Class Profile: Students construct Thoreau-inspired cabin

INTD 288: Thoreau-Harding Project 1.0, a class focused on Henry David Thoreau’s version of an ideal education, is nearing its conclusion. Led by professor of English Edward Gillin, the course’s main objective is for students to plan the construction of a cabin that fits the style and size of Thoreau’s cabin in his famed Walden.

The cabin, once completed, will be dedicated to former Distinguished Professor of English Walter Harding, whom Gillin said was an influential Thoreau scholar.

“I hear about the projects that the geology or biology departments have [and] I thought it would be nice to come up with a project that the humanities-type student … could work on,” Gillin said.

According to Gillin, over the course of the semester, students have learned to write grant applications and have studied various construction methods, including choosing appropriate building materials, learning to balance budgets and make estimates and gaining the appropriate building permissions from corporations and administration.

Gillin added that the students led nearly every aspect of the class and that he has prepared “very little.” “The class has been really successful,” he said. “I can’t help, as a professor, [but] be impressed by the students’ fervor and the intelligent arguments and discussions they have.”

According to Gillin, funding for the materials and planning comes from the various grants the students have applied for themselves. This session’s main goal was to plan and prepare the project for students who will take the next section of the class in fall 2013 and to ensure that they will have what they need to begin construction, Gillin said.

Senior Candice Felice, a student in the class, said that she finds it very interesting and that it is helping her become more organized.

“Small groups will be responsible [next semester] for various aspects [of the project] so there is a lot that I’m responsible to keep track of,” she said.

Felice also said that there has been some debate in the class as to whether the project should keep to the exact traditions set by Thoreau or if the class should modify certain aspects of the cabin, such as the choice in foundation material, to make the building last longer.

The students have been careful to record their progress at for future project members to refer to. Gillin and Felice both said they are hopeful that the cabin, whose location has not been decided upon, will be completed around December 2013.

Based on this project’s success, Gillin said that the group discussed plans for future projects similar to it. He added that they might produce a modern version of a Thoreau house, which would reflect lifestyle and environmental changes since the late 19th century.