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Happenings: Thoreau’s Notes on the Shipwreck of Margaret Fuller

Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, June 6, 2017, 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm. Houghton Library recently acquired Thoreau’s manuscript notes on his exhaustive but fruitless search for the bodies and belongings of war correspondent and feminist Margaret Fuller Ossoli and her family, shipwrecked off Fire Island on July 19, 1850. Leslie Morris, Karen Walter, and Pulitzer-Prize-winner Megan Marshall will present behind-the-scenes perspectives on the acquisition process, the conservation treatment, and the manuscript’s value for research and teaching.

Presentations will be followed by light refreshments and an opportunity to view the Thoreau manuscript and a letter from Margaret Fuller to her father in the exhibitions Henry David Thoreau at 200 and Open House 75: Houghton Library Staff Select.

Leslie A. Morris is Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts at Houghton Library, Harvard University, a position she has held since 2005; she was Curator of Manuscripts in the Harvard College Library from 1992-2005. She is responsible for acquisition of research materials in all languages and subjects dating from 1800 to the present, and she curates a collection that includes the papers of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, the Alcott family, Emily Dickinson, e.e. cummings, Herman Melville, John Updike, and Gore Vidal (to name a few of the American collections) and many others. Her personal research centers on the history of bookselling and book collecting in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Karen Walter is a Senior Paper Conservation Technician at Harvard University’s Weissman Preservation Center, where she has worked for close to twenty years. Her primary responsibility is for the care, housing, and conservation treatment of paper-based materials in the rare collections of Harvard Library. Examples of past treatments include the manuscripts of John Keats, Herman Melville, and Emily Dickinson. She is also a practicing artist, creating works of art on paper which she exhibits regularly.

Megan Marshall is Charles Wesley Emerson College Professor, Emerson College, as well as a graduate of Harvard/Radcliffe (’77) and a Radcliffe Institute Fellow (’07). She is the author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Biography and Memoir and the 2014 Massachusetts Book Award in Nonfiction, and two other biographies of New England women. For the occasion of Margaret Fuller’s bicentennial in 2010, Marshall curated an exhibition of rare books, manuscripts, and artwork at the Massachusetts Historical Society titled A More Interior Revolution: Elizabeth Peabody, Margaret Fuller, and the Women of the American Renaissance.

Sponsored by Harvard Library Preservation Services and Houghton Library. For more information, email or call 617-495-2441.

Part of Henry David Thoreau at 200, May 22 – September 2, 2017, Houghton Library:

As scholars, teachers, politicians, and pundits debate what America is and means by reimagining or rewriting the America in which we live, it is worth recalling the America actually lived in and written about by the country’s first generation born after the American Revolution. The bicentenary of Henry David Thoreau, who was born in Concord, Massachusetts, on July 12, 1817 and died there on May 6, 1862, provides such an occasion.

A contemporary of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, Walt Whitman, and Frederick Douglass, Thoreau did not always share in the prominence they enjoyed. Although his story invariably opens with reference to Emerson, Emerson’s belief that American exceptionalism was synonymous with capitalism made for a stark distinction between the two, a distinction Thoreau underscored in 1853, writing, “I am a mystic—a transcendentalist—& a natural philosopher.” The dominant Thoreau who has emerged among recent generations of readers is an environmentalist who argued for the restoration of the landscape with which humankind was originally blessed, a humanitarian who read capitalism as the supreme threat to individualism and equal rights under the law, and a political thinker who critiqued the popular concept of exceptionalism as promoting destructive impulses such as the virtual eradication of Native American culture and the extension of slavery into the American West.

  • Henry David Thoreau at 200 invites you to examine the life and thought of the author of “Civil Disobedience” and Walden. Highlights of the exhibition include:
  • First editions of his major works
  • Drawings of Thoreau by his close friend, Daniel Ricketson
  • Thoreau’s own copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature
  • One of his Harvard College examination papers
  • Manuscripts of “Reform and the Reformers” and “Walking”
  • The recently discovered notes on his search for Margaret Fuller after her shipwreck.

The exhibition was curated by Ronald A. Bosco, Distinguished Research Professor of English and American Literature, University at Albany, SUNY, and contributes to the Thoreau Bicentennial, a year-long celebration of Thoreau’s 200th birthday taking place around the world.

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Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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