Memo - readings for Sept. 6-8
All three of these readings concern ideas and attitudes
about wealth, commerce, and personal luxuries in the United States in
the 19th century.
- Henry David Thoreau was born in 1817 and wrote his most
famous book Walden in 1854,
when he was 37. The book is a memoir of his experiment living alone and
very simply beside Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts.
At the same time, the book is also a reflection on nature and the
spiritual (or "transcendental") qualities it offers to anyone who pays
attention. Our reading is an excerpt from Walden, which sheds light on
Thoreau's views of nature and of civilization.
- Alexis de Tocqueville was a Frenchman who travelled around
the United States in the 1830s. He published his thoughts and ideas
about the country in his two-volume Democracy
in America, published in 1835 and 1839. Although now more than a
century and a half old, Democracy in
America is still widely read, and many people find in it
characterizations of American society that still resonate today.
- The final reading for this week is the opening chapter of a
book by a historian named Daniel Horowitz, who teaches at Smith College
in Northampton, Mass. The title of the book, The Morality of Spending: Attitudes
Towards Consumer Society in America, 1875-1940, gives you a
good idea what it's about.
For our purposes, the most important aspect of these readings is the
overall impression they create of about wealth and spending in
nineteenth-century America. The specifics are less important
(especially with Thoreau) than the ideas and attitudes you find here.
You might consider:
What do these readings suggest about the
accumulation of wealth in the nineteenth century? How did people feel
about the buying of luxury goods for oneself?
Compared to today, were people more or less
materialistic? What makes you draw this conclusion?
What personal values do you think were most highly