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The Exhibit at a Glance


SUNY Geneseo student protest 


Walter Harding, Thoreau scholar and Distinguished Professor of English at SUNY Geneseo

1968 was a the year of reverberating change: a force of action, carrying into the forefront of local and global scene, and across decades. It was in 1968 that the “Silent Generation” found their voices and pushed for change, protesting the Vietnam War, fighting for civil rights, and defending their academic rights, among other noble causes. It was in 1968 that the lives of two hugely influential leaders - Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy - were taken for purely political causes. It was a year that helped shape the political culture of the world to this day. Fifty years later, the year is now 2018, and the global political community is one that often reasserts its freedoms, evident in the March for Our Lives, women’s rallies, activists for science, online campaigns, and other pushes of social and political change. How did we get to this point in history, when people feel entitled - even obligated - to speak their mind?

This was also the year in which Walter Harding, renowned Thoreau scholar, gave a speech to students of SUNY Geneseo, monumental in its address of the civic duty of citizens to protest and persevere. “Civilized Disobedience”, he called it, as it echoed the sentiments of his literary hero, Henry David Thoreau, in texts such as “Resistance to Civil Government” and “Slavery in Massachusetts”. Harding urged the college community to be more “deliberate” in how their actions reflected their political and moral standings, a message that is more than pertinent in the current era of persisting inequality.

Walter Harding was an advocate for social change during the tumultuous 1960s on campus at the State University at Geneseo where he worked as a professor of English. This exhibit incorporates Harding's speech to protesting students, while also connecting to the works of Henry David Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" and "Slavery in Massachusetts." In this exhibit, we have given the context leading up to the creation of this speech, including civil across the world, and in Geneseo. Also weaved within Harding’s speech are the words of Thoreau himself. We have included links to the Digital Thoreau website and other primary texts to give a greater context of the works that Harding studied, while also adding some of his writings on the material within scholarly journals, books, and in the Thoreau Society bulletins. Finally, we have incorporated some stippets illustrating Harding’s activism on the SUNY Geneseo campus, showing that the scholar truly practiced what he was preaching. These various threads culminate into a copy of Harding’s “Civilized Disobedients” speech, bringing together threads of his beloved  literary, political, and historical realm that stick with us to the present day.

The Exhibit at a Glance