One of our goals during this course was to “think like Transcendentalists.” To that end, all of us – students and faculty – kept regular journals. We wrote or sketched or otherwise ruminated in our journals.

But every two or three weeks, we’d take part of our class evening to go on independent walks, then come back to our classroom and begin writing. From the moment we left the room and went outside to the moment we were finished writing, we did not speak to one another. Yet the communion of ideas was truly serendipitous. 

We also took our journals with us on our travels to New England, writing in them often, sharing with each other our observations and our reflections.

Some of us wrote “traditional” journal entries (whatever that means), some of us drew what we saw, some of us wrote poetry, and some of us took photographs. You’ll find our best nuggets on these pages. In our journaling efforts, we were especially inspired by Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Annie Dillard, and many contemporary nature writers. 

Right: A page from Dan Marrs’s journal, complete with Emerson's “transparent eyeball.” Click on the image to see a larger version. 





Sarah’s Thoughts on Journaling (or Everyone Was Afraid of Journals)

I sincerely believe in the power of journaling, though I have yet to do it for more than two days in a row. The only reason I am able to keep this journal is because it is required. I think if I could find something that works for me, I’d get all the relaxation and joy from it than others do. My main problem is my ever-present need to take on more tasks than I should. Even when I tell myself, “I’m going to take it easy this semester,” I end up just as over-committed as I always do. I love to be involved in a variety of things, and I thrive, but my schedule doesn’t leave much time for personal reflection or relaxation. I deeply regret this, but I can’t seem to change. So journaling always becomes one more task I have to do, and it is low on my list of priorities.

I have tried to keep many different types of journals. When I was younger, I often attempted to write what most people would consider a journal. I got a physical journal (with a lock and key—always important to me) and wrote my feelings. As a teen, my fear of someone finding the journal always stopped me. In college, my lack of time prevents me. I have tried to write a computerized journal several times (thinking that would be easier and faster), but like a true tech writer, I got hung up on the design and appearance of the journal, not the content. I also tried a prayer journal, but I felt that I was saying the same stuff over and over.

I’m remembering now that I have kept one journal religiously! When my fiancé went to Japan for the summer of 1999, I got us both journals. We had been dating for a little over a year, and I wanted us to stay close while he was away. We both wrote in the journals every day for three months. When he returned home, we switched journals and read them. I loved reading about all of his experiences, and I loved sharing mine. It was the summer, so I had a lot of free time, but I’m thinking now that I completed the journal because I knew someone would read it. What a revelation!

This makes me really think about my journaling in another way. I have noticed that I almost always reach a conclusion that I would not have come up with had I not taken the time to write out my thoughts. Sometimes the feeling is so strong that it seems like a huge epiphany, like the one I just had about the only journal I ever kept. I had not forgotten about the journal, but its connection to my journaling problems finally smacked me in the face. These are the moments when I feel the benefits of journaling most strongly. I realize that I have always felt that journaling was not important enough to keep up with unless I had a real audience. I have a real audience for this journal, so I can keep it easily. I often imagine that I am writing to Dr. Dwyer and Dr. Tate or to TC and Cat. In fact, it seems weird to write all of their names instead of just writing “you.”

So why do I need an audience? Why can’t I write for myself and to myself? I had this revelation that writing helps me reach truths for myself (thanks to Thoreau), but I still write these entries to others, not myself. I am going to work on writing to myself. I guess I feel like it’s time I can’t afford to spend. Maybe one day I’ll be able to take time out of each day to sit and have a conversation with myself without feeling guilty. Here’s hoping!




Read and view pages from our journals

Agi’s journal

Amanda’s journal

Anna’s journal

Annie’s journal

Beverlee’s journal

Casey’s journal

Catherine’s journal

Dan’s journal

Deidre’s journal

Deirdre’s journal

Emily’s journal

Frances’s journal

Jan’s journal

Jean’s journal

Jeanette’s journal

Jennifer’s journal

Jeremy’s journal

Jillian’s journal

Leigh-Anne’s journal

Levi’s journal

Linda’s journal

Liz’s journal

Lizzie’s journal

Megan’s journal

Patricia’s journal

Paul’s journal

Pete’s journal

Ramey’s journal

Sarah’s journal

Stacey’s journal

Stacie’s journal

TC’s journal

Tiffany’s journal

Tracey’s journal

See special presentations from our “journals” (drawings, photographs, watercolors, maps, and a letter).

Read our Transcendentalist-inspired poetry.

For more on journaling, explore the WebQuest on this time-honored practice.

Right: A page from Anna’s journal.



“American Transcendentalism: An Online Travel Guide” was produced by students in ENGL 446, American Transcendentalism, and ENGL 447, American Literature and the Prominence of Place: A Travel Practicum. These courses were team-taught in the Department of English at Shepherd College (now Shepherd University), Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in Spring 2002 by Dr. Patricia Dwyer and Dr. Linda Tate. For more information on the course and the web project, visit “About This Site.” © 2003 Linda Tate.