The Transcendentalists

A Branch of the Romanticism Movement
Falls under the umbrella of the American Romantic
movement (1800-1860). The majority of the
Transcendentalists works were written in the 1830s and
It began as a protest against the general state of the
society and of the religious doctrines being taught at
Harvard College. The focus is that the ideas of an
individual are more important than following a religious
Emphasizes an appreciation and a deep connection to
The Origins of the Movement
 Transcendentalism took off as a literary and
cultural movement after Ralph Waldo
Emerson published the essay “Nature” in
1836, which stressed the importance of the
divine soul.
 Those who supported this view formed a
group called the Transcendental Club.
Members were all living in the New England
area and included Margaret Fuller, Emerson,
Henry David Thoreau and Frederick Hedge.
All were published authors during their time.
Some are even considered to be “rebels” of
the time period.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Henry David Thoreau
 For the first time, writers encouraged people to begin a
human revolution and to examine the world in a different
way. Emerson ended his essay “The American Scholar” with
this quotation:
“So shall we come to look at the world with new eyes. It shall answer the
endless inquiry of the intellect, — What is truth? and of the affections, —
What is good? by yielding itself passive to the educated Will. ... Build,
therefore, your own world. As fast as you conform your life to the pure
idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. A correspondent
revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit.”
 For many, the urge to look at the world in a fresh way and to
build their own world based on their ideas of perfection was
appealing. The country was also at a crossroads and willing
to embrace some changes.
Ideas of the Transcendentalists
Many saw organized religion as an obstacle that
blocked one’s way to God. They felt that by
closely examining one’s soul, connecting to nature
and observing human nature, that a Divine
connection could be established.
**Do we still hold these views today?
 Transcendentalists believed that one could be
closer to God by relying on their own intuition and
that with practice, one could achieve personal
harmony and therefore reach God.
Ideas of the Transcendentalists
Transcendentalists were optimistic.
They believed
that all one needed to discover any answer was to
learn to read and to be open to nature.
One also had to be aware of the past, but willing to
look beyond it. One needed to be unwilling to
conform to the wishes of society and instead be
true to one’s true identity. An emphasis on taking
care of one’s own necessities was also evident.
5 Key Aspects of Transcendentalism
Create a definition for each of the terms below. Consult
a dictionary if needed to help define your terms. Then
give an example of what you believe this concept would
look like in our modern society.
Free Thought
Importance of Nature
Desiring a Utopia
Utopia=a perfect society
Members of the Transcendentalist movement were aware
that several issues that affected society needed some
action. They pushed for an end to slavery and for women
to have more rights.
Some believed that a utopia would be formed if all
Transcendentalists lived together in a community. Some
of the most famous Transcendentalists rejected this idea
because it went against the idea of self-reliance.
What do utopias look like to you? With a partner, answer the questions
below. Your responses should be in complete sentences, and your
answers must demonstrate considerable thought in order to receive credit.
What FIVE changes would you
make in order to make our school a
utopian high school? Give a reason
for why each changes would lead to
a utopia. Remember that in a utopia
school, students would still have to
attend and learn something.
What FIVE changes would you
make in American society in order to
create a perfect country? Give a
reason for each change.
What would you have to be willing to
give up in order to create these
perfect systems? Give a reason for
your answer.
Be prepared to SHARE and DEFEND your decisions.
 Although this movement began in the 1800s, elements of
Transcendentalism live on. Today we will listen to some
songs that were best-sellers of their time. As we listen, try
to identify the elements of Transcendentalism that appear in
the lyrics. Complete the chart in your guided note packet.
Big Yellow Taxi by Counting Crows
Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan
Wide Open Spaces by the Dixie Chicks