Digital Thoreau at Walden

My digital humanities course took a trip to Walden Pond in early October to soak up the colors, scents, and textures of Walden while we worked on a TEI encoding project associated with the Digital Thoreau initiative at SUNY Geneseo.

Thoreau texting at Walden.
Thoreau texting at Walden.

Our guided tour began at the statue of Thoreau, where we immediately noticed the opportunity to invite Henry David to join us in our digital initiative by placing a smartphone in his hand. With skies threatening rain – and some rain during the walking tour of the original Thoreau house site – we wandered the pond, noting in particular the number of seemingly competitive swimmers stroking in the water.  Also striking was the odd color of the water itself.

It is difficult to bring together the close coding work of TEI diplomatic transcription and the “natural” experience of Walden itself. But I think the connection comes through the manuscript leaves. While they point in a decidedly digital direction when works to encode them for the web, the texture of Thoreau’s handwriting and the assorted scratches signaling revisions point back to the site that inspired the text itself.

From UNE, this was a comfortable day trip that was only slightly rushed because of our need to be “home” by 5.  We clearly shortchanged the historic town of Concord, but perhaps that omission will inspire some to return to visit other historically significant sites in that area.