June 10, 2014
SAN MARIN0, California – Standing in the outer vault of The Huntington Library, I had a real-life arrowhead moment* as I watched curator Daniel Lewis hand Tracy Fullerton Henry David Thoreau’s handwritten manuscripts of Walden (or Life in the Woods.) I was there with the team from the USC Game Innovation Lab making Walden, a game. At first glance lab research assistant Logan Ver Hoef said: “Thoreau’s handwriting really was terrible.”
These documents, and literally billions of dollars worth of literary works, are kept safe in the Library’s sanctum sanctorum, the inner-vault of which we briefly caught a glimpse. Seeing, touching and reading them energized us during a critical week – as we finalized the game’s first festival build. We are grateful to Professors Peter Mancall and Bill Deverell, our colleagues at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, for referring us to The Huntington, where we were able to connect with our project’s mother-ship**.
Moved by the magnitude of wisdom represented in this tomb of books, project director Tracy Fullerton felt privileged and humbled. “After so many solitary research trips to the pond, sharing this fieldtrip with the team was really a special moment.”
Inside the climate-controlled, nuclear-bomb-proof vault, we delighted in the smell of old books. As we left, the change in humidity triggered a sneeze and comment from research assistant Alexander Mathew. “That was like $5000 of manuscript dust I just cleared from my sinuses.”
*In Walden, a game, when players balance their basic and higher needs, they reach a state of inspiration revealing the buried arrowheads around them. When picked up, quotes from Walden (the book) are paired with framed vista, further enriching their aesthetic experience. At the 2011 Chicago Humanities Festival, Tracy describes how the environment serves as a meter for the player’s state (of balance.)
** The term “mother ship” emerged from industry and was coined by Henry Jenkins as referring to the primary work which anchors a franchise.
Left to Right: Todd Furmanski, Alexander Mathew, Tracy Fullerton, Logan Ver Hoef, Kurosh ValaNejad
Alex is holding the tattered lab copy of Walden. Tracy brought along the copy she read as a teenager.
Tracy reads a key passage from the printer’s proof of Walden during a tour of the Library Exhibition Hall.
Daniel Lewis is the Dibner Senior Curator of the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology and the head of the manuscripts department at The Huntington. He occasionally lectures at USC!
To learn how USC Doctoral and post-doctoral students of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West enjoy resident scholar status at the Huntington, read Treasures of the Huntington by Pamela J. Johnson from the Spring 2006 issue of USC Trojan Family Magazine.
If you visit The Huntington, don’t miss Beautiful Science: Ideas that Changed the World a wonderful exhibit curated by Mr. Lewis. It was recognized for Excellence in Exhibition Design in 2009 by the National Association of Museum Exhibits.