Want to introduce your students to one of the most influential philosophical movements in American history? Then consider teaching Transcendentalism: Essential Essays of Emerson and Thoreau. This entry in our Literary Touchstone Classics collection provides readers with a concise primer on the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, as well as a broad overview of the transcendentalism movement as a whole.

To ensure that students get the most out of their reading experience, be sure to provide background information and historical context for the passages in this collection. While the Literary Touchstone Classics edition provides helpful introductions and annotations, an open discussion of the themes students will encounter is an important step. Common transcendentalist themes include nature, nonconformity, and spirituality, all rather dense topics. To make these subjects accessible to the class, you may have each student choose a line or group of lines that stood out to him or her and write or speak persuasively about that excerpt.

For even more in-depth discussion, consider carving out time to talk about the impact Emerson's and Thoreau's work had on the course of history. What historical figures seem to have been influenced by their philosophies? Why did Emerson and Thoreau emerge with their ideas at that point in time? Some students might seem disinterested in reading these essays, so talking about the influence it had on the course of philosophy and literature might compel them to read the text more closely.

Read on to discover more about teaching Transcendentalism.

Summary of Transcendentalism

Key Facts

This Prestwick House Literary Touchstone Classics edition combines Emerson's and Thoreau's foundational essays of the transcendental movement with helpful introductory material and annotations. This collection, which includes "Self-Reliance" and "Civil Disobedience," provides students with a concise and reliable introduction into one of the world's most influential philosophical movements.

What Your Students Will Love About Transcendentalism

  • Learning about Emerson's and Thoreau's perspective on nature
  • Studying the lasting influence of the transcendentalist movement

Potential Student Struggles With Transcendentalism

  • Understanding Emerson's and Thoreau's antiquated syntax
  • Dissecting some of the authors’ arguments about government and religion

Learning Objectives for Transcendentalism

  • Identify the key components of transcendentalism.
  • Discuss why Emerson and Thoreau developed and contributed to Transcendentalism when they did.
  • Analyze the rhetorical devices and strategies the two philosophers use to build their arguments.
  • Elucidate transcendentalism's take on nature and its relationship to human spirituality.
  • Explain the importance of solitude as an aid to spiritual enlightenment.

Literary Elements in Transcendentalism

  • Allegory
  • Allusion
  • Anecdote
  • Imagery
  • Metaphor
  • Symbolism
  • And more!

Major Themes in Transcendentalism

Nature — Transcendentalism espouses the idea that nature is the outward sign of inward spirit, and, therefore, connected to humanity.

Related Works:

Individual vs. Society — Emerson and Thoreau stressed the importance of the individual and of independent thought, often rejecting the influence of government and other outside forces.

Related Works:

Religion and Spirituality — These essays often allude to Buddhism, Hinduism, and Unitarianism, all of which rely more on spirituality than they do dogma.

Related Works:

Other Resources for Transcendentalism

Order Transcendentalism Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
Transcendentalism Paperback Student Edition
Transcendentalism Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Transcendentalism AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Transcendentalism Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Transcendentalism Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Transcendentalism Multiple Critical Perspectives Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Transcendentalism Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

This free guide was originally posted in November 2016. It has been updated as of September 2019.