Shellie Michael lectures on Transcendentalist communes, Alcott and Hawthorne

by Cynthia Hernandez// Staff Writer

Volunteer State Community College hosted a lecture about the Transcendentalist movement by Shellie Michael, associate professor of Communications and English.
The event took place on Tuesday, March 17.
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary,

Transcendentalism is a philosophy and social movement that began in the 1800s.
It is based on the idea that spiritual things are more real than the ordinary human experience and material things.
Michael said she is currently writing her dissertation on “Transcendentalist Communitarianism in Fiction.”
“Communal living has a fascinating history in America and especially here in Tennessee. My research focuses on communes that Transcendentalists started in the 1840s in Massachusetts.
“Two American writers, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott, lived at those communes, and I’m studying the fiction they wrote about their experiences. Much like the 1960s, the 1840s were an era of radical experimentation, and Hawthorne and Alcott were part of those exciting times,” said Michael.
Michael said the mid-1800s was an “age of reform” and communitarianism was very popular.

“People were really swept up in this mood of let’s overturn everything, much like the 1960s in the United States,” said Michael.
She also said there were abolitionist and women’s rights movements. People were questioning alot and were interested in lifestyle changes, such as vegetarianism, also during this time.
An example was given by the reading of a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson, American poet and transcendentalist.
“Emerson effected the communal movement by really emphasizing spiritual experiences in nature. So much of communitarianism is bound up with this romance of the soil. You need to be outside. You need to get out of the library.
“He, himself was more or less a bookworm, but for other people, he really recommended that they get outside and do things,” said Michael.
“We are all a little wild here with numberless projects of social reform, not a reading man but has a draft of a new community in his waistcoat pocket,” wrote Emerson.
“One of his other big ideas is this idea of non-conformity, that you shouldn’t just do what the mainstream society tells you. Also that you should really practice self-culture, that you should look within yourself, and to become your best self. God lives within every man and you can tap this and you can find this within yourself,” said Michael.
“I really enjoyed Professor Michael’s talk because it demonstrated the importance of drawing connections between literature and historical events.
“Several of the humanities lectures this year have shown what an interesting time the antebellum era was,” said Dr. Merritt McKinney, director of the Honors Program.