Jefferson expert speaks on how founding father changed history

The Fourth Annual Walter Harding Lecture was delivered on Wednesday, Sept. 19 by Betsy Erkkila, the Henry Sanborn Noyes professor of literature at Northwestern University.

The lecture, entitled "Romancing the Revolution: Jefferson's Declaration," spoke of Thomas Jefferson's "highly developed literary pursuits and inclinations," and how this has affected the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution and history itself. Reading in Newton Hall from a section of her work in progress, Erkilla quoted notable scholars and Jefferson himself to support her argument. She ended the lecture stating that Jefferson's original copy of the Declaration, before it was revised, was one that was "full of heart, body and without slavery," referring to an anti-slavery clause that was included in the original draft of the Declaration. Erkkila closed by remarking how different the United States would be had the original draft been approved.

Erkkila began her academic career as a Walt Whitman scholar and is the author of several books and essays on topics such as Ben Franklin, Phillis Wheatley and Edgar Allan Poe. Both her teaching and research are in the field of American literary and cultural studies. She has been awarded fellowships by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center, the American Council for Learned Societies and the Fulbright Foundation.

The annual Walter Harding Lecture honors Professor Walter Harding, a distinguished professor of English at Geneseo from 1956-1982. Harding was an internationally acclaimed scholar whose books include the definitive biography of Henry David Thoreau, "The Days of Henry Thoreau," which will be reissued from Princeton University Press in the near future.