Though it has existed in the public domain for years, Thoreau’s Walden; Life in the Woods is going digital in a new way. Though the book has been easily accessible in the domain since the “Internet Age,” and text-based web pages can rewrite and place the entire book online (such as here), technology has helped enhance reading the work of Thoreau. Digital Thoreau aims to improve Thoreau discourse with three new projectsWalden: A Fluid Text Edition, The Readers’ Thoreau and The Days of Walter Harding, Thoreau Scholar.

Walden: a Fluid Text Edition derives from Ronald E. Clapper’s 1967 (UCLA) dissertation “The Development of Walden: A Genetic Text” which is about the process and number of revisions Thoreau edited from 1846–1854. The project uses the Versioning Machine, which allows multiples versions of a text to be compared at the same time. The formatting (for instance, text with strikethrough was “cancelled,” while text in red was “interpolated, not in manuscripts”) makes it possible to observe all of the changes, corrections and marks Thoreau made on his manuscript throughout all revision stages.

The Readers’ Thoreau, an idea to further the discussion of Walden, focuses on a social nature where users can comment and discuss certain aspects and theories on a sidebar. This is an attempt to create worldwide discussion between the public, scholars and students. For example, an English class at the one college may have the opportunity to have a debate with a philosophy class at a university in a different country. Powered by WordPress’s Commons in a Box and Comment Press, users can write and comment on each other’s posts using their preferred device, thus creating a digital discussion and never-ending chain of posts and comments. The site also allows people to “like,” comments and improve visibility settings when reading.

The last feature of Digital Thoreau is The Days of Walter Harding, Thoreau Scholar. This serves to tell the life story of Walter Harding, who was a professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Geneseo and was arguably the most influential Thoreau scholar of the twentieth century. This third and final project includes interesting artifacts such as letters from Martin Luther King Jr. and Albert Einsteinto Harding.

By providing an ample opportunity for people to express ideas and interpretations about Walden, this may widen national and international discussion. It brings people together, allows them to exchange thoughts and ideas about certain pieces in the text and may even open doors to further discussion about other books.

Did You Know?

Contrary to popular belief, Thoreau was not a hermit. In fact, his father was the owner of a successful pencil-making business and he worked there for some time. Thoreau indeed chose to live quietly on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s property for a few years, but not before he left his mark on the pencil industry. Apparently, he improved the pencil. He invented a machine that ground pencil lead into powder, and, by using clay as a binder with the lead, he changed the pencil into a smear-free, controllable utensil to write with. This propelled the Thoreau business into becoming one of the leading US pencil-making companies of the nineteenth century.