In July 1845, Henry David Thoreau (1817-62) took up residence at Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts in order, as he put it, to “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life…” The result, published nine years later in August 1854, was Walden, essential reading for anyone interested in the history of thought about the things that matter.
For Thoreau, living deliberately meant doing without many of the conveniences afforded by technology. But there was nothing about his two-year experiment in the woods, or his general attitude towards life, that was essentially opposed to technology. While in the woods, he used tools to build, to plant, to write. He didn’t hesitate to bring along a small collection of the best tool available in his day for sharing ideas — the book — or to use that same tool, after leaving Walden Pond, to share the fruits of his experiment with others.
In our own day, digital technology offers us new ways to improve our understanding of Thoreau as a writer and to share ideas about his work. “Books,” Thoreau wrote in Walden, “must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.” Think of Digital Thoreau as a set of tools for reading Thoreau deliberately and deliberating about his writing.
At the heart of Digital Thoreau is a text of Walden encoded according to the standards of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) and enriched by scholarly annotations, links, images, and social tools that will enable users to create conversations around the text.
The annotations from Walden: An Annotated Edition, edited by Thoreau biographer Walter Harding, together with digital assets from the the Thoreau Society’s Harding Collection (curated by the Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods Library) provide a base layer of context on which future layers will be built.
Digital Thoreau’s Walden differs from every available print version by incorporating all seven draft stages of the work. Based on Ronald E. Clapper’s pioneering scholarship on the manuscript variants — The Development of Walden: A Genetic Text — Digital Thoreau’s critical apparatus of Walden will permit readers to compare manuscript versions side by side, track Thoreau’s changes across versions, and relate the variants to the edition published by the Princeton University Press. In addition, it will enable them to compare the transcribed manuscript versions to digital images of the manuscript leaves themselves. The social tools built into Digital Thoreau will make it possible for readers to improve the transcriptions’ accuracy.
Ultimately, Digital Thoreau aims to offer the most complete and interactive online corpus of Thoreau’s published works, manuscripts, journals, letters, and related materials, contextualized with the best existing scholarship and open to the widest audience for access and response.