By Paul Schacht

Remembering Ron Clapper

Today marks one year since the passing of Ronald Earl Clapper, whose 1967 UCLA dissertation “The Development of Walden: A Genetic Text” is the basis of Digital Thoreau’s Walden: A Fluid-Text Edition.

From its first appearance, Ron’s genetic text of Walden has provided the Thoreau scholarly community with a tool of incalculable benefit. It’s been widely cited in books and articles, especially those seeking to understand Thoreau’s most important work through the lens of its long and complicated evolution. As correctly noted in this tribute on the website of California State University Fullerton, where he held a faculty appointment beginning in 1974, Ron’s dissertation has been “universally acknowledged as an indispensable and foundational resource—one scholar has referred to it as a ‘bible’—for serious Thoreau scholarship.”

Ron himself was an indispensable resource to the CSUF community. As the tribute goes on to explain,

… Clapper soon became the coordinator of the liberal studies program, a position he held from 1975–99. Recognized for his superb curricular, administrative and advisory skills in this role, Clapper’s many awards over the years culminated in the Faculty of the Year Award for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Following his long service as coordinator, Clapper continued to teach in liberal studies until his retirement in 2011.

Clapper was a tireless champion of the notion that a good education should cultivate understanding of the historical and thematic interconnections of the arts and humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. He opened unique and enduring opportunities for faculty from across these disciples to collaborate in the construction and maintenance of a strong and vital interdisciplinary program, including the development of innovative team-taught classes. As an instructor, Clapper inspired countless students to take up this interdisciplinary approach, teaching classes ranging from large lecture formats to small senior seminars. Following his retirement, Clapper continued his active support of the Department of Liberal Studies, most notably in his organizational assistance and financial sponsorship of an annual interdisciplinary conference and the Jane Hipolito Scholarship for Liberal Studies students.

My first contact with Ron came when I tracked him down in hopes of obtaining permission to use his dissertation as the basis for a project—at that point only roughly formulated—to create an edition of the Walden drafts that would place them side-by-side on a screen. A few emails and phone calls later, I understood just how excited he was by the prospect of reaching a wider audience with his scholarship through the internet. In fact, he explained, he had recently transformed his print dissertation into an electronic version in Microsoft Word, inspired by requests to put a version of his dissertation online, the first of which had come from the late Bradley P. Dean, who had himself worked extensively with Thoreau’s manuscripts. Ron enthusiastically shared his Word files, generously giving Digital Thoreau unrestricted permission to use them for our envisioned fluid-text edition.

In the summer of 2013, I had the privilege of meeting Ron at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, together with Beth Witherell, Editor-in-Chief of the The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau, published by Princeton University Press. We looked together at HM 924, which constitutes the bulk of Thoreau’s manuscript drafts of Walden, and discussed ongoing progress with the fluid-text edition. At that point, Ron had already been playing a crucial role in helping the Digital Thoreau project team develop the encoding strategy for the fluid text. For several years afterwards, he and Beth kindly made themselves available to share their perspectives not only on Thoreau and his revision process, but on the special challenges and rewards involved in doing manuscript work, with my students at SUNY Geneseo. (Beth, a member of the Digital Thoreau editorial team, is a regular visitor in my classes to this day.)

The September following that summer meeting, Ron, at my request, emailed me a brief account of how he came to write about the genesis of Walden. In the very lightly edited excerpt from the email below, he carries the narrative beyond “The Development of Walden” to give his own description of the dissertation’s digital afterlife, up to and including our collaboration to produce the fluid-text edition:

I began developing the genetic text of Walden almost by accident. When I was a graduate student in one of Leon Howard’s seminars at UCLA, he suggested that I compare Thoreau’s published version of “Life Without Principle” with the passages in his Journal to determine if some of the inconsistencies in the published version were the result of their having been written at different times in Thoreau’s life. While studying Thoreau’s Journals, I discovered that passages of Thoreau’s masterpiece, Walden, that were written several years after he had left the pond were very different from passages he wrote while living at the pond. Since J. Lyndon Shanley had recently discovered that the Walden manuscript was divided into seven distinct stages based on differences in the paper, ink, and handwriting, and the manuscript was in the Los Angeles area at the Huntington Library in San Marino, I quickly applied Leon’s method for “Life Without Principle” to Walden.

While there was a distinct first version of Walden, which Shanley published in The Making of Walden, the other six stages did not form complete versions in themselves. Scholars who approached the manuscript could look at the leaves contained in manuscript stages B through G, but they had very little sense of where these leaves fit into the working manuscript. My challenge was to create a genetic text that would allow scholars and students to understand the changes Thoreau made to his manuscript from versions B through G. I began with a printed text of Walden and seven colored pens (red for stage A, pink for B, orange for C, yellow for D, green for E, blue for F and purple for G), and, reading through each set of manuscript leaves, marked each paragraph of the printed text with the color of the stage in which it first appeared in the manuscript. (It would be nice to still have that marked version of Walden, but, unfortunately, it was lost in my move from California to Virginia in 1967 or in my return to California in 1973.) I then, in the form of footnotes, recorded all the substantive variants in the various manuscript versions of that paragraph.

As much as I was indebted to Lyn Shanley for discovering the seven manuscript stages of Walden, I strongly disagreed with his conclusion in The Making of Walden (1957) that “the essential nature of Walden did not change from first to last. Much material was added over the years, but it did not introduce a new element and create a new strain; it was absorbed by and used according to the nature of the original piece” (p. 6). It did change, significantly, in the material he wrote from 1950-54 (Versions D-G). I discussed this with him during lunches while he was visiting the Huntington. Robert Sattelmeyer supported my claims in his important essay, “The Remaking of Walden” and Robert Milder in his important book, Reimagining Thoreau. …

As all Thoreau scholars know, Walter Harding is very special to us all and his generous comment in The New Thoreau Handbook (1980) meant more to me than anything that has been said since: “Since Shanley made his studies, Ronald Clapper has investigated the Huntington manuscripts further. His doctoral dissertation,”The Development of Walden: A Genetic Text” (1967) is one of the most important doctoral dissertations of recent years. No serious student of Walden can afford to ignore it” (p. 50). I must in all honesty add that in spite of my disagreement with Lyn Shanley on the development of Walden, I enjoyed the conversations I had with him at the Huntington, which he acknowledged in the Princeton edition of Walden, and know that the genetic text would not have been possible without his bringing order to the Walden manuscript. His views about the development of the Walden manuscript in no way diminishes his importance in preparing the way for Sattelmeyer, Milder, and others who have drawn on the genetic text for a better interpretations of how Walden developed. One of the joys of scholarship is the way in which we draw and build upon one another’s work. I drew from Shanley, Sattelmeyer and Milder drew from me, and, I think, all Thoreau criticism has benefitted from this.

When I had decided on the genetic text of Walden for my dissertation I went to Leon Howard and asked him if he could recommend a first-rate typist who would be up to this difficult task. He knew just the person and put me in touch with Marina. This became truly a collaboration. I would bring her my work from the last few days I spent at the Huntington in San Marino (which is east of Los Angeles, between Pasadena and San Gabriel, where I live) to her sp[a]cious working apartment in West Los Angeles (near UCLA and Santa Monica) and pick up what she had previously typed, which was always flawless.

I received a summer grant while at the University of Virginia to revise the genetic text along with a graduate student who soon learned Thoreau’s handwriting so well that he could check my work against the microfilm copy of the Walden manuscript that the Huntington gave me when I left the Huntington itself to accept my new job in the English department of the University of Virginia. 

After six years in Charlottesville, Virginia, enjoying the novelty of its fall colors and snow in the winter but dreading the thunderstorms and humidity of its summers, I was anxious to return to my native southern California and its delightful Mediterranean climate. That opportunity came when California State University, Fullerton was looking for someone to coordinate its newly established Liberal Studies program.

The state of California had just eliminated its Education major and now required that those who teach in elementary school must compete a subject-matter B. A. before being eligible to enter a credential program. Each campus of the California State University developed a Liberal Studies degree program that included individual courses in natural science and mathematics, social science, humanities and arts, and language and literature. Since most of these courses were merely selected from various departments of the university, they bore little relation to one another. The Fullerton faculty, however, decided to take this opportunity to create a truly interdisciplinary (not merely a multidisciplinary) program and developed a group of interdisciplinary core courses, drawing from the two leading models of the time, the one associated with the University of Chicago and the other associated with Columbia University.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was embarking on a career similar to the one Thoreau pursued after Walden. As Laura Dassow Walls describes Thoreau in Seeing New Worlds, he is a “theorist” at the “crossroads of disciplines,” mediating between the disciplinary economies of ‘literature’ and ‘science’ through particular linguistic and conceptual structures, in an effort to see them as fundamentally coincident” (p. 8). 

In the meantime, the revision of the genetic text that I had made while at the University of Virginia needed another great typist like Marina. (Word processing was still at least a decade away.) I found her in Karen, who was assigned one summer to the Liberal Studies office. Although I do not remember the details of it, some agency concerned with providing jobs for senior citizens assigned a typist to Liberal Studies at no cost to the university. … While Karen, with her wonderful energy and pleasant personality, was anxious to work for us, there seemed very little for her to do. It was then that I knew I had found my typist. Karen was an extremely fast and accurate typist and once I turned the genetic text over to her, the job was done brilliantly and she seemed to enjoy every minute of it.

After serving as coordinator of Liberal Studies from 1975-1999, I turned to full-time teaching and watched the program develop into a department as it hired some of the best young faculty with interdisciplinary interests to emerge from graduate programs in the first decade of the twentieth-first century, and, especially during the summers, I returned to the Walden manuscript by creating it as a word processing document in Microsoft Word, which is the form I submitted to SUNY Geneseo.

I had received a couple of inquiries about putting the genetic text on line, the first from the late Bradley Dean in 2005, so that is what prompted me to create a Microsoft Word version of the text. I had just finished all but the “Conclusion” when I retired in August 2011, at exactly the time Paul Schacht contacted me. He tried to reach me by phone but my office had just been turned over to a colleague and my phone was disconnected. Fortunately, since I was given Emeritus status, my e-mail remained the same, and Paul reached me that way and we arranged for a phone conversation at my home. I knew from that conversation that Paul had a vision to successfully complete this project. Once I got to know Joe Easterly, I knew the project was in great technical hands. One of the greatest benefits of working with Paul, Joe, and Paul’s wonderful students was sharing some time with Beth Witherell, the editor-in-chief of the Princeton edition of Thoreau’s works. Her support of this project has been essential. And finally, it is most appropriate that this project be centered at SUNY Geneseo, where it will be a part of the Harding legacy. 

After reading the memorial to Ron on the CSFU website, written by April Bullock, Professor of Liberal Studies and Environmental Studies and chair of the Department of Liberal Studies, I reached out to Dr. Bullock to express my condolences. “We held a memorial celebration of [Ron’s] life in October on campus in the Arboretum,” she wrote in her reply, “which seemed a fitting place. Colleagues and former students shared stories about Ron and some lovely food and drink. Several of us sailed out from Newport Beach to scatter Ron’s remains in the ocean. A seagull circled and we tossed roses in the water. It was very moving.”

Earlier this month, on April 11, the liberal studies department’s commons room was officially renamed “Clapper Commons” at a ceremony in which colleagues and students shared memories of a scholar and friend who leaves an enduring legacy.

A new take on Thoreau’s deep cut

I’m excited to announce the latest addition to Digital Thoreau: an electronic version of William Rossi’s essay “Making Walden and Its Sandbank,” which first appeared in print in the Concord Saunterer Vol. 30 n.s. (2022), 10–58. Rossi is co-editor of two volumes of Thoreau’s Journal in The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau, published by Princeton University Press, and (with John Lysaker) of Emerson and Thoreau: Figures of Friendship (Indiana UP, 2009). He also edited the Norton Critical Edition of Walden, Civil Disobedience and Other Writings (3rd edition, 2008).

Making Walden and Its Sandbank revisits one of the most famous passages of Walden—Thoreau’s description, beginning in paragraph 6 of “Spring,” of the “forms which thawing sand and clay assume in flowing down the sides of a deep cut on the railroad through which I passed on my way to the village”—in light of what the Walden manuscript reveals about just when and how Thoreau first drafted, and subsequently revised, the passage. The essay represents an important new contribution to our understanding of both Walden’s and Thoreau’s development. As explained in the abstract to the Saunterer version of the essay:

Close and contextual analysis of Thoreau’s early expansion of Walden’s famous sandbank passage provides considerable insight into his shift toward greater literary and scientific naturalism. Together with its subsequent revisions, this passage, drafted in the spring 1848 Journal six or seven months after he left the Pond, already comprises the core of the narrative’s universally celebrated climactic epiphany. Although scholars have long known of its existence, when its revisions are dated and examined in the contexts of the Walden manuscript’s development, Thoreau’s practice of using the Journal to compose Walden material, the contemporary evolution debate, and his engagement in what historians call “public science,” this remarkable event can be seen both to illuminate and to complicate Thoreau’s career-defining “turn to science” in the early 1850s.

After Rossi generously agreed to republish his essay here, Digital Thoreau editor (and Writings Editor-In-Chief) Elizabeth Witherell and I worked with him to develop a web presentation of his content designed to improve the readability of his manuscript transcriptions and allow readers to compare those transcriptions directly to the corresponding manuscript images in the Huntington Library’s digital collection. To embed the Huntington’s IIIF-compliant images in the essay, we used the community-developed, open source Universal Viewer.

Our collaboration with Rossi led to additional refinements of the essay, as the three of us took a deep dive into the manuscript’s interlineations, cancellations, marginal notations, and “overwritten” stretches (where Thoreau replaced words or letters by writing new ones directly on top of them) and gained additional insight into some of Thoreau’s changes. Preparing the essay for web publication also provided an opportunity to tighten the terminology used to describe the various stages of composition represented on the manuscript.

It’s worth comparing Rossi’s detailed analysis of the sandbank passage’s evolution with the revision model presented in Digital Thoreau’s fluid-text edition as a measure of how much there is still to learn about the timing and content of Thoreau’s revisions, and about the relationship between Walden and Thoreau’s other writings, especially the Journal. “Making Walden and Its Sandbank” will undoubtedly provoke new conversations about Walden’s development, Thoreau’s revision process, and the meaning of a passage central to any understanding of both the book and Thoreau’s thought. It should also bring renewed appreciation for the Huntington’s decision to digitize and freely share one of its most precious holdings and an invaluable resource for both scholars and the general reading public.

Digital Thoreau and Huntington Library collaborate to digitize the Walden manuscript

I’m excited to announce that Digital Thoreau has embarked on a new project, funded by an Innovative Instruction Technology Grant from the State University of New York, to produce a fresh encoding of HM 924, the manuscript of Walden.

The grant has made it possible for the Huntington Library to digitize the manuscript and host the manuscript images in its Digital Library, where they can be freely accessed by the public.

The grant team will create online open educational resources on the practice of digital scholarly editing, using the Walden manuscript as a “laboratory” for introducing learners to principles, issues, and tools central to scholarly editing in general and the production of digital scholarly editions in particular.

Whether using these modules as part of a class or on their own, learners will have the opportunity to develop and hone their documentary editing skills by contributing to a brand-new encoding of the manuscript. Using an interactive transcription interface, they’ll be able to view the manuscript images and identify a variety of manuscript features (such as Thoreau’s insertions and cancellations) either through a suite of editing tools or by directly entering XML-TEI.

This new manuscript encoding will serve as an invaluable companion to Digital Thoreau’s current fluid-text edition of Walden, based on a collation of witnesses across the manuscript’s seven draft versions undertaken by Ronald E. Clapper for his 1967 PhD dissertation, The Development of Walden: A Genetic Text. In the intervening years, there has been no comparable effort to chart the evolution of Thoreau’s masterpiece by examining his extensive rewriting and redeployment of passages as the manuscript grew between 1846 and its publication in 1854. We expect that the Huntington’s high-resolution scan of the manuscript will yield numerous new insights and permit the correction of various errors.

The team collaborating on the SUNY grant-funded project, A Laboratory-Based Introduction to Digital Scholarly Editing, includes the following scholars:

  • Dr. Paul Schacht, Professor of English, SUNY Geneseo and Director, Digital Thoreau (PI)
  • Dr. Elizabeth Witherell, Editor-in-Chief, The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau (Princeton University Press)
  • Dr. Elisa Beshero-Bondar, Associate Professor of English and Director, Center for the Digital Text, University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg
  • Dr. Caroline Woidat, Professor of English, SUNY Geneseo
  • Dr. Rebecca Nesvet, Associate Professor of English, University of Wisconsin — Green Bay
  • Dr. Fiona Coll, Assistant Professor of Literature and Technology, SUNY Oswego
  • Dr. Nikolaus Wasmoen, Visiting Professor of English, University at Buffalo

Thoreau bust comes to the web in 3D

Mark Gallagher, doctoral candidate in English at UCLA, Research and Instructional Technology Consultant at the UCLA Center for Digital Humanities, and editor of the Thoreau Society Bulletin collaborated with Tom Hersey, who teaches writing at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, to produce this 3D photogrammetric reconstruction of Walton Ricketson’s 1898 bust of Thoreau, based on the original at the Thoreau Institute Library of the Walden Woods Project.

If the model doesn’t show up for you below, you can go to it directly on Sketchfab here. Click the “play” button, zoom to fullscreen, and rotate the image for a full experience of Ricketson’s sculpture — or as full an experience as you’ll get without a trip to the Thoreau Institute Library itself (recommended).

If you have a VR headset or Google’s cardboard VR viewer, you can also see the bust in virtual reality.

200th Birthday Gift to Readers: “Walking”

Happy 200th Birthday, Henry David Thoreau! In your honor, we’ve added a new text to The Readers’ Thoreau, Digital Thoreau’s platform for reading Thoreau socially.

The text is “Walking,” one of Thoreau’s most popular essays, published in 1862.

As our “Note on the Text” explains,

On April 23, 1851, Thoreau “tried out a new lecture, entitled ‘The Wild,’ on the Concord Lyceum and on May 31 repeated it in Worcester. It was to become one of his favorite lectures, one that he repeated many times, working it over and adding to it each time until eventually it became large enough to break into two, the new part entitled “Walking.” Because he knew the market for it would vanish once it reached print, he was careful not to have either part published in his lifetime. But just before his death, he put the two back together again and sold the essay to the Atlantic Monthly where it was published in the issue of June 1862 . . .” (Walter Harding, The Days of Henry Thoreau, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962: 286).

Start reading “Walking” now or register an account on the main site and join the public group “General Discussion” to start a conversation in the margin.

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.