The Evolutions of Thoreau’s Science

In: Thoreau in an Age of Crisis
Robert Sattelmeyer
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Robert Sattelmeyer’s “The Evolutions of Thoreau’s Science” explores Thoreau’s scientific practice and its scholarly reception. Sattelmeyer examines the considerable body of scholarship that has developed surrounding Thoreau as a scientist and offers a overview of the gradual evolution of critical and scholarly appreciation for Thoreau’s scientific work, particularly as this developed during the last decade of his life. Sattelmeyer also argues that another vast but unfinished Thoreauvian project, collected in the so-called Indian Notebooks, had its lapse with the recognition of a fundamental impasse: “to attempt to understand the precontact culture of indigenous people by reading books by post-contact European explorers and missionaries is, at best, a tautology.” Thoreau’s broader interest, Sattelmeyer suggests, lay in the developing population patterns, by human communities as well as by plants and animals, of North America. Sattelmeyer then treats Thoreau’s hydrological study of the Musquetaquid watershed and Thoreau’s vast Kalendar project as defining his legitimate legacy as a scientist in his own right.

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