“Scholars, load your texts!” The command opens Austin Meredith’s proposal for bringing study of Henry David Thoreau into the world of the computer. One CD-ROM (compact disk of read-only memory) can carry Thoreau’s complete works – “all books and drafts, magazine articles, journals, factbooks, letters to and from and about” – and still be about two-thirds empty; the project envisages a disk carrying, in addition, the past ten years of Thoreau scholarship, an English translation of the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Four Books of China and the Koran, all linked to Thoreau’s quotations from them, and all of it searchable seven ways from Sunday with the facilities of Hypersearch.
The idea is not the electronic equivalent of a book, issued once and fixed until years later, with labour, expense and delay, a new edition can be turned out. It envisages a continuing, even (after all, we are dealing with American ideas) an ongoing dynamic, interactive undertaking, with scholars sending in their results on floppies and a new CD-ROM disk being issued perhaps quarterly.
Thoreau himself mused in 1835:
Hence, could a machine be invented which would instantaneously arrange on paper each idea as it occurs to us, without any exertion on our part, how extremely useful it would be considered!
Austin and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota have their ideas worked out in far more detail than can be presented here. Write for a Prospectus: Austin Meredith, [address].
And what does the title mean? No idea. The brochure is headed “Stack of the Artist of Kouroo” Prospectus. If you find out why, let us know.
from Ideological Commentary 46, July 1990.