Henry David Thoreau at 200
Houghton Library, Lowell Room
Sat., Aug. 12, 2017
As scholars, teachers, politicians, and pundits debate what America is and means by reimagining or rewriting the America in which we live, it is worth recalling the America actually lived in and written about by the country’s first generation born after the American Revolution. The bicentenary of Henry David Thoreau, who was born in Concord, Massachusetts, on July 12, 1817 and died there on May 6, 1862, provides such an occasion.
A contemporary of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, Walt Whitman, and Frederick Douglass, Thoreau did not always share in the prominence they enjoyed. Although his story invariably opens with reference to Emerson, Emerson’s belief that American exceptionalism was synonymous with capitalism made for a stark distinction between the two, a distinction Thoreau underscored in 1853, writing, “I am a mystic—a transcendentalist—& a natural philosopher.” The dominant Thoreau who has emerged among recent generations of readers is an environmentalist who argued for the restoration of the landscape with which humankind was originally blessed, a humanitarian who read capitalism as the supreme threat to individualism and equal rights under the law, and a political thinker who critiqued the popular concept of exceptionalism as promoting destructive impulses such as the virtual eradication of Native American culture and the extension of slavery into the American West.
“Henry David Thoreau at 200” invites you to examine the life and thought of the author of “Civil Disobedience” and Walden. Highlights of the exhibition include:
- First editions of his major works
- Drawings of Thoreau by his close friend, Daniel Ricketson
- Thoreau’s own copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature
- One of his Harvard College examination papers
- Manuscripts of “Reform and the Reformers” and “Walking”
- The recently discovered notes on his search for Margaret Fuller after her shipwreck
Curated by Ronald A. Bosco, Distinguished Research Professor of English and American Literature, University at Albany, SUNY.
“Henry David Thoreau at 200” is on view May 22–September 2, 2017 and is free and open to the public. Click here for library hours.
Gazette Classification: Exhibitions
Open to: Public and Harvard community
Library Location: Houghton Library
More info: houghton75.org