Henry David Thoreau's Journal Drawings

The Henry David Thoreau's Journal Drawings Archive invites visitors to study the variety and scope of Thoreau’s drawings on their own merits as well as to examine the interplay and interrelatedness of texts and image in the Journal. Attending to the drawings enhances our understanding of Thoreau’s methodology and growth as a natural scientist committed to observing, describing, and representing the natural world. The search feature allows visitors to survey the Journal drawings using dates and keywords.

This site offers an opportunity to pose a number of questions, not only about the drawings themselves, but also about their wider social, intellectual, and cultural context: what did Thoreau choose to draw—and how did he draw? What can we discover about the nature and quality of the drawings? (Some are quite compelling; others are mere schema.) What do the drawings say, by themselves and for themselves? Is it possible to discern changes in style over time? Changes in interests? What was the nineteenth-century art-historical and historical context for such drawings? What happens when we place Thoreau’s drawings in the context of eighteenth and nineteenth-century theories about how one ought to produce scientific illustration?

Finally, the drawings ask that we return to Thoreau’s manuscript itself. Examining how Thoreau placed his drawings in relation to the text on the page can be quite revealing. Moreover, spending time with the manuscript prompts us to consider the many contexts in which we have encountered Thoreau’s Journal. The Journal, in whole and in part, has been presented to us across a variety of media and through various, often quite specialized, viewpoints. This database is yet another example: one reads for drawings as one might read the Journal selectively for Thoreau the ornithologist, say, or the philosopher, or the abolitionist. How has such a profusion of versions and iterations influenced how we read, appreciate, and interpret the Journal?