From Fluid Text

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

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.