Introduction: Refreshing Self-Reliance

by Samuel Hamilton

published December 2016


“Refreshing Self-Reliance” is a random quote generator, populated with pithy aphorisms from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1841 essay “Self-Reliance.” When you hit the ↻ or “Refresh” button in your browser, a new statement from Emerson’s essay appears. Underneath this statement are two white hyperlinks (“Introduction” and Non-Randomized Reflections) and one smaller gray hyperlink (Works Cited, Consulted, and Considered). The “Introduction” hyperlink brings you to these introductory remarks to “Refreshing Self-Reliance,” while the “Non-Randomized Reflection” allows you to read “Refreshing Self-Reliance” in a more linear/narrative manner, i.e. “non-randomized,” and the “Works Cited, Consulted, and Considered” takes you to a MLA-formatted end-of-text citation page. All of this constitutes the “first layer” of “Refreshing Self-Reliance.”

In some of Emerson’s statements in the first layer, a key word or phrase serves as a hyperlink to a new page. These hyperlinks are blue, bolded, and underlined (unless you have already clicked on them, in which case they are purple, bolded, and underlined). The second layer is a collection of reflections -- the nature and purpose of which I will explain momentarily -- linked to words and phrases from the randomized “Self-Reliance.”

I constructed the random text generator of the first layer through JavaScript. Specifically, I tweaked a basic randomizer code amended by Ian James, created by Andy Angrick and Mike Barone, and offered through JavaScriptSource. My version of the code populates the textArray JavaScript function with quotes from “Self-Reliance.” I retained the same “shell” format and removed the textArray function from the HTML JavaScript code to create the more static pages of the second layer. Initially, I “hosted” both the first and second layers through an end-around “cheat” using public folders in Dropbox, before Dropbox eliminated this cheat. Now, both layers are hosted on webspace provided by my school, the University of Pittsburgh.


Works Cited

ij64 [Ian James]. “How to Make a Random Text Generator.” Tefltecher. Wordpress, 10 Sept. 2010. Web. 19 Apr. 2014. <>.


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Sam Hamilton is a doctoral candidate in the English Department at the University of Pittsburgh with a disciplinary focus on Composition Studies and Pedagogy. His research interests are digital/multimodal composition, research methods, and pedagogy, and 19th and 20th century American/African-American literary and rhetorical traditions. With a historical lens, Hamilton examines the pedagogical connections between distinct movements of self-education in the United States, and he considers potential applications of past practices within contemporary contexts.