were then able to use it in our project. Another challenge we faced was that we wanted to organize this timeline into different sections and we didn’t want to have more than one timeline. What we found was that we could do this by putting a name in the group column all the way on the right of the excel sheet. The three names we used were Life, Book, and World to categorize what each point was represented too. The last challenge we faced was that at one point we couldn’t get the excel URL to work in the timeline website. We had to figure out why it wasn’t working and how to fix it. So we went through the whole excel sheet to see if everything was filled out correctly and there were no blank spaces. What we found was that the Dates column name was accidentally deleted and it won’t work unless that box was filled in. To make it work we just put in the title dates and the URL worked again on the timeline website.

While completing this Timeline Project on Walden, we learned many new things about Thoreau. We learned that he was inspired by Emerson to change his name from David Henry Thoreau to Henry David Thoreau. He went to Harvard, which at the time only cost $179 for both room and board and tuition. Even at such a low cost compared to today, he could barely afford to go. Luckily, his family owned a Pencil Business and they were able to scrape together enough money for him to attend Harvard. He went to jail for not paying the poll tax because it supported slavery and he didn’t agree with that. We learned that he built the house at Walden and later gave lectures based on the different chapters in Walden. Finally, in 1862, 10 years after the first publication of Walden was released and towards the end of his life, we learned that Thoreau changed the title from Walden or Life in the Woods to just Walden.

The main tool that we used in completing this project is TimelineJS. The website has you open a google sheet template in which you input the information and images for the timeline. The layout had you include dates, headline, text, the URL  of the image, image credit, and an image caption. Since Timeline JS used a google sheet to store the data, everyone in the group was able to work on it at the same time and it was more accessible than most websites. The website was also free to use and the order in which we found and included information didn’t matter since the website inputs the actual timeline based on the date of the event. Due to the nature of our topic, it was able to accommodate the use of more than one grouping on the timeline itself. In this way, we could group together the information into three separate lines on our timeline; life, book, and world. There were some limitations for this website, however, and one of these was that the website would occasionally crash. Also, if anything was inputted incorrectly or incompletely, the timeline wouldn’t accept it and an error file will appear. Also, only an URL can be used for images in the google sheets. Therefore, any images such as screenshots from websites had to be uploaded onto a separate website in order to put it into the timeline.



Generational Differences in Technology

A topic we have often discussed in class is generational differences in opinion on technology. One thing that often comes to mind when I think about this topic is how technology creates distractions for students today and whether or not we are more distracted and have lower attention spans in general because of technology. I’ve experienced both high school teachers and college professors telling students how technology is to blame for how easily distracted we can be. My opinion on this issue, however, is different from theirs. Continue reading “Generational Differences in Technology”