Sie sind hier: Startseite Research-old Past Events (2010) Transcendental Radicals: The Antislavery Movement in Thoreau’s Concord. Guest Lecture by Sandra H. Petrulionis, June 22

Transcendental Radicals: The Antislavery Movement in Thoreau’s Concord. Guest Lecture by Sandra H. Petrulionis, June 22

6:00-8:00 pm, HS XVII

The fact that Concord, Massachusetts has entered the historical record as a center of radical abolitionism is a status conferred largely on the basis of the militant speeches and writings of its famous literary sons, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Yet the blistering rhetoric and itinerant public activism of these men during the late 1840s and '50s is at stark odds with their earlier disdain for organized reform. What occurred in this celebrated town over the course of three decades that accounts for such a radical transformation in their political thinking and actions? The archival record makes abundantly clear that a protracted campaign to foment a local abolitionist consciousness was undertaken and sustained in Concord from the mid-1830s by an extremist fringe of ordinary residents, primary women, including Emerson and Thoreau's family members.

Mary Merrick Brooks, the principal operative in this crusade, has often been cited for her considerable influence on Waldo Emerson's antislavery pragmatism, but her wide-ranging correspondence also testifies to the multi-prong, collaborative strategies through which these women, and a few men, radicalized their town. Especially significant were the ties that Brooks and the other members of the Concord Female Anti-Slavery Society forged with national abolitionist leaders such as William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips. Existing histories of Concord and biographies of its illustrious authors have habitually focused on Waldo Emerson's, Henry Thoreau's, and Bronson Alcott's political ideals rather than on the domestic and civic context in which these sentiments evolved. But the archival record crucially expands and enriches this story of community activism. In this historic town, it was militant neighbors — rich and poor, young and old, black and white, and most of all, female and male — who ultimately prevailed on the philosophers of self-culture to transform their theorizing into everyday reform.

Sandra H. Petrulionis is Professor of English and American Studies at Pennsylvania State University (Altoona, PA) and currently a Fulbright guest professor at the University of Jena. She has recently edited the Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism (with Joel Myerson and Laura Dassow Walls, New York: Oxford UP, 2010). Her monograph Thoreau in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, und Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates is forthcoming from University of Iowa Press in 2011.