VANISHING LEAVES:

A STUDY OF WALT WHITMAN THROUGH LOCATION-BASED MOBILE TECHNOLOGIES

By Jesse Alan Merandy

Dissertation Committee:

Matthew K. Gold (Chair and Advisor)

Sondra Perl

Stephen Brier

A dissertation submitted to the Graduate Faculty in English in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, The City University of New York

2019

Note to Site Visitors:

Much of this dissertation is not found within the pages of the following white paper, or on this website. It can not be read, or viewed, or approached as you would a traditional scholarly work. Instead, this dissertation is meant to be experienced! After you have read this document, follow the instructions at http://gc.vanishingleaves.com to download the game, find your way to Brooklyn Heights, and spend some time with Walt Whitman.  

Can’t get to Brooklyn Heights? Go to the “Getting Started” page, follow the instructions, and  play the “Vanishing Leaves: Play at Home” version. 

WHITE PAPER

Abstract

Vanishing Leaves is a location-based mobile experience (LBME), which employs mobile devices equipped with GPS and high-speed wireless internet capabilities to take users to Brooklyn Heights to learn about the poet Walt Whitman and his connection to the neighborhood where he lived, worked, and published the first edition of his masterwork Leaves of Grass. Through this active first-person immersive learning experience, Vanishing Leaves embraces experimental scholarly methods, ones that extend outside the classroom and off the page, in order to engage learners and to invite them to create meaningful, personal connections to writers and their literary works. 

The accompanying white paper details the core concepts and inspiration underlying the development of Vanishing Leaves, including Whitman’s mobile composing practices and Ecocomposition theory and its exploration of the dynamic relationship between the writer, their discourse, and the environment. Following this groundwork, a detailed examination of the capabilities of mobile devices relevant to this project is offered. This analysis highlights important research, concepts, and existing projects that illuminate the potential for LBMEs to help us better understand cultural figures, their historical contexts, and the important connection between place and discourse surrounding cultural texts. Finally, an overview of the development of Vanishing Leaves will provide details regarding its methods and objectives, as well as some of the major challenges and lessons learned throughout the process.

Click to download complete White Paper (PDF)

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS AND CREDITS

Thanks Walt, Happy 200th Birthday!

Special thanks goes out to my dissertation committee for seeing me through to the finish line, particularly with this atypical project and so many moving parts.

Thanks to Steve Brier who supported me through my entire career at the Graduate Center, from my first days as a web designer, through a bunch of detours, and on to this final project. Thank you for teaching me to think intelligently about technology and about the importance of DH scholarship.

To Sondra Perl, thank you for teaching me to think about writing as an active experience of the mind and body. Thank you for your kindness, your generous spirit, for showing me how to build community, and for supporting me as I ventured out into this new territory.

And thank you to Matt Gold for keeping me on track and for supporting me at times when I was uncertain of my direction and doubting this project. Thank you for advocating for me and for making sure that there is space at CUNY for DH projects that explore new forms of scholarship and ways of thinking. Thank you for taking this on in addition to the million other projects you constantly juggle.

Thank you to the CUNY Graduate Center English Department for allowing me to take this risk and for accepting this experimental work as a valid form of scholarship. Thank you to Nancy Silverman for being a constant light throughout the process and for answering questions multiple times!  

To the ITP program at the Graduate Center, especially Steve and the late David Jaffee, for introducing me to Digital Humanities work and the importance of reflecting on that work for the next generation of scholars.

To the Graduate Center Library, particularly Stephen Klein, for working with me to deposit and preserve this project.

Thank you to all the Digital Humanists and the NYCDH community. What a fantastic family to be a part of!
To Amanda Visconti for blazing the path for all digital dissertations to come, proving that it can be done and that these projects can be inspiring!
To Jason Farman for your help getting started with mobile theory and for thinking so clearly and eloquently about the field.
and a special thank you to the ARIS team, particularly Chris Holden and David Gagnon, for all your help and for keeping this open-source platform running and available to everyone!

To the Bard Graduate Center, thank you for supporting me as I worked toward this goal. It is wonderful to be a part of such a thoughtful and wonderful community. Emma, thank you for reading!

To Kimon Keramidas, thank for being a tech/comic/superhero/video-game nerd with me, a sounding board, reader, and life-advisor.

To all the Whitmaniacs; the Whitman scholars, collectors, fans, and poets; The Whitman houses in Camden and West Hills;
To the Whitman Archive, Ken Price, and Ed Folsom, this project would not be possible without your dedication to preserving Whitman’s memory!
Special thanks to Tyler Hoffman who introduced me to Whitman and helped set me on this path, David Reynolds whose scholarship brought Whitman’s New York to life for me, and Karen Karbiener who taught me how to truly love and celebrate Whitman.  

Big thanks to all my family and friends, to the Throwbacks, and the Breakneck Boys, thank you for making life so wonderful and rich and for listening to me talk about this project, and how close I was to being finished, for a decade. Thanks to Jean Marzollo, who taught me to love writing and shared my fondness for Whitman. You are missed.

To Mom and Dad, thank you so much for everything, for the love of life and laughter, for teaching me the magic that books hold, how to be kind, compassionate, open-minded, and to always answer the call of the woods.

And finally to my wife Olgu, who supported and loved me throughout this project, who listened to a million crazy unformed ideas, held me in the lows and cheered me at the highs, and always reminded me to care of myself. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I look forward to walking many more miles together.