Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Nature”

See image credit below.

See image credit below.

I am thrilled to announce the relaunch of “American Transcendentalism: An Online Travel Guide.” This extensive website was created by students at Shepherd College in 2002 and expanded by other students in 2006. Now, a decade later, I have resurrected this outstanding website. I hope you will visit and take time to look around. When you do, here’s what you’ll find:

  • a writer-by-writer immersion in American Transcendentalism, a movement launched by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1836 essay, “Nature,” and at its peak in the 1840s and 1850s
  • a guide to the many places associated with Transcendentalism: Boston, Concord, Salem, Fruitlands, Amherst, New York, and Maryland (if some of these places seem new to you as “Transcendentalist places,” explore the site to discover the connections!)
  • pages from student journals and sketchbooks and photographs from their cameras, all inspired by the work of Transcendentalists and their literary heirs
  • WebQuests – targeted online explorations of the Transcendentalists and the writers and thinkers who came after them
  • links to learn more

The website – created primarily by Shepherd students – is the outcome of courses I taught on American Transcendentalism. In 2002, Dr. Patricia Dwyer and I team-taught a course on American Transcendentalism and a companion travel practicum. (You’ll even find pages from Patricia’s journal – and pages from my journal, too!) The students used our trip to New England, New York, and Maryland as the basis for the website.

Then in 2006, I taught the course again, this time on my own (and I was joined by Dr. Alan Tinkler for the travel practicum). The 2006 students added their journal entries, sketches, watercolors, and photographs.

Over the course of the next month, I’ll highlight particular Transcendentalists and the stories they told. Next week, I’ll feature Henry David Thoreau’s Walden; or, Life in the Woods. He’ll be followed by Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, and Frederick Douglass’s 1845 slave narrative.

The man who started it all was, of course, Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose 1836 essay, “Nature,” launched the movement. Emerson’s essays make for dense reading – and I, for one, gravitate to the storytellers like Thoreau and Whitman, Alcott and Douglass, who make Emerson’s sometimes esoteric philosophy come to life. However, an Emerson passage I really love comes from this landmark essay. Maybe I like it so well because there is a small element of storytelling to it:

Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.

You can see one student’s view of the transparent eyeball on the website.

You can read “Nature” online – or if you want a print copy, I recommend an edition that also includes Thoreau’s essay “Walking.” If you want to delve into more of Emerson’s writing, you’ll want to pick up The Portable Emerson, edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer, the Curator of Collections at the Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods. (When we went to Walden in 2006, Jeff was the person who spoke with us about Thoreau and the ongoing significance of Walden Pond.) To delve into some pieces by Emerson and other Transcendentalists, see Joel Myerson’s book, Transcendentalism: A Reader.

To learn more about Ralph Waldo Emerson, visit the outstanding program on Emerson and Thoreau at C-SPAN’s American Writers series. You might also want to check out the PBS page on Emerson. An excellent biography is Robert D. Richardson’s book, Emerson: The Mind on Fire. (Richardson is the featured scholar on the C-SPAN program.)

Ready to explore Transcendentalism more fully? Visit “American Transcendentalism: An Online Travel Guide,” and stay tuned to StoryWeb for the next four weeks!

Join me this week on Pinterest as I pin images and resources related to Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalists. Take a look around at all my boards – or go straight to “My Favorite Essays” board for Emerson treats.

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Listen:Listen as I read a six-minute excerpt from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Nature” – the essay that launched the American Transcendentalist movement.

Image Credit: This image is in the public domain (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ralph_Waldo_Emerson_ca1857_retouched.jpg).