The Chronicle of Higher Education
October 17th, 2014
It’s a picture-perfect late-September afternoon in upstate New York,
and Ed Gillin has taken his English class outside. Dressed in baggy
trousers and shirt, a straw hat perched on his head, he looks like a
beardless Walt Whitman—but it’s another iconic American writer, Henry
David Thoreau, who’s gotten the professor and his undergraduates out
into the autumn sunshine.
Mr. Gillin, a professor of English at the State University of New York College at Geneseo, teaches a course called the "Thoreau-Harding Project". This fall, as his students read their way through Walden, they
aren’t just grappling with the text; they’re working out how to build a
cabin like the one Thoreau built in 1845 at Walden Pond.
Saws and hammers don’t usually figure in the literary critic’s
toolbox. But the hands-on approach that Mr. Gillin wants his students to
take to Walden reflects Thoreau’s belief that one should learn by doing. And it complements another project, Digital Thoreau—led by Mr. Gillin’s English-department colleague Paul Schacht—that uses digital tools to get inside Walden.