What is Digital Thoreau?
In Walden, nineteenth-century American author, philosopher, and activist Henry David Thoreau famously declared 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 and reservedly as they were written.”
Digital Thoreau is a resource and a community dedicated to promoting the deliberate reading of Thoreau’s works in new ways, ways that take advantage of technology to illuminate Thoreau’s creative process and facilitate thoughtful conversation about his words and ideas.
Our fluid text edition of Walden combines pioneering scholarship by Ronald E. Clapper with TEI encoding and an open-source visualization tool, the Versioning Machine, to help readers trace the evolution of Thoreau’s classic work across seven stages of revision from 1846 to 1854.
Within any chapter of Walden, readers can compare up to seven manuscript versions with each other and with a base version, the Princeton University Press edition. In addition, they can consult Clapper’s extensive critical notes on the revisions.
By combining two social plugins for the popular open-source blogging platform WordPress — Commons In A Box and CommentPress — we’ve created a space for readers to discuss Thoreau in the margins of his texts. Readers can exchange ideas about Thoreau’s writings in small groups keyed to particular interests or teaching situations. All groups can follow the conversation among a “panel of experts” that includes the late Thoreau scholar Walter Harding. (We’ve jump-started the expert commentary with Harding’s annotations to his 1995 edition of Walden.)
Students at the State University of New York at Geneseo are using the open-source archiving platform Omeka to explore the life and work of SUNY Distinguished Professor Walter Harding (1917-1996). Best known for his biography The Days of Henry Thoreau (1965), Harding helped found the Thoreau Society and began the comprehensive edition of Thoreau’s works published by the Princeton University Press, The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau (1966- ). He taught at SUNY Geneseo from 1956 to 1982.
Drawing from Harding’s personal papers in the collections at the Thoreau Institute Library and Milne Library, as well as the vast trove of Thoreauviana assembled by Harding over a lifetime of research, The Days of Walter Harding has already begun to reveal the complexities of a man who, like his subject, sought a life uniting thought, principle, and action.