For Immediate Release – August 30, 2004


Mary E. McCrank

Media Relations Officer

(585) 245-5516



GENESEO, N.Y. – The State University of New York at Geneseo is launching an annual lecture in honor of an internationally famous late faculty member who was an expert on American literature.

The first annual Walter Harding Lecture is named for the English professor who was the world’s leading scholar on 19th century author Henry David Thoreau.

The first lecture, featuring American literature scholar Joel Myerson (pictured at left), will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14 in the Bertha V.B. Lederer Gallery in Brodie Hall. The event is free and open to the public. Myerson’s speech is titled "Not Instruction, But Provocation: Ralph Waldo Emerson on the Pursuit of Knowledge."

A distinguished professor emeritus at University of South Carolina, Myerson served on that institution’s faculty from 1971 until his retirement last year, and chaired its English department from 1987-1990. He is an authority on Transcendentalism and textual and bibliographical studies and has written, edited, co-authored or co-edited numerous books. Myerson also is an expert on Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Harding, a distinguished professor emeritus of English at SUNY Geneseo, died in 1996 at the age of 78. Harding joined the faculty at Geneseo in 1956 after teaching at the University of Virginia, Rutgers University and the University of North Carolina. He served as chair of SUNY Geneseo’s English department for six years and was designated a University Professor in 1966 and a Distinguished Professor in 1973. Harding retired in 1982 and a year later became the first faculty member in SUNY to be awarded a SUNY Honorary Doctor of Letters degree.

Harding’s extensive research, writing and teaching earned him international recognition and respect as an expert on Thoreau. Author of more than 25 books and numerous articles on the life and work of Thoreau, Harding was the founding secretary and former president of the Thoreau Society, the oldest and largest international organization devoted to the study of any American author.

Born in Bridgewater, Mass., in 1917, Harding received his B.S.Ed. from Bridgewater State College in 1939, M.A. from the University of North Carolina in 1947 and a Ph.D. from Rutgers in 1950.

Harding’s biography on Thoreau is considered the definitive account of his life and was reprinted in 1992. Harding’s work is still "rich and vital" to the classroom today, said Richard Finkelstein, chair of the college’s English department. Harding’s wife, Marjorie Brook Harding, created an endowment to make the lecture series possible.

"I’m very excited, for the tribute it pays to Walter Harding and for the continuing support of his family, but also for the education it provides for students and faculty and the distinction it brings to the college," said Finkelstein.

Professor Edward G. Gillin said the Harding lecture will bring in top literary scholars like Myerson, similar to how the college brings in top political experts to deliver the annual James Jeremiah Wadsworth Lecture.

"It’s a wonderful compliment to have a speaker like this in literature," said Gillin.

Harding’s family donated his extensive collection of more than 15,000 books, pamphlets, articles and other Thoreau memorabilia to his beloved Thoreau Society at Walden Woods in Concord, Mass. The collection includes all Thoreau first editions and first printings. The family generously ensured SUNY Geneseo’s Milne Library was able to make copies of Harding’s works. The Walter Harding Collection consists of writings about Thoreau and transcendentalism.

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