This course co-sponsored by Yale’s Humanities Program, and led by Director of Undergraduate Studies and Lecturer, Paul Grimstad, will explore the moral, philosophical, religious and literary revolution that has come to be known as New England Transcendentalism with a focus on two of its most representative figures, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Through our comprehensive readings of their literary legacies, we will raise philosophical, practical and critical questions such as: What exactly did Emerson mean by “self-reliance”? What did Thoreau mean by "civil disobedience"? What were the social reforms proposed by various aspects of transcendentalist thought and writing? What does "transcendental" really mean in the nineteenth century historical context, and in our own times?
Our faculty leader Paul Grimstad, author of the award-winning Experience and Experimental Writing: Literary Pragmatism from Emerson to the Jameses, will bring a dynamic collection of guest experts to the course including Professor Ross Posnock and Professor Branka Arsić of Columbia University, Professor Kate Stanley of Western University in Canada, and Professor Jospeh Urbas of Université Bordeaux Montaigne, all noted scholars in the field.
Inspired by the lens of philosophy at the core of Yale’s Directed Studies program, we will read a wide variety of Emerson’s most significant works from his pantheistic book-length essay “Nature,” as well as his epoch-making addresses on “The American Scholar,” The Divinity School Address" and "Self-Reliance," to his later writings on the Fugitive Slave Law and the Conduct of Life. Together we’ll trace the first stirrings of transcendentalism within Boston Unitarian circles in the 1820s and 1830s, to Emerson’s leaving his pulpit in the Second Church of Boston (claiming not to be able to go through with the Lord’s Supper ritual).
Our study of Emerson will be paired with a close reading of works from his friend (and mentee and tenant) Henry David Thoreau, who some say put into lived practice things Emerson only theorized about. Thoreau’s daily journals while living alone at Walden pond, the book he made from that excursion, and his own essay on “Civil Disobedience” are among the selected readings for our course. Both figures raised issues that have remained strikingly relevant in our own era.
Placing Emerson and Thoreau among their contemporaries, we will consider figures close to the transcendentalist movement, such as Margaret Fuller, Theodore Parker and Frederick Henry Hedge. This course promises to be a rich and stimulating immersion in what one scholar called an “indispensable chapter in the making of the mind.”
The immersion experience begins as soon as you register and receive your books. You'll join the private online course community where you can meet and connect with fellow alumni scholars in the group and chat virtually about ideas and inspirations from your readings in preparation for the course. By June, you'll be ready for two weeks of intensive study with a collegial group of dedicated learners, a passionate faculty leader.
The main course sessions will include a total of 32 hours of small-group sessions led by faculty and guest speakers. Alumni participants will come together for a scholarly endeavor that hearkens to the days of being a student on Yale's campus. Seminar-style discussions provide ample opportunity to engage with experts and peers, informed by comprehensive readings and complementary materials from Yale's collections: galleries, libraries and museums. Special guest speakers add context to the themes of the syllabus, and evening salons create space to share new ideas and understandings from the lectures and readings. This program has been specially designed for Yale Alumni Academy by Professor Grimstad and The Humanities Program at Yale. We invite you to enjoy the privilege of an intimate and bespoke classroom experience with an excellent study leader.