From Readers’ Thoreau

Students at Duke Kunshan University Use Readers’ Thoreau As They Analyze Thoreau Across Cultures

This spring, about two dozen students in two sections at Duke Kunshan University in Kunshan, China are taking “Walden International: Analyzing Thoreau Across Cultures” from Patrick Morgan, a Ph.D. candidate and Graduate Instructor in English at Duke University and a graduate of SUNY Geneseo (English, Geological Sciences, 2010).

Morgan’s Kunshan students are discussing Walden in the margins of Thoreau’s work at The Readers’ Thoreau, the online community of Digital Thoreau.

Campus of Duke Kunshan University
Duke Kunshan University

The students are also “analyzing [Thoreau’s] writings from an international perspective, focusing primarily on his engagement with Asian thought,” according to Morgan’s syllabus, asking how Thoreau “‘package[s]’ ancient Asian philosophies in order to comment on nineteenth-century American culture” and what “cultural forces and contexts … allow scholars like Lin Yutang to claim Thoreau as ‘the most Chinese of all American authors.'”

In addition to meeting with Morgan for 300 minutes each week in class and exchanging ideas online in the margins of Walden, the Kunshan University students are taking a digital field trip to Walden Pond thanks to a website Morgan has created that links passages of Thoreau’s text to YouTube videos he made in which he reads aloud from Walden while capturing the pond’s sights and sounds.

Morgan has been active in Thoreau studies since his undergraduate days at Geneseo, where he presented on “Thoreau’s Bedrock: Emerson’s Influence and the Geomorphological Significance of Emerson’s Cliff, Concord, Massachusetts” for Geneseo’s day celebrating undergraduate research, GREAT Day, in 2010. That same year, his article on “Aesthetic Inflections: Thoreau, Gender, and Geology” appeared in the Thoreau Society’s scholarly annual, The Concord Saunterer. In 2015, Morgan participated in an NEH summer institute for college instructors on “Transcendentalism and Reform in the Age of Emerson, Thoreau, and Fuller” conducted in Concord by a roster of scholars that included Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, Phyllis Cole, Jayne Gordon, Robert Gross, John Matteson, Wesley T. Mott, and former Geneseo Harding lecturers Laura Dassow Walls, Megan Marshall, and Joel Myerson.

In addition to his studies and teaching at Duke University, Morgan serves as an editorial assistant at the scholarly journal American Literature, published by Duke University Press.

Open for Business – Fluid Text “Walden” and The Readers’ Thoreau

Today, we’re thrilled to announce that two of our projects at Digital Thoreau — Walden: A Fluid Text Edition and The Readers’ Thoreau — are ready to use.

Walden: A Fluid Text Edition enables readers to track Henry David Thoreau’s revisions to Walden across the seven manuscript versions he composed between 1846 and 1854.  

To create it, we’ve taken the critical apparatus of the manuscript versions first prepared by Ronald E. Clapper in his 1967 Ph.D. dissertation The Development of Walden: A Genetic Text and encoded it in TEI. When displayed in the Versioning Machine, open-source software first developed under the editorship of Susan Schreibman, our TEI makes it possible to compare any of the seven versions with any other or with the base text, the Princeton University Press edition of Walden. To produce our fluid-text Walden, we worked closely with Prof. Clapper; Elizabeth Witherell, editor-in-chief of Princeton’s The Works of Henry D. Thoreau; and Syd Bauman, XML Programmer-Analyst at Northeastern University Libraries. We gratefully acknowledge their assistance and the cooperation of Princeton University Press.

The Readers’ Thoreau embeds the published version of Walden in a social network, making it possible for readers to form groups to discuss Thoreau’s classic in the margins of the text and in discussion forums. Funded largely by a State University of New York Innovative Instruction Technology Grant, The Readers’ Thoreau is built entirely with open-source tools and has resulted in improvements to those tools that will benefit everyone who uses them. The social network is provided by Commons In A Box, a WordPress plugin developed at City University of New York, and the in-text social reading capability comes from another plugin, CommentPress. The current lead developer of CommentPress, Christian Wach, has written new code that tightens the integration between the two plugins and adds many new affordances to the CommentPress interface, including more granular visibility settings, the ability to “like” and feature comments,  and the ability to let selected users enrich their comments with media. Readers will be able to filter the comments that are visible to them so that they see only those they care about. In addition, all readers will be able to follow discussion among a “panel of experts” — readers whose knowledge of Thoreau gives their contributions to the discussion added interest and value. We’ve seeded these expert comments with the late Thoreau scholar Walter Harding’s annotations to his 1995 edition of Walden.

We have a third, ongoing project at Digital Thoreau: The Days of Walter Harding, Thoreau Scholar. The Days is an effort by undergraduate digital humanists at SUNY Geneseo to explore the life and work of a pre-eminent Thoreauvian who helped to found the Thoreau Society in 1941, produced numerous scholarly books and articles on his subject — including the influential biography The Days of Henry Thoreau (1965) — and taught at Geneseo from 1956 to 1982, where he achieved the ranks of SUNY Distinguished Professor and University Professor. Using the open-source archiving platform Omeka, Geneseo students are digitizing materials from Harding’s vast trove of Thoreauviana and organizing them into online exhibits.

We’re excited about all three of these projects. We hope you’ll visit them here and send us your feedback.