First-year Brittain fellow Iuliu Ratiu recently presented a paper on a panel arranged by the Thoreau Society at the MLA Annual Convention in Boston, MA. The panel “Recovering Thoreau’s Topography” (http://www.mla.org/program_details?prog_id=329&year=2013) was organized by Rochelle Johnson (College of Idaho) and Kristen Case (University of Maine) and had contributions from Laura Dassow Walls (University of Notre Dame) and John Kucich (Bridgewater State University), with a response from Patrick Chura (University of Akron).
In “Thoreau’s Surveying Work at the Crossroads of Identity Politics and Planetarity,” Iuliu demonstrates that the profession of land surveyor is a prerequisite for Thoreau’s ideal study of nature and argues that land surveying is to Thoreau what the lecture circuit had been to Emerson: both a lucrative business enterprise and a draft toward published work. Contributing to recent scholarship analyzing the importance of land surveying to literary studies, Iuliu’s paper shows that Thoreau’s interest and expertise in the “map genre” challenge both the nineteenth-century’s and the present day’s celebratory rhetoric of Manifest Destiny. By looking at the natural world through the lenses of land surveying, Thoreau creates an alternative natural science in which maps, plans, farm books, and calendars convert raw data into a meaningful pattern (hence, a prototype for observation, planting, cultivating) that underlines the importance of land surveying as a major enterprise of American history. Read this way, Thoreau’s work not only illuminates central issues of American culture such as identity and citizenship but also participates in what has been recently called the spatial turn in American Studies, wherein maps are representations of discursive practices that structure and plot America beyond and beside the essentialist perspective of American exceptionalism.