"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day." -ralph Waldo Emerson

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Transcendentalism WebQuest

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day."

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Step one: Gain a basic understanding of Transcendentalism.


  1. Define the term “transcendental.”

transcendent, surpassing, or superior.

being beyond ordinary or common experience, thought, or belief; supernatural.


  1. What is Transcendentalism?

A literary and philosophical movement, associated with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller, asserting the existence of an ideal spiritual reality that transcends the empirical and scientific and is knowable through intuition.

  1. What authors are associated with this movement?

Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Thoreau

  1. What century did this movement take place in?

19th (1800’s)


The Transcendentalists stood at the heart of The American Renaissance-- the flowering of our nation's thought in literature, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, and music in the period roughly designated from 1835-1880.

  1. What area of the U.S. did this movement begin in?

Massachusetts (Concord)

  1. The term Transcendentalism was derived from the philosopher Kant, who called "all knowledge transcendental which is concerned not with objects but with our mode of knowing objects."

  2. Emerson attempted to define the philosophy in simple terms as "What is popularly called Transcendentalism among us, is Idealism; Idealism as it appears in 1842." But it is much larger and more complex than that. How is it described further along in this paragraph?

that the spark of divinity lies within man; that everything in the world is a microcosm of existence; that the individual soul is identical to the world soul, or Over-Soul, as Emerson called it. This belief in the Inner Light led to an emphasis on the authority of the Self--to Walt Whitman's I , to the Emersonian doctrine of Self-Reliance, to Thoreau's civil disobedience, and to the Utopian communities at Brook Farm and Fruitlands. By meditation, by communing with nature, through work and art, man could transcend his senses and attain an understanding of beauty and goodness and truth.


  1. What was the Transcendentalist club?

Gathering of unsatisfied thinkers, protest against academia of Harvard and Cambridge

  1. How/why/where did it develop?

Boston, started with George Putnam, George Ripley, Emerson planning a symposium, to protest the state of American thought at the time

  1. How difficult was it to become a member of this club?

Not at all – just show up

  1. Who called the first-ever meeting of this club?


Step two: Explore several figures from the Transcendentalist movement.

Write 3 to 4 sentences in regards to what you learned about each author.

Ralph Waldo Emerson: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/ihas/poet/emerson.html

Henry David Thoreau: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/ihas/poet/thoreau.html

Walt Whitman: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/ihas/poet/whitman.html

Emily Dickinson: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/ihas/poet/dickinson.html

Step three: Complete the chart below:

1. Read each characteristic of the Transcendentalist movement. In the appropriate column, explain in your own words what the characteristic means.

2. Visit http://www.poets.org. Find a poem that you like from one of the authors you researched above. Copy and paste it below.

3. Find examples of the characteristics in your chosen poem and complete the appropriate columns in the chart. You may not find all five characteristics in a single poem – remember, a work does not have to have all of the characteristics to be considered Transcendentalist, just some of them.

Characteristics of Transcendentalism

Your definition of the characteristic

Example from a Transcendentalist poem


not adhering to rules and standards of the time


Depending only on one’s self, being independent

Free Thought

Ability and desire to think for one’s self, not just go along with the group


Strong belief in self

Importance of


Appreciate nature’s beauty and bounty

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