Second Blog Assignment

Due: April 26

Some context for this assignment

A central theme in Thoreau’s Walden, we’ve seen, is the importance of being alert and awake. For Thoreau, to be alert and awake is, at least in part, to take notice of the world around us and seek to understand our relationship to it.

One of the ways that Thoreau models alertness and wakefulness in his writing is through his detailed descriptions of nature. These descriptions demonstrate the kind of painstakingly close observation characteristic of science, but they differ from standard contemporary science writing in that Thoreau never hesitates to incorporate his own subjectivity as observer. Modern science, in its aspiration towards objectivity, typically regards the observer’s subjective viewpoint as at best a distraction from, at worst an obstacle to, the discovery of truths about nature. This practice was already taking hold in Thoreau’s time. Against it, we might argue that humans aren’t really capable of escaping their own subjectivity. But Thoreau’s main objection appears to be somewhat different. For him, the whole point of understanding nature is to find out how we, as human beings, fit into it. We can’t do this without taking our own subjectivity into account.

Thoreau as subject is present in his descriptions not only through his use of first-person pronouns (I, me, my) but through his free use of metaphors and similes. The result is a kind of nature-writing that’s at once extremely precise and unapologetically personal—and that enacts Thoreau’s unending quest for relationship with the natural world.

Examples abound in Walden. Together, we’ve looked at some that appear in The Ponds and Brute Neighbors. One of the most famous is his description of thawing sand and clay at the deep cut in the railroad in Spring.

What you’ll do for this assignment

Get out into nature. Get away from buildings and cars. (A great place to do this would be Roemer Arboretum, but the choice of location is up to you.) Pick something to observe: plants, flowers, insects, other animals: again, the choice is yours. Take lots of notes on what you see. Then write up your observations in a blog post of about 500 words. Include a photograph of what you’ve observed. (Alternatively, you can embed an audio or video file uploaded to YouTube.)

While you shouldn’t try to be Thoreau (because, after all, he’s him and you’re you — which is, not coincidentally, one of the things he insists on repeatdly in Walden), you should do your best to write in the spirit described above. Be as detailed and precise as you can in reporting what you saw in your excursion into nature. But don’t leave yourself out of the picture.

How you’ll do it

As with the first blog post assignment, draft your blog post in one of your journal files using Markdown. Use the preview pane in VS Code to make sure everything looks right.

When you’re happy with what you’ve written, log into the site, go to the group’s blog, Digital Humanities at Geneseo, click +New in the black ribbon at the top of the site, select Post, and paste your post content from VS Code into the editor there. The editor understands Markdown! Use the Preview button in the post editor to see how your post will look when published.

Be sure that you’ve given your post an appropriate, descriptive, engaging title (not something generic, such as “Blog Post #2”), and that neither the title nor the date is included in the body of your post,

When you’re ready to submit your post, click Publish.

How your post will be evaluated

In your blog post, did you …

  Not really A little bit Somewhat Pretty much Yes!
describe, in detail and with precision, something you observed in nature?
write as yourself, authentically, but in the spirit of Thoreau’s nature writing?
use care in the composition of your post?
format your post appropriately using Markdown?
include media (e.g., a photo or embedded audio/video) of what you observed?
give your post an appropriate, descriptive, engaging title?
keep the title and date out of the body of your post?