Transcendentalism was a literary and intellectual movement started in New England in the 1830s. In this capstone course, we will study the lives and writing of several well- and lesser-known American Transcendentalist writers and thinkers. The class will read key texts from the movement such as Nature, Walden, and Woman in the Nineteenth Century in addition to recent, award-winning literary biographies of figures such as Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and Louisa May Alcott. We will also study Mary Moody Emerson, the aunt of Ralph Waldo Emerson and a proto-Transcendentalist whose recently discovered diaries, it turns out, influenced the most celebrated Transcendentalist writers and works. We will learn about the relationship between Transcendentalism and social justice, particularly the anti-slavery and women’s rights movements and nineteenth-century utopian communities. Students will write weekly response papers, give one class presentation, and write one major research essay on a previously unknown or little studied Transcendentalist writer or literary text. This course will include two field trips.
Key questions for research and study will include: What motivated individual Transcendentalists? How did women influence the Transcendentalist movement? How did Transcendentalism inspire later literary and social justice movements? What makes the Transcendentalists’ legacy enduring, interesting, and relevant today?
Sample Reading List
Alcott, Louisa May. Moods, (1864).
Alcott, Louisa May. “Transcendental Wild Oats,” (1873).
Emerson, Mary Moody. Excerpts from “Almanacks,” (1804-1858).
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Nature, (1836).
Fuller, Margaret. Woman in the Nineteenth Century, (1845).
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Blithedale Romance, (1852).
Matteson, John. Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father, (2007).
Richardson, Robert D. First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process, (2009).
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden; or, Life in the Woods, (1854).
Walls, Laura Dassow. Henry David Thoreau: A Life, (2018).