This spring, about two dozen students in two sections at Duke Kunshan University in Kunshan, China are taking “Walden International: Analyzing Thoreau Across Cultures” from Patrick Morgan, a Ph.D. candidate and Graduate Instructor in English at Duke University and a graduate of SUNY Geneseo (English, Geological Sciences, 2010).
The students are also “analyzing [Thoreau’s] writings from an international perspective, focusing primarily on his engagement with Asian thought,” according to Morgan’s syllabus, asking how Thoreau “‘package[s]’ ancient Asian philosophies in order to comment on nineteenth-century American culture” and what “cultural forces and contexts … allow scholars like Lin Yutang to claim Thoreau as ‘the most Chinese of all American authors.'”
In addition to meeting with Morgan for 300 minutes each week in class and exchanging ideas online in the margins of Walden, the Kunshan University students are taking a digital field trip to Walden Pond thanks to a website Morgan has created that links passages of Thoreau’s text to YouTube videos he made in which he reads aloud from Walden while capturing the pond’s sights and sounds.
Morgan has been active in Thoreau studies since his undergraduate days at Geneseo, where he presented on “Thoreau’s Bedrock: Emerson’s Influence and the Geomorphological Significance of Emerson’s Cliff, Concord, Massachusetts” for Geneseo’s day celebrating undergraduate research, GREAT Day, in 2010. That same year, his article on “Aesthetic Inflections: Thoreau, Gender, and Geology” appeared in the Thoreau Society’s scholarly annual, The Concord Saunterer. In 2015, Morgan participated in an NEH summer institute for college instructors on “Transcendentalism and Reform in the Age of Emerson, Thoreau, and Fuller” conducted in Concord by a roster of scholars that included Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, Phyllis Cole, Jayne Gordon, Robert Gross, John Matteson, Wesley T. Mott, and former Geneseo Harding lecturers Laura Dassow Walls, Megan Marshall, and Joel Myerson.