Archive for March, 2011

Last night John Hessler discussed his work at the Concord Museum courtesy of the Boston Map Society http://www.bostonmapsociety.org/.

A copy of Mr. Hessler’s talk is attached, below, with the approval of Mr. Hessler as a pdf file. saunterer final A (1)

It will also appear in a forthcoming edition of the Thoreau Society’s The Concord Saunterer A Journal of Thoreau Studies.

In his talk Mr. Hessler makes a case for Thoreau as a geographer, interested and deeply involved in the study and creation of historic maps. In particular Mr. Hessler identifies maps created by Thoreau based upon maps Thoreau found in the Harvard Library.

Thoreau’s maps and his notes have been unknown until discovered by Mr. Hessler in the files of the Pierpont Morgan Library and the Library of Congress where Mr. Hessler currently serves as Senior Cartographic Librarian.

Thoreau’s interest in geography while student at Harvard from which he graduated in 1837 may be related to an essay that appeared in 1813 An essay forthrightly titled Geography, prepared by Jared Sparks (1789-1866) who while a student at Harvard College, provides an unambiguous early call for the inclusion of geography in the curriculum of America’s colleges. Prepared for presentation at the Aurius Ramus Society, a Harvard College debating group, Sparks begins-“Few studies are more useful, few more easily attained, and none more universally neglected, than that of geography;” proceeds to develop his argument by citing Francis Bacon and contemporary work by the English geographer John Pinkerton among others; notes geography’s importance in understanding historical events as well as contemporary commerce and political occurrences at home and abroad; and closes with points calling for the explicit inclusion of geography in the “course of liberal education” rather than leaving students to their own devices to acquire its gifts of understanding. Sparks becomes a historian, editor of North American Review (1824-31), and professor of history (1839-49) and president (1849-54) of Harvard College.
[Manuscript in Sparks Collection (132, Misc. papers, vol.1, 1808-14), Harvard University; and reproduced in Ralph H. Brown. A Plea for Geography, 1813 style. Annals of the Association of American Geography 41 (1951): 233-236.]

In September 1849 Thoreau wrote to Harvard President Jared Sparks to ask for Harvard Library borrowing privileges.  He wrote Sparks “I have chosen letters as my profession.”

Walter Harding, The Days of Henry Thoreau, enlarged and corrected edition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982) p. 258: Corr, pp. 247, 249.


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