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A talk by Laura Dassow Walls: “A Vast and Indefinite Loss”: Thoreau’s Reflections on Nature and Slavery

  • March 31, 2021
  • 2:00 PM (EDT)
  • Virtual

Biographer Laura Dassow Walls will explore how the naturalist Henry David Thoreau, who spoke of freedom through solitude in nature, viewed a country that denied freedom to thousands by keeping them in bondage.

In 1854, when federal marshals arrested a free Black citizen of Boston and deported him in chains back to the South and into slavery, Thoreau’s faith in both nature and nation nearly collapsed. At the very moment his book Walden was being printed in Boston, Thoreau told an audience that he could no longer bring himself to go to the pond. For weeks he'd felt haunted by “a vast and indefinite loss,” until he realized, as he said, that what he had lost “was a country.” Yet he concluded his talk on a note of hope after a visit to the woods. What can Thoreau tell us about a divided America today—and about imagining, nevertheless, a way to walk toward freedom for all? What was it about the forest that showed him a way forward? Join us to find out.



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American Society for Environmental History

UIC Department of History - MC 198

601 S. Morgan St.

Chicago, IL  60607-7109