This database is a resource for other scholars interested in the relationship between image and text with respect to Thoreau's Journal, or more generally.
Louis Agassiz furnishes the title for this site. In “The Student, the Fish, and Agassiz,” Samuel H. Scudder recalls his first encounter with Agassiz, who set him the task of observing a fish preserved in alcohol. “At last a happy thought struck me—I would draw the fish,” writes Scudder, “and now with surprise I began to discover new features in the creature.” Agassiz approves: “‘That is right,’ said he, ‘a pencil is one of the best eyes.’”
Thoreau (who may have seen Agassiz draw while hearing him lecture at Harvard) apparently came to the same conclusion in 1850. After keeping a journal for thirteen years, Thoreau began to add drawings, mainly of things that he observed on his walks around Concord. Thoreau’s turn to drawings, which are sometimes elaborate, sometimes suggestively simple, offer more evidence for the trajectory of growth that has been described by such scholars as Will Howarth in The Book of Concord (1982) and Laura Dassow Walls in Seeing New Worlds (1995). As Walls argues, the later Journal can be read as the record not only of Thoreau’s “sheer joy in physical engagement with the woods, fields, and waters of Concord,” but also of his “attempt to read and tell a history of man and nature together, as and in one single, interconnected act.” In the later Journal, writing and drawing become an interdependent and more embodied way of knowing the natural world.
Moreover, it will expand our understanding of Thoreau’s methodology and growth as a natural scientist committed to observing, describing, and representing the natural world.
- To allow readers to examine the interplay and interrelatedness of text and image.
- To place Thoreau’s Journal into the larger history of books and bookmaking.
- To pose a number of research questions:
- What can we say about the quality of the drawings?
- Is it possible to discern changes in style?
- Most importantly, how does examining text and image together change our reading of the Journal?
- To study Thoreau’s drawings in the context of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century botanical art (he studies other people’s representations of landscapes, animals, and plants)
- To study the Journal in the context of the history of field notes. Many naturalists—Darwin, of course, and, after Thoreau, John Muir—made drawings in their journals. What might a comparative study reveal?