Walden’s Carbon Footprint: How People, Plants, Animals, and Machines Created an Environmental Classic

Stuart 105

Modern Americans associate Henry David Thoreau’s masterpiece with solitude, manual labor, idealist philosophy, and the natural world. This talk will blend environmental, labor, and literary history while revisiting the crowded, industrial, material world of the global nineteenth-century marketplace, where Thoreau’s book first took physical form. We’ll examine the supply-chain of raw materials that composed the first edition of the book (cotton-based paper, animal-skin glue, etc.), consider the many hands who directly and indirectly contributed to its production (southern slaves, commodity brokers, northern mill workers, European rag-pickers, women and children in the printing trades), and reflect on the literary history of our own contemporary desire to know the origins and environmental impact of objects in our daily lives.