From Walden to WordPress

I’ll be honest: the reason why I registered isn’t about to blow your socks off. I’m a second semester senior and, well, I needed one last English elective. Anyone else?

That’s not to say that this class has proven to be as mediocre as my reason for taking it. In fact, it’s been the exact opposite. When I think of the most interesting things I know now that I didn’t know at the beginning of the semester, the first thing that comes to mind is the witchcraft that is VirtualBox (yes, I mean witchcraft in the most endearing way possible). I’m mesmerized that we can run an entire “sub-computer” inside our computers. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around a world existing within a world. Another interesting thing I’ve learned is that, according to Gleick in The Information, one of the earliest known “languages” is African talking drums. Maybe this is just me being not musically inclined, but the fact that musical instruments can send complex understood messages back and forth between villages far apart, and over even longer distances by relay, is something I never thought about before. Perhaps what I’ve found most intriguing from this class is what seems to be our takeaway every day. Electronics don’t have to be the pitfall of paper books or even the humanities as a whole. In fact, electronics are arguably the very thing the humanities need to stay preserved.

To be specific, I’d like to discuss our use of Walden in this course. Thoreau wrote Walden hundreds of years ago, but the text is anything but obsolete. It didn’t die with Thoreau because resources such as the Digital Thoreau website have helped to keep it alive (and even bring it more life!). The fluid text edition and the opportunity to annotate are what make Digital Thoreau so interesting to me. The fluid text edition makes me think of Thoreau as a student who is tirelessly revising an essay. This “student” vibe I get illuminates him, in a way, as more relatable than the rather distant persona of one of mankind’s most revered writers. (May I parenthetically add that I think it’s super impressive that Dr. Schacht got access to all these revisions and copies. This may be naive of me, but, how did he finesse that?!) Annotating is the second feature possessed by Digital Thoreau. “[Connecting] with readers in the margins of Thoreau,” according to the description online, is a tool that speaks to the ed major in me. I’m interested in the idea of choice, here: choosing sections of Walden that I find particularly interesting and sections that my brain finds a way to relate to our course. I’ve even seen Walter Harding’s comments scattered. I’m in the Harding/Kelley project group, so seeing this celebrity (for lack of a better term) come to life puts our project into perspective. One of my annotations pulled the following quote from Economy 15-29:

It would be some advantage to live a primitive and frontier life, though in the midst of an outward civilization

In the margins, I explained how this quote makes me think of the argument many people from older generations use to hold on to traditions. Here, Thoreau sides with these folks, claiming it would be advantageous to live a “primitive and frontier life” even as life is advancing around you. I think of older adults who refuse to engage with the technological progress our society is making. I’m not even talking exclusively about our grandparents; my Dad, for example, hates to admit that his iPhone helps him with things he cares about (like talking to my sister and I or looking up dinner recipes).

In this course, we have discussed the importance of holding on to where things came from (as The Information argues) while simultaneously welcoming new advances. It is at this intersection of remembering and welcoming that I’ve learned lives digital humanities. Prior to this course, I knew online textbooks were cool and I noticed the rise of e-readers. If you had asked me to define “digital humanities,” that’s probably the shaky answer I would’ve provided. That was the extent of what I knew to be digital humanities: e-readers. Right now, as I sit and type this blog post, I want to give myself a massive face-palm! I’ve learned the digital humanities holds more significance than merely my trusty Kindle. It is a field that bridges the ever-present gap between technology and the study of humans. It is what allows society to progress. We need this intersection because society is never getting rid of technology, and it’s never going to stop studying humans.

From Walden to WordPress, the humanities are everywhere. I’m sure the iPhone isn’t disappearing anytime soon, either.

Creativity is Key

Not to brag or anything, but the journals that I kept from 2007-2012 probably would’ve gotten me famous. Journaling is incredibly versatile; you can write about the reasons that you believe Chick-Fil A should be on the SUNY Geneseo campus or about a research study you did on television usage. The possibilities are endless. The use of Atom changed the way I think about journaling. It is a code text editor, and it has the ability to display your workings in a unique fashion. The text editor part alone makes my heart skip a beat, so everything else is just an added bonus. Atom puts the markdown style text that you are working on, side by side with the finished piece. Mind blowing. You can see your work progress, but it also appears in a final form. Atom also organizes your work for you, and I feel as if my life has been changed, ever since I sorted my blog posts by date. When I’m writing, I tend to be slightly disorganized, so I appreciate the organizational capabilities that Atom possesses. But most importantly, Atom has rekindled my creative side, and it has inspired me to resurrect my love for journaling.
Consider your time in preschool, elementary school, and middle school. Arts and crafts were intertwined with learning, and soon enough art and design classes became mandated. It was important to have writing and reading workshops and to discuss and share your work with others. Student work was hung all around the hallways; inspiring more kids to use their imagination. Creativity was praised and highly encouraged for almost 11 years. It is most definitely a center of the majority of my earliest memories. I don’t often think back to the math problems or the second language exercises during these years, but I am often reminded of the short story I wrote about bats, or the flower I painted that was inspired by Georgia O’Keefe.
My parents always told me that if I picked a career I loved, I would never have to work a day in my life. Let’s face it, who actually wants to work at all? It would make it slightly easier to have a job that I valued and cared about, though. I was the only kindergartener who chose to write inside instead of going out to recess, so it was pretty natural that I decided I wanted to be a writer. I’ve always considered writing to be a creative outlet for me, and this still remains the same. It has always been important for me to carve out the time to write, no matter how jam-packed my schedule is or how stressed I am. But then I got to high school. “You could really do something better with your life.” “Why would you want to major in English? You can do it on the side.” “Would you ever consider a S.T.E.M. major?” These quotes still float around my head today, when I think back to the distaste of my high school peers and teachers when I told them that I wanted to be an English major. At some point during my freshman year, I decided that I had enough, and what high schooler wouldn’t fall into the trap of peer pressure? I worked really hard in the sciences for the next three years and applied to all my colleges as a Biology major. Funny story, I actually only got rejected from 1 out of 11 Biology programs. Oh, how the tables have turned. This statistic really pleased everyone. My teachers and even some of my friends seemed to be more ecstatic that I was going to have a ‘good’ major, rather than one that made me happy. I couldn’t change my teachers, but clearly, I needed some new friends. To go the extra mile, I decided to go on the Pre-Med track, just to please everyone a little bit more. So there I was, registering and enrolling at SUNY Geneseo in June 2018 on a Pre-Med track. After reading an article that said it’s easier to get accepted into medical school with a major other than Biology, I decided that I would be an English major. Without exaggeration, I can say that majoring in English was one of the best decisions of my life (I love Digital Humanities the most, though). I continually talk about Digital Humanities and the assignments that we have, and I also discuss James Gleick’s The Information and the Walden map project far too much. Atom has forced me to journal again and I could not be more thankful to have enrolled in a class that pushes me to think outside the box and to use my imagination.

Draft to Draft, Tracking The Creative Process

It is amazing how easily one can forget the steps it takes to create a finished and publishable piece of writing. The piece we read on a page is rarely ever the first version of the story. But what happens to the earlier drafts?

We have been reading Henry David Thoreau, mostly his essays in Walden, for the last few weeks. But what we have been reading, the published version of Walden is just one version of it. The essays within Walden were written and rewritten in a span of a few years, which we as a class saw through Digital Thoreau fluid text online which lets the viewer compare multiple drafts of the different chapters of Walden.

Being a Creative Writing major, I am very familiar with the multiple and multiple drafts that come with creating a written piece. These drafts can show the simple correction of grammar or word exchanges to the massive undertaking of adding and removing paragraphs. Sometimes, by accident, I forget what I named the newest draft, so I use Word’s “compare” feature which pulls in two different documents to compare what was added and removed from the “original” draft to the “newer” draft. I have learned through this class that this type of mark-up is called TEI.

We spoke briefly in class about TEI and how to use different code sets to tell the computer to read or set the text up in different manners. Unlike HTML coding, TEI focuses on telling the viewer how the text should look. As in what is the beginning and end of a paragraph, what is a line, as well as how the text was edited. This means particular coding inside the brackets to show what was added and what had been removed from draft to draft.

What I find fascinating about this, is that it allows us to see the fluid motion of one’s thoughts and ideas as they find their way on paper. It’s a way to see an individual’s creative process. Although we can’t exactly use this process to find out why Thoreau made the changes he did (we can speculate but not know for sure). I am curious though if this kind of analyzation can be used to see how and why current writers change their drafts.

What I’ve Learned Throughout the Semester

When I first started this class, I never really thought of how technology came to be, particularly with how it affects communication. When I started to read The Information by James Gleick, I started to become aware of how communication has evolved over time and how technology has impacted that. The Information described how communication originally started. There was really no forms of technology back then, so to communicate people would use drums. The beat of the drums would communicate a message. However, in order to hear the message you had to be within range of the drum.  Then, communication shifted to telegraphs. With a telegraph you would send codes that represented different words or messages. Here we can see how technology is slowly started to evolve. I picked to focus on these two forms of communication because they are the ones that relate most closely to the technology we have today. With the technology that we have today, such as iPads, and iPhones, we can see how the drums and telegraph has impacted our communication. With communicating by using drum beats, it was often easy to misunderstand or misinterpret a message. The same can be true for when we use text messages or email. We can interpret a text message or email one way, but the way that someone on the receiving end of that text message or email may interpret the message in a different way. Such as with using emojis. When you send an emoji, you know what you want that emoji to represent but the person receiving that message may perceive it differently. With communicating using the telegraph, people would use shorten codes because they were cheaper to send. When we send text messages, we sometimes use codes as well, such as typing “u” instead of “you.” We don’t use those shortcuts as a way to save money, but as a way to save us time. Throughout the course of reading The Information, it became clear to me that even though technology has evolved during time, the way in which we communicate has not.

Looking at communication, I have been able to see how communication has evolved technically. Just like how we use symbols when texting or how people used to use codes when sending a telegraph, symbols and codes can be used when working with atom. Atom is space that uses a command line and a series of codes. For instance, atom can be used to keep track of folders or journals within your computer. With atom, I have started to keep a journal of what we’ve been learning in class and different things that have happened throughout the semester. This has helped me keep track of the different technical computations we have been learning. In atom, there are a lot of codes or symbols that represent different commands or shortcuts. For example, typing “*title*” it would show the word “title” in italics. By typing “**title**” it would show the word title in bold print. Through atom, you can also insert pictures from the internet and make them appear as if you’re looking at an internet page. When Lawerence Lessig came to speak at the college, I wrote a journal post on the event. By writing it through Atom, I was able to organize it in a way that was easy to read, including a picture of Lessig. Using atom has helped me recognize the way in which technology and communication. As the drum beats represented different codes or messages, lead to the telegraph using codes and symbols to communicate messages, then to atom using symbols or shortcuts to communicate through writing.

Learning about technology and communication has made me look at the way I use technology. When I pick up my phone I now think of how we got to where we are today with technology. How the varies forms of technology and ways of communication has lead to me being able to pick up my phone and respond to a message within seconds. The way that technology and communication evolved, has transformed our society and will continue to do so. Every day, there’s a new technology device or a different way to communicate such as through new emijos. Technology and communication will continue to transform and change the way we interact with people, but will always continue to connect in some way with past forms of communication or technology.

Growing in Confidence and Knowledge With Computers

Since the first day of this class, I have constantly been learning new things and expanding my knowledge of computers. One of the things that has been most interesting to me has been learning how to use coding and Virtual Box to find out more information about texts such as Walden. Rather than reading through the book to find specific things, Virtual Box allows you to easily navigate the text and pick out the information you are looking for.

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The Endless Possibilities of Google Maps

When most people think of an English course, they likely think about literature and writing. It would be rare for a person’s first thought to be about using digital technology to better understand concepts that are relative to the English major. However, in English 340, incorporating different computer programs into our class is exactly what we have been doing. The information we have learned has taught me several valuable lessons that I probably would not have learned in any other class.

Prior to this semester, I have always used Google Maps to get from place to place while driving, but I never realized that it could do much more than offer directions. As demonstrated in class on February 25th, Google Maps can be used to add certain points of interest to a map. During our in-class activity, I took the opportunity to construct a map that included all of the schools I have attended throughout my lifetime. This allowed me to gather a general idea of their distances from each other. At a young age, I viewed my elementary school as being far away from my house, when in reality it was only fifteen minutes away. Today, I view my college as being relatively close to my house, even though it is an hour and fifteen minutes away. The map allowed me to recognize how much my concept of time has changed from the time I was young.

Along with adding data to maps from our personal lives, our class also learned how to insert data that represents statistics from around the world. I chose to overlay the locations of every American Indian Reservation onto my Google map. It’s interesting to get a sense of their locations, especially pertaining to my current location. I never realized how many reservations there are in relation to Buffalo and Geneseo. Surprisingly, it is relatively easy to import the statistics onto the map. To add a new layer onto Google maps, you need to start by choosing “add layer.” Next, you select “import” and then choose “select a file from your device” under the “upload tab.” As long as the statistics pertaining to your topic have been saved to your computer, you should be able to choose the downloaded information from your files to insert onto the Google map. Once you press complete, the information should appear as another layer on the map. This knowledge has changed the way I look at Google Maps. The technical concept is also a great way to compare statistics from several different maps. It also allows people to conceptualize information that might not be understood when presented as a list of numbers. I now see it as a useful tool that can help me to understand certain statistics in an easier way.

The information that we learned about Google Maps during class has helped to make our final project task more understandable. The project that my group is focusing on is based on Google Maps. Our task has been to find all of the place names that Henry David Thoreau mentioned in Walden and place them on a map to make the knowledge easily accessible to internet users. Taking the time to truly understand how to use Google Maps in class has allowed my group to approach this project with a good amount of background knowledge. We have a clear understanding of how to plot the locations on the map and add details that allow the viewer to grasp what they are looking at. The knowledge we gained in class about Google Maps has made it easier to successfully complete our project thus far.

In addition to using Google Maps for the final project, I have considered using it as a way to plot where my family members have lived. I feel as though I have an elaborate family ancestry, which includes ancestors originating from Armenia, Ireland, England, Italy, and many other countries. My mother’s side of the family has a pretty clear understanding of where our ancestors are from, but no one in my family has ever taken the time to plot this information. I have very little knowledge of where my father’s ancestors are from. I would love to take the time to go through family records and figure out more information about my dad’s side. Google Maps offers me the perfect opportunity to label where my ancestors are from. I feel as though this information would be very beneficial to know, for both my current and future family members. Had we not learned about Google Maps in class, it is likely that I never would have considered taking the time to track my family ancestry on a map.

By taking English 340, I feel as though I have learned about several types of computer programs that I never would have learned about elsewhere. Google Maps is a program that I have used for many years, but not to the fullness I could have. This class has allowed me to realize how much Maps has to offer. Already, Maps has allowed me to create maps, document data about Thoreau’s Walden, and look further into my family ancestry. I am excited to see what else I can do with Google Maps in the future.

Connections

I remember on the first day of class, I told my partner I was pretty proficient in computers. All those days I spent playing tech support for all my older relatives, and being the go-to graphic design girl in my business class in high school, gave me a faux sense of confidence when it came to computers. When I initially thought learning how to use the command line had to do with making graphic lines, was my first sign of trouble. VirtualBox was a bit of a shock at first, considering the expectations I had. On top of that, even though I’m concentrating in English, I guess I had never placed much thought into linguistics itself.  The relationship of linguistics, information, and technology, have been presented to me through the duration of this course in a way I could have never fathomed.

The essence of the biggest lesson I have taken from this class is this: information, in both linguistics and technology, is not a creation of this current digital age. There are decades and centuries behind us of this coexisting relationship. I had personally been clueless of this, just listening to the elders that talked down to my fellow screen-addicted peers, saying that this was only a product of our generation. Looking at Walden alone opened my eyes to this, especially when I had to dig to try to make connections to our class. I remember being given that very task, sitting there thinking, “What? Walden is the polar opposite of all the things we do in class, there’s no way to make a meaningful connection.” But as I began to dig, the puzzle pieces started to connect as I realized the influence of that relationship was so heavily presented in Walden, written over 100 years ago. To continue on, I think it’s worthwhile to not only look for this everlasting relationship, as our current technology continues to grow and boom. As a future teacher, teaching to make meaningful connections between text and our world around us is a key point of literature itself. I think it will be important to give these sorts of challenges to open students eyes to all the relationships and connections around us.

Technically, one of my favorite hands-on programs I have learned is being able to utilize atom. As I journal in it everyday, and maneuver the wonders of plain text, I can’t help but think of the long-term use. While I move forward in my teaching career, knowing how to use a program like atom to be able to save text in different formats, makes every future worksheet, e-journal, and lesson plan easier and more efficient to do on a computer. Not to mention, this is a skill I could implement with upper elementary students. Especially if digital technology continues at the rapid rate it does, skills like markdown and plain text will only become more handy. Having an understanding for a deeper use of the technology we use daily, makes me more versatile in the classroom.

Just last week, when I applied for a job at a local library, I wrote in the special skills box that I was currently taking this class that was teaching me about metadata and encoding. I was already comfortable in the humanities, but now finding ease in my new computer knowledge, makes my skill set more functional and resourceful than ever. I’m glad to not just know the surface level function of these machines, but be able to navigate my machine in relation to my studies, and even far beyond those.

Digital Literacy and Media

Time for the Comm major to talk about his major! I’ve really enjoyed this class and the implications it has towards the study of literature and the nature of the digital humanities in general. Yet, as we’ve gone through the semester, the primary means of application that regularly pop into my head always have to do with my studies regarding Communication, primarily Journalism and Media, rather than literature.

So first I wanna talk about something pretty basic, Slack. I heard of Slack before we used it for class, but I had never actually used it or got to see its interface before. It reminds me a lot of the app “GroupMe,” which allows for group messaging regardless of what kind of device you have, but Slack is far more involved. I really appreciate the potential for Google Drive and Trello integration, Slack really is the perfect communication tool for collaboration. I’ve been involved with the school paper, The Lamron, since I arrived at Geneseo and I’ve always been frustrated with some of the paper’s logistical operations. The paper communicates primarily through email, and I find it’s easy for important messages to get missed or lost, and relying on email attachments to share articles presents its own slew of challenges. Next year, I get to serve as the Lamron’s Copy Editor, and since I’ll have more of an influence over the paper I may try and exert some of that to tweak how it operates. I love how we have the separate channels for our projects, assignments, book recommendations in class and how seamlessly we can talk to one another. I have a pretty clear vision of a slack channel for each separate Lamron section where writing assignments can be distributed, articles can be submitted, and questions can be answered. I’m excited to take some of what has worked in our Digital Humanities class and use it to better the school organization that I work so hard for.

So that’s a practical takeaway from this class that I hope to benefit from, but before I close out this post I want to get meta. This class has gotten me to consider data in ways I never could have fathomed, for obvious reasons considering our readings. I particularly enjoyed our class discussion regarding whether or not there are differences between data and information, and what those differences may be. I subscribe to the belief that they are different: data is simply the words on a page while information is the meaning we interpret from those words. How can I apply this way of thinking to my work outside of this class? The data-mining Thoreau project has gotten me to consider words in a new way, there’s more information to be obtained from that data than just the message communicated when words on a page are read in order. For example: as my group was learning to use Pyhton in order to extract data, we practiced with a programming package called NTLK. Basically, this allows us to find patterns and trends in a text more easily than if we went solely through the command line. One of the texts automatically included in NTLK was the classic comedic film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This was the text that I used to mess around with the software and it made me realize how much more information can be extracted from a film outside of just watching it. When I write for the Lamron, and in general, more often than not it’s some kind of film analysis. This potential to mine scripts opens up a whole new world of analytical possibilities. Did you know the word “swallow” is only said 10 times in that movie? Yet it is still one of the film’s most indelible quotes, which goes to illustrate the importance of context and delivery rather than frequency when it comes to important movie moments.

I really appreciate this class and the way it’s inspired me to consider analysis from a fresh perspective. Data was always something I figured was better left to STEM types, yet our work has shown me that there is plenty to be gained by anyone if they develop a basic understanding of digital technologies. This class has proved to me time and time again that the divide between technical fields of study and our own more creative endeavors really doesn’t exist.

Update: I thought I knew more than I did

I did not expect this class to be this way at all. I’m not sure what I expecting, but it was not this. I had never done any sort of coding before or even understood the complex inner-workings of things as simple as a website. In my first blog post, I said that I thought I understood computers pretty well. I realize now how wrong I was.

I recognize that we are barely scratching the surface of computing and that amazes me. Personally, Markdown is very simple compared to HTML. I love having the knowledge to work in Markdown. I find it difficult to remember all of the specific codes for HTML, while Markdown seems to be much more introductory. I find it very similar to when I learned Spanish. Learning basic Spanish was pretty simple, but once I learned all the tenses and conditionals and when to use them is where I got lost. For me, Markdown is basic Spanish, while HTML is all the added parts.

Something I struggle with in this class is recording what I am learning. My computer works slowly with Virtual Box, so I cannot bounce between it and Atom to record exactly what we are doing when working in Virtual Box whether it regards Python or WordPress. Because the computer language is so precise, I forget the specifics when I try to document how we did what we did later. Recording in the moment causes me to fall behind the class and miss things. I am going to start taking photos of my screen using my phone or screen-capture to try to record what I am learning more efficiently.

I have learned a lot though in the class, but my lack of records makes it difficult to recreate. What I found most valuable from this class is using Virtual Box and Python. There are so many things that you can do in Virtual Box, Python, and even Jupyter. I think it is fascinating to analyze texts using these programs. There are so many things you can learn from language-processors and these programs that recognize patterns. I am excited to be in the Thoreau Data group, because I think we can learn so much more about Thoreau through this. I have previously taken the Thoreau Harding Project Class with Dr. Gillin and will be working on the cabin this summer as well. Being able to use this technology will definitely help me understand Thoreau more.

Another thing that this class will eventually help me with is computing for children when I am a teacher. There are children’s games and apps which incorporate coding and teach them HTML. Honestly, I bet if I downloaded the games it would help me in this class. Having even the basic HTML knowledge I have gotten can help me support my future students. Who knows, maybe I’ll have a future coding-genius in one of my classes!

Timeline JS

As I said in my first blog post, I had no idea this course was going to consist of understanding how our computer works and things such as coding. I guess I didn’t even know it was going to be a Digital Humanities course. Therefore when I walked in on the first day I was taken back and a little worried the content would be over my head. However, after taking the time to listen in class I have added new knowledge about technology to my brain that I never thought I’d learn or want to learn. I still don’t know all there is to know about technology, especially with the command line in Virtual Box, but one thing that I have learned that has been particularly interesting is Timeline JS. In class we learned how to add in different information, images, and links to additional sources to create a timeline through Timeline JS. The first thing that came to my mind as a future educator, is how I can implement this into my future classroom. Timeline JS would be perfect for a Social Studies lesson where the students could take information they have learned, such as the years of major wars fought around the the world or dates of major events during the Civil Rights movement, and input the dates on Timeline JS to create their very own timeline. It can also be used for other subjects. For example, english teachers could have their students make a timeline of important events that occurred in a book. I used to do this in school, but it was on paper. Technology has become such an important aspect in education today and it’s only going to progress further, so the more we can incorporate it into our schools, the better off our students will be in the future. Timeline JS has also benefited me in being able to fulfill the Walden Project. I now know how to create a timeline to show the stages of composition of Walden in relation to other events in Thoreau’s life and important events taking place in the world around him. I feel fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to take this course because I now have a new understanding of how technology works. I’m looking forward to using this new information as I move forward in my career and teaching my future students about Timeline JS.