Category: Digital Thoreau

Life in the Digital Woods: Walden, A Fluid Text Updated

[See our update post on the Digital Thoreau blog too!]

A Recap: What is Walden: A Fluid Text?

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 12.50.31 AMOur Fluid Text edition of Walden gathers eight years and seven versions of the American masterpiece using the Versioning Machine tool and Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) mark-up. Want the modern edit of the masterpiece?– we also have the 1971 Princeton University Press edition, reproduced with permission. Readers can see the definitive version foremost (with or without our notes, easily toggled off for a clean read), and then view the older workings of the novel. Easily presented side-by-side, readers can wade time’s river in order to view the evolution of Walden as Thoreau honed it over the years. We’ve encoded the textual changes down to the word based on the scholarship of Ron Clapper. A simple click on the text will highlight the cross-edition variations; all the grunt work has been done for the fascinated student of Thoreau, and now further opportunities for scholarship are available with this publicly available text. Coders, too, can step behind-the-screen to see our TEI mark-up and XSLT. The Fluid Text edition of Walden takes the confident and singular challenge Thoreau gave us long ago even further through the field of digital humanities, and studies of encoding and authorial evolution:

It is not all books that are as dull as their readers . .  .

The Upgrade

With the release of the newly updated Walden: A Fluid Text comes plenty of detail, and quite a few major features. SUNY Geneseo’s Fluid Text team has worked primarily to clean up and edit the text, and to work on a new face for the project. Various bugs and textual errors reported by ours users have been amended, and we used this data to forecast how we wanted to improve the webpage for this update, and this is what we’ve done.

Our Walden: A Fluid Text Data Dictionary has been updated, so now TEI experts and novices alike can view the substratum of encoding mark-up–  the usage of TEI elements and attributes, as well as definitions and further usage tips. On a similar note for coders and the curious, our XSLT source code is now available [ziptar.gz].

Support for Thoreau’s journal notes (added by Dr. Paul Schacht’s “Literature and Literary Study in a Digital Age” course students) are now available in our work as Notes studded throughout the text. These journal notes were the earliest conceptions of many famous thoughts and passages found in Walden, jotted down by Thoreau years in advance. If you want to take a look at the student work and how this was done through scholarship and various coding methods for this semester-long undertaking, head over here.

In our polishing, we’ve also overhauled the graphical qualities of Walden: A Fluid Text. Stylistic textual rendering has been tweaked, and the distinctive tables in Economy, the inaugural and often mathematical chapter, are reformatted for easier understanding. Currently, individual columns in the versioning machine layout can now scroll independently of each other as well, so that reader’s can compare different sections of Walden at once.

What’s Next

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 11.47.34 AMOur Fluid Text, as the name suggests, is always changing, and we have many more features in mind. In keeping with the possibilities of digital tools, and TEI in particular, we have a planned revamp of the website interface to gild our look with a simplicity inspired by Walden itself. Dr. Paul Schacht plans on involving students in this project through further work in his Digital Studies course. A new users manual is planned to accompany the new look. Special attention will also be paid to accessibility on tablet screens, for scholars who want to read Thoreau in the library and woods alike.

No wonder that Alexander carried the Illiad with him on his expeditions in a precious casket. A written word is the choicest of relics . . . 


Thoreau, Digitized. Deliberately.


by Paul Schacht

Henry_David_Thoreau-350wIn Walden, nineteenth-century American author, philosopher, and activist Henry David Thoreau wrote that he went to the woods because he wished to “live deliberately.” In the same work, he also wrote that “Books must be read as deliberately as they were written.”

Digital Thoreau is a joint initiative of SUNY Geneseo, the Thoreau Society, and the Walden Woods Project aimed at promoting the deliberate reading of Thoreau in ways that illuminate his creative process and facilitate thoughtful conversation about his work.

The projects that comprise the initiative are open in a variety of ways.

FluidDigital Thoreau’s main scholarly project is a “fluid text” edition of Walden. Thoreau revised the manuscript of Walden seven times between 1846, when he began working on it while still living at the pond, and 1854, when the first edition was published. Our fluid text Walden makes it possible for readers to follow the manuscript revisions across the seven versions, comparing any version with any other and with the Princeton University Press edition of the finished work.

The project would not have been possible without the cooperation of Thoreau scholar Ronald E. Clapper, who freely shared with us his 1967 dissertation identifying all the manuscript variants. Nor could it have happened without the Versioning Machine: the open-source platform for displaying text-versions that we’ve adopted to display the variants on-screen.

TEIIn turn, we’re openly sharing the XML-TEI code that’s the back end of that Versioning Machine display — code written right here at SUNY Geneseo by Milne Library faculty and staff. Other digital humanists have already downloaded the code to see how the variants display on another versioning platform, Juxta.

Walden: A Fluid Text Edition also incorporates the scholarly notes that SUNY Distinguished Professor and former SUNY Geneseo English department member Walter Harding wrote for his Walden: An Annotated Edition (1995). This addition was made possible because the notes were freely shared with us by the Harding family.


Screenshot: A Readers Thoreau

Another of our projects at Digital Thoreau, funded by a SUNY Innovative Instruction Technology Grant, is a text of Walden designed to invite conversation both in the text’s margins and in discussion forums. Readers can participate in this conversation individually or in groups. The Readers’ Thoreau brings together two open-source plugins from the open-source blogging platform WordPress — Commons In A Box and CommentPress — to create a “social reading” experience that has the fundamental features of a social network. Readers can comment on any paragraph of Walden, add labels to comments, search other readers’ comments by label, follow the comment activity of friends in the network, join forums, and continue conversations that begin inside the text in other ways. They can filter comments so that they only see the ones that interest them. Two or more groups can decide to read Walden with each other. They can “like” the comments they find most valuable and recommend comments to friends.

DigThorSliderWe think of The Readers’ Thoreau as a tool for reading deliberately by reading deliberatively. You could also think of it as space for open conversation about one of literature’s greatest works.

Open access is the means by which Digital Thoreau’s projects have come into being; it’s also the end they serve.


Dr. Jack Quinan to Speak Oct. 22 @Milne

Please join noted architectural historian and Frank Lloyd Wright scholar Jack Quinan as he uncovers Thoreau’s place in architectural history and traces the connections between Henry David Thoreau’s cabin at Walden with the major architectural movements of Europe and the Americas leading up to the time of Thoreau, his contributions to transcendentalism, 20th-century modernism, and beyond. The talk will be held on Monday, October 22, at 5:30 p.m. in Milne 105.

Dr. Quinan is SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Senior Curator of the Darwin D. Martin House, and founder of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. His most recent book, “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buffalo Venture From The Larkin Building to Broadacre City,” was published this past September, and gathers together Wright’s 24 buildings and projects for Buffalo and Buffalo-related clients.

Thoreau Society Annual Gathering

This summer, Paul Schacht and Joe Easterly traveled to the Thoreau Society’s Annual Gathering in Concord, Massachusetts to present  on Digital Thoreau, which is a project that seeks to build a community of scholarship, learning, and discovery centered on the works of Henry David Thoreau, staring with a digital variorum edition of Walden.

Starting in 2010, the Digital Thoreau project has been establishing a network of scholars interested in collaborative scholarship on Thoreau’s manuscripts. Earlier this year, Digital Thoreau joined the DHCommons, which is a centerNet-funded initiative which provides a place for digital humanities projects to find collaborators, and collaborators to find projects. Check out the pitch video!

Meet Joe Easterly

Joe Easterly

Joe Easterly, Milne’s Electronic Resources and Digital Scholarship Librarian

With Library service expanding deeper into the realm of digital scholarship – the new Digital Media Lab, open-source publishing, Digital Thoreau, etc. — could a matching librarian be far behind? Of course not, and he has arrived in the person of Joe Easterly, who became Milne’s first Electronic Resources and Digital Scholarship Librarian on October 24.

Joe is here to act as the primary human resource for faculty and students working on (or hoping to begin) scholarly projects with a digital focus. It’s what he’s been doing, more or less, at the University of Buffalo for the last four years where he was a media specialist and coordinator of the Media Resource Center, serving as the Visual Resources librarian to the university’s visual arts faculty. The skills he’s acquired through his coursework (he earned his master’s degree in library science in 2007, with an emphasis in digital media information systems and retrieval) and professional experience will serve him – or, more accurately, the Geneseo campus community – very well.

Among the projects Joe has been involved in is UBdigit, the University of Buffalo’s digital library collection. He managed and directed the Visual Resources Collection portion of that resource, from scanning the images to creating the metadata, working closely with faculty and supervising a team of student assistants. Joe is used to collaborating with faculty, having conducted workshops, developed image digitization standards, facilitated licensing and consignment of digital images, and helped write grants. He also has experience digitizing images for exhibitions and scholarly publication, and he’s done digital preservation consulting for UB Galleries and museum curators in the Buffalo-Niagara region. He was a charter member of UB’s Digital Humanities Initiative. Safe to say, Joe knows his way around the digital scholarship landscape and is prepared to lead others through it.

One of the first projects Joe has joined here at Geneseo is the Digital Thoreau Project, headed by English professor Paul Schacht and other faculty from the English department and Milne Library. Digital Thoreau aims to bring the works of Henry David Thoreau – beginning with a TEI-encoded scholarly edition of Walden – to scholars, students and general readers around the world.

Joe’s ease and expertise with digital technology and his commitment to librarianship are built on a solid humanities foundation. He received a BA in linguistics, has studied French extensively and is currently pursuing a second master’s degree in social anthropology. He is also a classically trained pianist. Lately, he says, he’s “really into” wine and photography, and when the weather’s fine he likes to go sailing.

The folks at Milne are very glad that Joe decided to join the faculty, and the feeling is mutual, he says. “I was really impressed by how committed and talented the library faculty and staff are … it was a big motivation for me to join.” Aesthetics played a (small) part, too, in his decision to come to Geneseo. “I was expecting the dreary early-70s late modernist architecture you sometimes see at [SUNY] campuses,” he says. “I had no idea how beautiful the town is, or the campus, until I came to visit.” Joe is not the only one who is optimistic about his future here at Geneseo, and about the future of digital scholarship.

Humanities II at Walden Pond

Want to spend a few weeks this summer walking in Thoreau’s footsteps, studying and discussing great ideas like he did?  Want to get those HUMN credits under your belt before the fall semester starts?  Then apply for Humanities 221 at Walden Pond, a 4-week course taking place in Concord, MA (minutes from Boston) June 19 – July 16, 2011.  The deadline to apply is Wednesday, March 23.

To learn a little more about this unique course offering, stop by Milne Library and check out the display in the lobby.  Just look for the poster of Mr. Thoreau.  Or contact the course instructors, Profs. Ed Gillin and Mary Gillin, who will be happy to answer any questions you may have.  But hurry!  There’ll be plenty of time to smell the roses in Concord, for as Thoreau himself wrote, “Nature will bear the closest inspection.”