Thoreau the Land Surveyor

Patrick Chura

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"An insightful study of how Thoreau's profession as a surveyor impacts his environmental sensibility and informs his literary works; further, Chura shows that the manuscript surveys and corresponding field notes are themselves worthy of literary analysis. "--Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, coeditor of More Day to Dawn: Thoreau’s Walden for the Twenty-first Century

"This book on the significance of land surveying to Henry Thoreau’s writing is one that we have long needed. Chura's practical experience as a surveyor combined with his literary scholarship makes him the perfect person to write it."--Richard J. Schneider, editor of Henry David Thoreau: A Documentary Volume

Henry David Thoreau, one of America’s most prominent environmental writers, supported himself as a land surveyor for much of his life, parceling land that would be sold off to loggers. In the only study of its kind, Patrick Chura analyzes this seeming contradiction to show how the best surveyor in Concord combined civil engineering with civil disobedience.

Placing Thoreau's surveying in historical context, Thoreau the Land Surveyor explains the cultural and ideological implications of surveying work in the mid-nineteenth century. Chura explains the ways that Thoreau's environmentalist disposition and philosophical convictions asserted themselves even as he reduced the land to measurable terms and acted as an agent for bringing it under proprietary control. He also describes in detail Thoreau's 1846 survey of Walden Pond. By identifying the origins of Walden in--of all places--surveying data, Chura re-creates a previously lost supporting manuscript of this American classic.

Patrick Chura is associate professor of English at the University of Akron and author of Vital Contact: Downclassing Journeys in American Literature from Herman Melville to Richard Wright.

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Nancy Dasher Award - 2012

"Explains how Thoreau's profession as a surveyor initally seemed to hamper but in the end inspired his spiritual and philosophical expression. Combines a spry writing style with meticulous research in this delightful book, which introduces readers to another side of Thoreau's life and thought." CHOICE

"Thoreau's eventual embrace of his status as a surveyor might not have been without struggle, but Chura ultimately sees surveying as central to Thoreau's art and vision. He sheds light on the technical question of how Thoreau measured woodlots and perambulated town borders for hire and mapped the shores and recorded the water levels of Walden Pond and the Concord River for pleasure. Ultimately, Patrick Chura argues that readers who want to understand the workings of Henry David Thoreau's mind need to consider all his intellectual pursuits, not just his literary ones." The New England Quarterly

"In this study, Chura combines background on the tools and methods of 19th-century surveying and Thoreau's day-to-day activities as a surveyor with a contextualized study of Thoreau's journals, letters, field notes, and published works for what they reveal about his use of land surveying as both a method of environmental inquiry and a primary source of income near the end of his life." Book News Inc.

"A provocative and productive enactment of Thoreau's own concluding sentiment in 'Life without Principle' that our lives are not as much a forgetting as a remembering...a refreshing reminder that theory and practice depend upon one another." Dominique Zino, Journal of the Early Republic

"Well illustrated, this is an unusual, but interesting and stimulating book." Property Week

"Patrick Chura’s Thoreau the Land Surveyor brings a new dimension of Thoreau’s life and writings into focus…Chura reconstructs Thoreau’s career with practical and historical as well as literary sensitivity." American Literary Scholarship

By synthesizing literary scholarship with his reconstruction of Thoreau’s work, Chura compellingly illuminates the various intersections between Thoreau’s practices as author and as surveyor, thereby demonstrating in fascinating ways how some of Thoreau’s most famous writings reflected his experience as a surveyor.-- Nineteenth-Century Prose

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