Thoreau-related publications

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Kossuth's Hat: War in Eastern Europe Comes to Concord

Thoreau Society Bulletin 320 (Winter 2023), 1-8

"Kossuth-mania" sweeps the U.S., as the hero of the 1848-49 Hungarian Revolution makes a tour of the country—including a notable visit to the Concord of Emerson and Thoreau.


Concord Saunterer, New Series vol. 29, (2021), 1-23

The “laundry sneer”—finding fault with Thoreau for not doing his own washing—is a fairly recent phenomenon. This article seeks to trace the history of the laundry sneer and to explain why it is misguided. Further, we inquire whether Thoreau might have actually tried to do his own washing on the banks of Walden Pond—some textual evidence suggests that he did—and we reconstruct what it might have been like, and why he would have given it up.

Keywords: Henry David Thoreau, Walden, nineteenth-century clothes-washing

Henry David Thoreau on Basic Income: Genius Grants for the Masses

Basic Income Studies, 2019

This essay asks: What would Henry David Thoreau think of Basic Income (a government-guaranteed minimum income)? We find that Thoreau would be unlikely to champion cash grants as an anti-poverty measure, but that he would endorse a Basic Income variant meant to support the development of human potential.

A 15-minute talk on the topic of this paper, delivered at a 2019 Basic Income event, is available on YouTube.

Keywords: Henry David Thoreau, basic income, human flourishing

Thoreau's PTSD and Posttraumatic Growth, by Michael Sperber and Brent Ranalli

Thoreau Society Bulletin 311 (Fall 2020), 4-8.

A diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) rests on eight criteria. The trauma symptoms Thoreau exhibited following his brother's death check all eight boxes: Henry David Thoreau suffered from PTSD. Read through the lens of recent clinical literature on posttraumatic growth, Walden shows itself to be a record of Thoreau’s own healing and growth process at Walden Pond and a roadmap that we can follow in our own healing and growth.

Keywords: Henry David Thoreau, Walden, PTSD, posttraumatic growth

Educating the State: Civil Disobedience by Dumas' Musketeers

Concord Saunterer 26 (2018), 127-36

Civil disobedience is often seen in one of two ways: as an effort to maintain one's integrity in spite of the state, and as a tactical attempt to induce changes in policy. It can also be understood in a third way, as an effort to serve the state unconventionally, as Thoreau described of those "few [who] serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part." A rare example of this third type is found in an episode from Alexandre Dumas's D'Artagnan romances, in which the famous musketeers confront the impetuous young King Louis XIV, their master, with injustices he has committed, and suffer his wrath until he is shamed into repentance. The episode comes complete with a Thoreauvian evening spent in jail.

Keywords: Henry David Thoreau, Alexandre Dumas's musketeers, D'Artagnan, Louis XIV, Gandhi, civil disobedience

Thoreau and the Election Cake Fungus, by Cherrie Corey and Brent Ranalli

Thoreau Society Bulletin 300 (Winter 2018), 10-11

In the particularly unsavory presidential campaign season of 2016, Thoreau’s descriptive references to “election cake” fungi leapt off his journal pages and caught our attention. . . . Election cake was a sweet yeast bread traditionally served on Election Day in 18th- and 19th-century New England. . . . What was it about this particular fungus that inspired Thoreau to give it this nickname in his journal? And to which fungus might he have been referring?

Keywords: Henry David Thoreau, election cake, fungus, mushroom

Reading Thoreau's Gait

Thoreau Society Bulletin 296 (Winter 2017), 1-3

Thoreau was a prodigious walker. By his own account, his constitution required walking four hours a day at least. And he did not walk as others did. His contemporaries agreed that the self-styled "saunterer" had a distinctive gait. Could Thoreau's character be read in his gait?

Keywords: Henry David Thoreau, walking gait, character, Michel de Montaigne

Thoreau's Indian Stride

Concord Saunterer 27 (2019), 89-110

Thoreau’s college classmate John Weiss called Thoreau’s walk a “grave Indian stride.” Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne, recalled it as long, ungainly, and Indian-like. Frank Preston Stearns, son of abolitionist George Luther Stearns, recalled it as “the long step of an Indian.” What would nineteenth-century Euro-Americans of Eastern Massachusetts, so far from the frontier and with so few opportunities for first-hand knowledge of Native lifeways, understand to be the most salient features of an “Indian stride”? And what does unpacking the mystery of his “Indian stride” tell us about Thoreau?

Keywords: Henry David Thoreau, walking gait, biomechanics, posture, splatter vision, Robin Kimmerer

Thoreau's Missing Militia Service

Concord Saunterer 24 (2016)

In 1840, Massachusetts abolished compulsory militia service. Thoreau turned 18 in July of 1835. In 1837 he completed college and returned home to Concord. According to the letter of the law, he should have been enrolled and drilling with the local militia from late 1837 until 1840. The image, to us, is preposterous -- this icon of individualism and nonconformity, who preaches that we should step to our own music, here marching in formation in the streets and fields of Concord, standing at attention and saluting, loading and firing a gun on command. Did it really happen?

Keywords: Henry David Thoreau, Massachusetts militia, civil disobedience

Adam Smith's Dilemma and the Algonquian Model of Political Virtue

TELOSscope, 12 May 2016

Adam Smith is usually remembered as a champion of commerce. But as a moral philosopher he understood that even as commerce inculcates the virtues of industry, frugality, and temperance, it also inculcates vices such as avarice, envy, and short-sighted self-centeredness. Smith recognized that good government requires virtues such as honor, moral rectitude, patriotism, magnanimity, and a far-sighted perspective, to which the commercial vices are fairly opposed. Smith considered this a problem in his own day, as Great Britain was threatening to become a nation of shopkeepers, ruled by classes trained not in statesmanship but in commerce, governed not by codes of honor but by self-interest. The problem has resonance today as well.

Keywords: Adam Smith, education, Enlightenment, Henry David Thoreau, Immanuel Kant, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Native Americans

Pin- and Pencil-Making in the Twenty-First Century

Fortnightly Review, 30 April 2016

An essay in two parts on division of labor, fitness for democracy, and Native American lessons in civic virtue (of which the TELOSscope blog post above is an epitome).

Keywords: Adam Smith, education, Enlightenment, Henry David Thoreau, Immanuel Kant, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Native Americans, Ralph Waldo Emerson

Science Communication as Communication about Persons

Ethical issues in science communication: A theory-based approach: Proceedings of the 2013 Iowa State University Symposium on Science Communication, ed. J. Goodwin, M.F. Dahlstrom, & S. Priest

All science communication, even the most formal research paper, is ultimately communication about persons (at the very least, the projected persona of the writer). This paper draws insights from philosophy, sociology, and literary studies to explore what is at stake in communication about persons in science, and to articulate some general ethical principles. A slightly shorter version of this essay appears in Ethics and Practice in Science Communication (University of Chicago Press, 2018).

Keywords: science communication, ethics, virtue ethics, character, biography, climate science, Erving Goffman, Robert K. Merton, Charles Taylor, Alasdair MacIntyre, Henry David Thoreau