Thoreau-Harding project gets digging in the name of commemoration

Work on the Thoreau-Harding Project is underway for its third semester, according to Edward Gillin, professor of English at Geneseo and initiator of the project. The project's goal is to create a replica of Henry David Thoreau's cabin on Walden Pond and pay tribute to late Geneseo professor and Thoreau scholar Walter Harding.

Students in the ENGL 239 course are primarily leading the project that began in fall 2012. They are seeking to “devote [their] hands, minds and philosophical gumption to learning deliberately,” according the project's website.

“As my proposal that was accepted indicated, this was going to be a class where we had a goal, and all of the means and all of the direction of achieving that goal were going to be put entirely in the students' hands,” Gillin said.

At first, the project faced many obstacles.

“The fall of last year was entirely consumed with logistical, administrative and legal matters,” he said. “But by the spring, we finally actually had all permissions, all systems go.”

The building site was established near the entrance to the arboretum on the south side of campus last semester.

“This semester, we have one more hole to dig, and we'll be doing that starting next week; when that gets finished, the foundation will be complete,” Gillin said.

The English course itself entails reading Walden by Thoreau as well as reading works by Harding. This reading has both practical and philosophical purposes.

Harding taught in Geneseo's English department from 1956 to 1982, wrote seven books on Thoreau and helped found the Thoreau Society, according to the department of English website.

“These are some of the only sources we have of what we should be building. There are no surviving pictures, and the structure itself is long gone,” Gillin said. “We have to rely on Thoreau's account and the accounts of a few individuals who left their records and manuscripts in the Thoreau Institute Library.

“Maybe as important though, it gives us philosophical grounding,” he said. “We talk about what Thoreau's ideas are and what they represent to each one of us as we read them.”

Looking toward the future of the project, Gillin said he is optimistic.

“We do have funds because one of the things some students did is apply for a grant, which got approved. We're crossing our fingers that we get something like a frame erected this semester.”