Henry David Thoreau at 200

May 22 - September 2, Lowell Room

Henry David Thoreau

As scholars, teachers, politicians, and pundits debate what America is and means by reimagining or rewriting the America in which we live, it is worth recalling the America actually lived in and written about by the country’s first generation born after the American Revolution. The bicentenary of Henry David Thoreau, who was born in Concord, Massachusetts, on July 12, 1817 and died there on May 6, 1862, provides such an occasion.

A contemporary of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, Walt Whitman, and Frederick Douglass, Thoreau did not always share in the prominence they enjoyed. Although his story invariably opens with reference to Emerson, Emerson’s belief that American exceptionalism was synonymous with capitalism made for a stark distinction between the two, a distinction Thoreau underscored in 1853, writing, “I am a mystic—a transcendentalist—& a natural philosopher.” The dominant Thoreau who has emerged among recent generations of readers is an environmentalist who argued for the restoration of the landscape with which humankind was originally blessed, a humanitarian who read capitalism as the supreme threat to individualism and equal rights under the law, and a political thinker who critiqued the popular concept of exceptionalism as promoting destructive impulses such as the virtual eradication of Native American culture and the extension of slavery into the American West.

Henry David Thoreau at 200 invites you to examine the life and thought of the author of “Civil Disobedience” and Walden. Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • First editions of his major works
  • Drawings of Thoreau by his close friend, Daniel Ricketson
  • Thoreau’s own copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature
  • One of his Harvard College examination papers
  • Manuscripts of “Reform and the Reformers” and “Walking”
  • The recently discovered notes on his search for Margaret Fuller after her shipwreck.

The exhibition was curated by Ronald A. Bosco, Distinguished Research Professor of English and American Literature, University at Albany, SUNY, and contributes to the Thoreau Bicentennial, a year-long celebration of Thoreau’s 200th birthday taking place around the world.

John Lithgow: Actor as Artist

April 25 – September 7, 2017, Chaucer Case

John Lithgow, actor as artistJohn Lithgow enrolled at Harvard in 1963, intent on becoming a painter. Even as a professional actor, he has never lost interest in the visual arts. To honor Lithgow as this year’s recipient of the Harvard Arts Medal, Houghton Library presents an exhibition of the actor’s drawings, featuring designs for student productions at the Loeb Drama Center and caricatures depicting his career on Broadway and in television, including memorable performances in M. Butterfly, the hit sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, and Netflix’s The Crown.


On the Rise: Theodore Roosevelt, the Spanish-American War, and American Imperialism

May 23, 2017 – June 1, 2018, Theodore Roosevelt Gallery

Theodore RooseveltThrough political cartoons from Houghton Library’s Theodore Roosevelt Collection, this exhibition examines the Spanish-American War and its role as the start of the United States as a world power. The exhibition was curated by Houghton Library 75th Anniversary Undergraduate Fellow and history concentrator Arthur Schott-Lopes ’19. It is free and open to the public.

The Theodore Roosevelt Gallery is located next door to Houghton in Lamont Library, Lower Level (enter through the West Door). For a wheelchair-accessible entrance, please use Lamont Library’s main door and take the elevator to level B.

© 2017 The President and Fellows of Harvard College