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Fisher Reads Thoreau during Month of October

September 28, 2017

This October, the Fisher Reads program will host lectures, film screenings, and presentations that celebrate and explore the writings of Henry David Thoreau.

Henry David Thoreau

Considered one of America’s great minds of the 19th century, Thoreau was an essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, and outspoken tax resister. Through this month-long series of events, faculty members and students will engage in a cross-disciplinary look at his most famous writings, including Walden, “Civil Disobedience,” and “Walking,” as well as lesser known essays, such as “A Plea for Captain John Brown” and “Slavery in Massachusetts.”

The Fisher Reads program, which was founded in 2012, is a collaboration among faculty members to create interdisciplinary engagement through the shared reading of classic texts. In the last five years, the program has explored Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, St. Thomas More’s Utopia, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s horror classic, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, among others.

“The program helps faculty see how literature can be a vehicle to explore issues within their discipline and how that might prompt us to think about our work in different ways,” said Fisher Reads organizer Dr. Linda MacCammon, noting that the texts often grapple with subject matter related to a diverse array of disciplines including philosophy, ethics, gender studies, science, and religion.

A highlight for the month is a living history presentation by nationally-recognized Thoreau interpreter Richard Smith. With more than two decades of experience in living history, Smith has performed as Thoreau throughout New England and the country. He appears regularly at Walden Pond, where Thoreau wrote and lived for two years, and has hosted living history programs at various historic sites in Concord, Massachusetts, including The Old Manse, Concord Mansion, and Minuteman National Historical Park.

For MacCammon, Thoreau’s writings on the perils of disconnecting from nature and the importance of protecting it are particularly relevant.

“In ‘Walking,’ Thoreau talks about losing our fundamental connection with nature. He was so aware, and took pleasure in exploring everything around him,” she said. “Reading his work helps us retrieve that connection and makes us hungry to reclaim it.”

Fisher Reads Thoreau Schedule of Events:

Henry David Thoreau: Tuesday Night Live!

Tuesday, Oct. 10, 7 to 9 p.m., Basil 135
Thoreau comes alive on Tuesday night with historian and Thoreau interpreter, Richard Smith, who will perform one of Thoreau’s most popular essays, “Walking.”

Rapping on Thoreau: A Class Discussion
Wednesday, Oct. 11, 11:15a.m. to 12:15 p.m., Basil 135
Join Richard Smith and several Fisher Reads classes for an “off the record” free-wheeling discussion on Thoreau and his work.

200 Hundred Years Later: Is Thoreau Still Relevant?
Tuesday, Oct. 17, 3 to 4:30 p.m., Lower Level, Lavery Library
Fisher Reads faculty from economics, political science, philosophy, ethics, and religion offer short presentations within their respective disciplines that attempt to answer the question: Two hundred years later, is Thoreau still relevant? 

Civil Disobedience Past and Present
Monday, Oct. 23, 2:30 to 3:50 p.m., Wilson Formal Lounge
In his famous essay, “Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau argues that governments are more harmful than helpful and that citizens must follow their conscience and resist corrupt and unjust laws through civil disobedience. Students in Jane Snyder’s Issues in Law and Politics course explore the meaning and implications of this radical call to action both for Thoreau and for contemporary America.

Feature Film:  "Walden: The Ballad of Thoreau"
Thursday, Oct. 26, 6 to 8 p.m., Basil 135
This film combines documentary facts about Thoreau’s life with a theatrical play that dramatizes conversations between Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson during the final two days of Thoreau’s stay at Walden Pond. The film also considers how his work and his spirit continue to influence how we view and preserve the environment. 

A question and answer session will conclude each event.  All events are free and open to the public and are sponsored by the Department of Economics, Ethics Minor Program, Lavery Library, Department of Philosophy, Department of Religious Studies, Visual and Performing Arts Program, and Fisher Reads, a group of faculty members who promote reading on campus.

For more information, email Dr. Tim Madigan at

(Photo Credit: Henry David Thoreau. Daguerreotype by Benjamin Maxham, June, 1856