The goal of this project is to make Walden “alive” for the international community.
The Inspiration for this Project; or, The Importance of Guerrilla Digital Humanities
This entire project, aside from the website, was inspired and created on a whim over the course of a single weekend. Let me explain:
In the summer of 2015, I had the opportunity to live in Concord, Massachusetts, participating in a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for College Teachers, called, “Transcendentalism and Reform in the Age of Emerson, Thoreau, and Fuller.” In the mornings, our group of 25 college teachers discussed various topics in seminars led by the top scholars in the field, including—among others—Joel Myerson, Phyllis Cole, Sandy Petrulionis, Robert Gross, Megan Marshall, John Matteson, Wesley T. Mott, Lance Newman, and Laura Dassow Walls.
In the afternoons, we’d connect text to place by visiting relevant locales in and around Concord. As many of my Concord colleagues—some of the most passionate and inspiring teachers I’ve ever met—mused about bringing their students to Concord for a field trip, all I could think about was how I might bring Concord to my students.
I still wasn’t sure, though, how exactly I’d bring Concord to my students. Take a couple pictures?
A few months before my summer excursion in Concord, I was asked by Duke University to design and teach a humanities course for a new partnership university in China called Duke Kunshan University. At the time, I was tentatively designing a course called “Walden International: Analyzing Thoreau Across Cultures.” Having lunch one afternoon with Deedra McClearn, the Director of Global Academic Program Development at Duke University, I mentioned how I was going to live in Concord for a portion of my summer. She brilliantly mentioned how I could make a video introduction to my students, using Walden Pond as my backdrop.
In July, over the course of my first week living in Concord, I knew I wanted to make the most of the single free weekend I had. I knew that I wanted to read Walden at Walden Pond. I knew that I wanted to make a video introduction from Thoreau’s Cove to my Chinese students. I knew that I wanted to somehow bring Walden Pond to my students in the same way my colleagues were planning to bring their students to Walden Pond.
On Saturday, July 18, I went to Walden Pond to read Thoreau’s book. Sitting on a rock near Thoreau’s Cove, I had just finished reading Chapter 1 “Economy,” when my eyes glanced upon the title of Chapter 2: “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.”
That was it.
Suddenly, my inchoate thoughts on bringing Walden Pond to China; Deedra’s advice to make a video introduction; and my colleagues’ idea of a Concord field trip, all fused into a single project. A Digital Field Trip to Walden Pond. I made up my mind to show my students where Thoreau lived and what he lived for.
By the time I was inspired to make a series of audio-visual tours around the pond, though, the summer crowds had already overtaken the pond for the day. It was too noisy and crowded to make any videos.
So I walked the Emerson-Thoreau Amble trail back to the Concord Colonial Inn, and spent several hours pouring through Walden, picking out concrete descriptions of Walden Pond and the surrounding land.
For the next few mornings—Sunday and Monday—I awoke before the dawn, trekked to the pond, and took as many videos as I could, using a simple Nikon Coolpix S6300 digital camera. It was always a race against the beach crowds. At most, I had a handful of hours before the pond inevitably got too crowded.
It didn’t matter that my camera equipment wasn’t the best. Or that I’d never really taken videos before. However rough, however shaky, however ill-composed I knew some of my videos would be, I knew that I simply wanted to capture as many videos as I could. In some small way, I aspired to give my students the experience of reading Walden along the shores of Walden Pond.
During my video-taking frenzy, I met the historian Robert Gross near Thoreau’s cairn, as he was leisurely walking around the pond with a few friends. As I was looping past his group several times, appearing in places they least expected, he began exclaiming how Robin Goodfellow—that folkloric nature sprite incarnate—was paying them a visit.
Months later, I became a member of Duke’s PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge, which is part of the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute. Participating in the Digital Pedagogy subgroup, I kept wondering to myself how I might present this Digital Field Trip of Walden Pond to my students. Slogging through the YouTube upload process, I organized the links and book passages onto a simple HTML site, and then spent a few hours creating the website you’re interacting with right now.
This entire project is a testament to Guerrilla Digital Humanities. You start with a clear and concrete classroom challenge, as a professor: “How do I bring Walden Pond to my students in Kunshan, China?” And you try to rise to this challenge by devising a quick digital humanities project that does just that: let your students experience the process of connecting text to place. Literature in the flesh.
My ongoing dream, for “Walden Alive,” is for readers passionate about Walden to get involved in this project. Comment on Thoreau’s words. Describe what you see and hear in these videos. And better yet, if you find yourself in Concord, visit Walden Pond, take some videos linking specific passages of Walden to Walden Pond, and share your YouTube links in the comment section of each respective book chapter on this website. With your help, we can create a complete audio-visual tour of Walden, taking every reader—no matter where they live—on a digital field trip of Walden Pond.
Navigating “Walden Alive”
The core of “Walden Alive” is about pairing passages from Walden with audio-visual content that tries to illustrate Thoreau’s words, giving a modern geographical context to his nineteenth-century text. For ease of use, there are at least three ways to experience “Walden Alive”:
1.) Follow the Digital Field Trip Directory, which lists specific passages from Walden with their illustrative YouTube links.
2.) View and listen to all video content directly as a Walden Alive YouTube playlist.
3.) Read the digital text version of Walden starting at Ch. 1 “Economy,” and click on the hyperlinks to experience “Walden Alive.” Use the drop-down menu named “Digital Field Trip” to jump to any chapter you want.
About the Text
Henry David Thoreau’s Walden—a masterpiece of American nonfiction—was originally published in 1854.
This digitized version of Walden is derived from the University of Virginia’s Walden, which they generously provide for free, non-commercial use. Their record of digitization is enumerated in the project header, and is also replicated here:
“About the electronic version
Thoreau, Henry David
By the University of Virginia American Studies Program 2003.
Digitized and first spell-checked by AS@UVA, August 1998.
Tagged in HTML by AS@UVA, October, 1998.
Copy-edited and overall design and construction: AS@UVA, October, 1998. This version available from American studies at the University of Virginia.
Freely available for non-commercial use provided that this header is included in its entirety with any copy distributed
About the print version
Henry David Thoreau
New York, C. E. Merrill Co. (1910)”
About My Course in Kunshan, China
About the Instigator
My name is Patrick Thomas Morgan, and I am a teacher and scholar of nineteenth-century American literature at Duke University. In my professional life, I am the editorial assistant for American Literature, Duke University Press; I teach in the English Department and the Thompson Writing Program; and I am a member of Duke’s PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge.
As an undergraduate at SUNY Geneseo, I double-majored in English Literature and Geological Sciences. This intersection of geology and literature plays an important role in my research. Indeed, geology and literature have been key aspects of my research ever since Laura Dassow Walls published my essay, “Aesthetic Inflections: Thoreau, Gender, and Geology,” in the 2010 Concord Saunterer: A Journal of Thoreau Studies. More recently, I co-wrote with Priscilla Wald the March 2013 preface to American Literature‘s Thoreau Symposium.
Perhaps the publication I’m most proud of, though, is a book chapter in The Pocket Instructor: Literature (Princeton University Press, 2015), in which I share a lesson for introducing students to the analytic shapes and logics of lyric poetry through a systematic close reading and writing exercise. This book chapter—entitled, “Let’s Get Heretical”—pays homage to the reading techniques I learned from Helen Vendler; I’ve used these analytical procedures to invent lessons for my own students, and this book chapter unveils a specific lesson I’ve used to teach both the poetry of Emily Dickinson and the prose of Henry David Thoreau.
Beyond academia, I have worked as a science journalist, writing for the National Park Service, Earth magazine, Discover magazine, and The American Gardener.
In my personal life, I enjoy spending time with my family, writing in my journal, playing the banjo, and hiking the trails around Durham, North Carolina, and my hometown of Watertown, New York.