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Amherst Professor Explores Meaning of Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”

Image of man with clouds and mountainsManchester ~ Amherst College professor Barry O’Connell will consider the intent behind Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous essay “Self-Reliance” in a talk at First Congregational Church in Manchester on March 6 at 7:00 pm. His talk, “What Does Emerson’s Essay on Self-Reliance Mean?” is part of the Vermont Humanities Council’s First Wednesdays lecture series and is free and open to the public.

Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” draws many more readers than his other works. The very idea of self-reliance is central to how many Americans define both themselves and our culture. But, O’Connell will explain, Emerson plays with the meaning of the term until he finally dismisses it altogether. What, then, are we to make of the essay?

O’Connell is the James E. Ostendarp Professor of English at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. He began his teaching career in college by creating alternative primary and secondary school programs in the basements of public housing projects in Cambridge and Boston. He founded the first Headstart in the greater Boston area as well as the first Upward Bound program for middle and high school dropouts. After earning a PhD in the history of American Civilization, he returned to his commitment to public education, concentrating on subject-based teacher development shaped jointly with teachers. In his college teaching, Professor O’Connell has sought to widen the understanding of American history and literature by offering courses that included African American, American Indian, Asian American, Latino, Southern, and working-class experiences and writings. 

About First Wednesdays

The Vermont Humanities Council’s First Wednesdays series is held on the first Wednesday of every month from October through May in nine communities statewide, featuring speakers of national and regional renown. Talks in Manchester are held at First Congregational Church (unless otherwise noted) and are hosted by Manchester Community Library. All First Wednesdays talks are free and open to the public. See the full schedule of Manchester First Wednesdays talks. and

The statewide underwriters for the First Wednesdays 2018-2019 series are The Alma Gibbs Donchian Foundation, the Windham Foundation, and the Institute of Museum & Library Services through the Vermont Department of Libraries.

“What Does Emerson’s Essay on Self-Reliance Mean?” is underwritten by Anonymous.

Manchester Community Library is sponsored by Mystic Café and Wine Bar, Spring & Harbor Boutique, and Union Underground.

For more information, contact Manchester Community Library at 802.362.2607 or the Vermont Humanities Council at 802.262.2626 or , or visit www.vermonthumanities.org.

About Vermont Humanities Council

A statewide nonprofit organization founded in 1974, the Vermont Humanities Council seeks to engage all Vermonters in the world of ideas, foster a culture of thoughtfulness, and inspire a lifelong love of reading and learning. Because Ideas Matter.