Animal: What Makes Us Human

Hearing Animals in Thoreau

Henry Thoreau’s Walden is full of animal sounds: lowing cows, baying dogs, trumping frogs, hooting owls. Leading literary scholar and Yale University professor Wai Chee Dimock searches the great text of American Transcendentalism for these sonic traces. Her talk places Thoreau’s animal sounds in a long cultural history reaching back to Aesop’s fables and forward to such works as Maya Lin’s What is Missing, a multimedia installation that uses the aesthetics of animal sounds to warn against the imminent extinction of species.

This program is presented in partnership with The Newberry Library and the Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture at the University of Chicago.

Images by Alissa Zhu

Speakers and Performers

Wai Chee Dimock

Wai Chee Dimock has written on American literature of all periods, from Anne Bradstreet to Star Trek, consulting archives both high and low, and using scales both local and global. She was a consultant for “Invitation to World Literature,” a 13-part series produced by WGBH and aired on PBS in 2010. Her lecture course, “Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner,” is available from Open Yale Courses. She is now at work on a digital humanities platform, “American Literature in the World,” which features a web-and-print anthology and an annual graduate conference.

CHF Suggests

Leaders And Thinkers

Wai Chee Dimock
Faculty page at Yale University
Professor Dimock's Blog
At the American Literature in the World web anthology

Good Reads

"Sounds"
The text of the fourth chapter of Henry David Thoreau's Walden

Online Resources

What is Missing?
Maya Lin's interactive web memorial to biodiversity